Mailbag #87: Are there Qualifications for Serving in the Church? . . . What Should a Congregation Vote On?
Does God give moral qualifications for Christian service? Scripture clearly indicates that there are biblical qualifications for church offices, but what about areas of Christian service? If there aren’t, what safeguards (if any) should churches apply in areas of Christian service to church members?
As you might know, Scripture does not provide any specific list of qualifications for Christian service (as it does, for instance, for elders and deacons). That’s because the biblical authors assumed that all Christians would serve—thus making a credible profession of faith the main qualification. How does this look in the context of regular Christian ministry? The answer is in church membership.
To put it positively: those who serve must be members of a local church. The New Testament teaches that every Christian must serve his local church as a part of a covenanted community. Here are just a examples:
- Spiritual gifts are given to the church body “to serve one another” (1 Peter 4:10).
- Exercising “care for one another” is a strategy against division (1 Corinthians 12:25).
- Believers are called to “do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith” (Galatians 6:10).
- As a mark of servanthood and humility, we are called to “wash one another’s feet” (John 13:14).
- Believers must “show hospitality” (1 Peter 4:9) and “contribute to the needs of the saints” (Romans 12:13).
- As members serve in the church they “make the body grow so that it builds itself up in love” (Ephesians 4:16).
These commands are not for anyone; they are for church members. Thus, serving one another is a privilege of those who belong to the church.
To put it negatively: those who are not members of the church should not serve in ministry. Allowing someone who refuses to submit to church membership to serve in Christian ministry is, at best, confusing. Whether that ministry is ushering, nursery, or Sunday School, to allow the individual “member-activity” while they have not taken the first step of submitting to the church is to say that credible professions of faith simply don’t matter. God has given the local church authority to determine who represents Jesus—who serves in his name. Therefore, those who refuse to join a church should not serve.
A few summary thoughts:
First, all Christians are called to serve. The qualification for Christian ministry is that you are a Christian. Church membership clearly marks out a Christian.
Second, church discipline safeguards Christian ministry. Since only church members should serve, we can also reason that those under church discipline should not serve. In other words, anyone not qualified to be a member is not qualified to serve (and vice-versa).
Third, certain ministries, such as children’s ministry, may employ additional safeguards such as background checks and screenings. In this case, someone who has a particular background may be a member—and thus qualified in general to serve in Christian ministry—but not with children.
On what issues do you allow members to vote on at members meetings?
During our members’ meetings the congregation votes on: members being added, members being removed by transfer to another church, members being removed by discipline, the approval of elder candidates, and the approval of deacon and deaconess candidates. We abide by this process because we believe the Bible directly assigns authority over these matters to the congregation (see Matthew 18:15–20; John 20:19–23; Acts 2:41-42; 1 Corinthians 5:1–13; 1 Corinthians 11:17–34; 2 Corinthians 2:5–11; 1 Timothy 3:1–13; 1 Timothy 5:19–21).
As an implication (not a biblical mandate) of the congregation’s responsibility to steward its gospel witness, we also have the congregation vote on the annual church budget. In doing so the congregation participates in setting the overall trajectory for our gospel ministry as a local church.
Occasionally, the elders will call a special members’ meeting of the whole church to address some other matter. For example, we recently passed a proposal to add to our mortgage and address some serious structural issues with our building’s mortar.
For more on this topic, check out Greg Gilbert’s helpful article, “I Move We Don’t Vote So Much!”