A person becomes a professing member when they have been baptized and publicly profess the vows of the baptismal covenant, affirming their faith in God and their desire to live as a disciple of Jesus Christ. They commit to a life of service in and through the local congregation (Book of Discipline, ¶217).
Our understanding of what it means to be a member is deeply rooted in our Methodist heritage. John Wesley was clear that Christianity is a social religion, and that our growth in holiness of heart and life is deeply dependent on being in face-to-face community with others who are watching over us (and we over them) in love. It is in the context of these face-to-face relationships that we experience what it means to be the body of Christ in the world.
For United Methodists, membership requires active participation in a local congregation. The vows of professing membership thus include promises to faithfully participate through prayers, presence, gifts, service and witness in connection with a local congregation.
Throughout our life, as we pray, study the scriptures, worship and share in fellowship with other Christians, we deepen our knowledge of and love for God. As we respond with compassion to human need and work for justice in our communities, we strengthen our capacity to love our neighbors. We confess and repent of our sins, ways in which we fall short of God’s way. In this way, our inner thoughts and motives, as well as our outer actions and behavior, are aligned with God’s will and testify to our union with God.
Rev. Mark W. Stamm explains, “What are the benefits of such a commitment? The primary benefit is the presence of the living Christ. Indeed, he promises that we will greet him in the midst of the faithful — ‘... where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them’ (Matthew 18:20). The church continues to insist that our hearts are warmed as we hear the Scriptures read and proclaimed (Luke 24: 32), that the Risen Christ is known in the breaking of the bread (Luke 24: 35). Indeed, the mystery of the Risen Christ is present in the midst of my sisters and brothers. They hear my confession and proclaim God’s forgiveness. They embrace me, they laugh and cry with me, and God heals me in and through all of that. My brothers and sisters know my shortcomings, and so they keep me honest, but they also know my potential, and so they call forth my gifts. They share their heritage and their wisdom and give me people to teach. I need their commitment to me, and they need me as well.” (Our Membership Vows by Mark W. Stamm)
These are great questions to talk about with your pastor. Many congregations offer classes for new members where you can learn more about the church and what it means to be a member.
First published Oct. 27, 2016.