What the Doctrine of Regeneration Means for Church Membership Interviews
Conversion is supernatural.
Most Christians would gladly assent to that statement. But we don’t often act like we believe it. We obsess over ministry methods and church programs to the point that anyone on the outside looking in would wonder if we really thought converting a lost soul was up to us. We spend more time thinking about contextualization than we do about Chronicles—as if the former had more power to save than the latter.
As others have often said, we talk about conversion as if it’s making decisions rather than making disciples. We describe faith repentance as “asking Jesus into your your heart,” rather than the radical, life-altering response of turning from sin and bowing before the reign of King Jesus. We talk about the glory of a personal relationship with God through Christ but leave folks with the impression that a personal relationship with God can also be a private one, one without the church.
In the Bible, however, conversion is supernatural. It’s a work of God’s Word and Spirit—no less than the same power that brought the universe into existence. And so, the implications for how you conduct your next church membership interviews are enormous.
A SUPERNATURAL ACT
Regeneration is a supernatural act of the Spirit of God. Nobody was clearer on this point than Jesus himself. Just consider his conversation with Nicodemus in John 3. Jesus describes regeneration as being “born again”—a suggestive metaphor. After all, how much contribution did you make to your first birth?
When Nicodemus doesn’t quite get the idea, Jesus continues. Regeneration means being born of the Spirit (John 3:5; cf. Ezek. 36:22–32). The flesh simply cannot produce spiritual life (John 3:6). And just in case you might still think there’s something you can do to compel the Spirit to act, Jesus cuts you off at the pass. Regeneration, he explains, comes only as a sovereign act of God’s free will: “The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit” (John 3:8).
And what’s the result of this supernatural act of regeneration? A new heart which turns to Christ. Those regenerated by God are given the gifts of faith and repentance (Eph. 2:8–9; Phil. 1:29). Like Lydia in Acts 16:14, those who repent of sin and trust in Christ do so because the Lord has already resurrected them to spiritual life. “Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the Father loves whoever has been born of him” (1 John 5:1).
As a result, a Christian isn’t simply someone who has assented to a few gospel facts. They are “new creations” (2 Cor. 5:17). Their pattern of life, down to the very desires of their hearts, have been irrevocably altered to reflect heaven’s values and the Spirit’s holiness.
And that newly endowed holiness primarily expresses itself in love, not just for God but for his people. As I’ve written about before, conversion isn’t an isolated, private act. Regeneration and subsequently conversion includes leaving off citizenship in one kingdom and embracing citizenship in another: “He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (Col 1:13–14). Or as Peter explains, in conversion we become part of the “people” of God (1 Pet. 2:10). Just as our first birth entailed being born into family, so too does our re-birth.
WHAT DOES THIS HAVE TO DO WITH MEMBERSHIP INTERVIEWS?
Understanding a biblical perspective on regeneration and conversion has big implications for how you conduct membership interviews. (Click here to see a brief overview of membership interviews, and here for a sample template.) Consider just two.
First, if regeneration is a supernatural act, then you’ll actually do membership interviews.
If conversion is just a matter of “making a decision for Christ” or “asking Jesus into your heart” then why have a membership interview at all—there’s really nothing for you to discern. For churches that see conversion merely as making a decision or praying a prayer, an extended conversation about someone’s understanding of the gospel and excavating whether their life matches that profession is an unnecessary enterprise. But if you understand regeneration and conversion as supernatural acts of God that result in real transformation, then you’ll take the time to assess whether God has really done that work in someone’s life.
Second, if regeneration is a supernatural act, then you’ll approach the membership interview as a spiritual physician.
Your job in the membership interview is to determine whether someone’s profession of faith is credible, whether their life reflects one born of the Spirit. That means you’re there to assess the state of their soul, not to sell them on everything your church has to offer.
The membership interview is a time for pastors to tell prospective members about all the responsibilities and burdens they’ll bear as members in your church. If you’re confident in God’s work of regeneration, you won’t pull your punches. You’ll be honest about both the privileges of membership and its sacrifices. You’ll be candid about the hard work that comes with belonging to a church because you’ll be confident that if the person in front of you is an object of supernatural mercy, then they’ll desire that work in at least some measure.
Brothers, don’t be a salesman; be a fruit inspector. Look for supernatural regeneration and conversion; look for the distinguishing marks of the Spirit of God. Look for evidence of God’s grace: love for God and love for his people. If you don’t find even a trace of these things, then don’t assume the best and bring that person into membership. To do so may confuse them about the state their soul. Instead, recognize that the Lord might be opening up a wonderful opportunity for you to share the gospel; he might be using that moment to bring a lost sinner to himself. He might use that very conversation to work the miracle of regeneration.