Monday, May 25, 2009

Church Membership for Children

As many of you know, I have some strong opinions/convictions on church membership, responsibility, covenants, and accountability in the local church. I believe them to be biblically based, but I know that some of you may disagree. But humor me for a minute and give me your feedback as if you agreed with me.

Recently, I have had a family that wants to unite with our church in membership. They have taken the membership class, and are ready to join with us. The question that we have is about their 7-year old. He has made a profession of faith and been baptized. These parents are godly people who have been very diligent to instruct their child about the realities of salvation, church membership, Christ and the gospel, and they have seen evidence of genuine saving faith since his conversion. They want him to understand the seriousness and responsibility of church membership in the covenant community before he becomes "officially" a member of a local church.

So we are set to have a little meeting (His father, him, and I) this week. None of us really believe that he is going to be able to fully comprehend the accountability and responsibility that comes with covenanting yourself together with other believers, but he may surprise us. He did not sit through the membership class (which is required for membership, along with a signed covenant for the church). It is a little much for a 7-year old. But obviously, if he is truly saved, he is a member of the universal church, should his lack of full understanding prevent him from being a member with a local covenanted people?

And that is where I would like your input. I am sure that many of you have dealt with similar situations. And maybe your churches have ways of dealing with situations like this. As it stands our church does not. One of many things that needs to be revisited and updated within our church constitution (a discussion for another day). So I am curious for your thoughts and experiences and biblical convictions that may help us see this more clearly and handle it in a way that upholds the seriousness of membership, pleases Christ, and encourages young faith, and a family that truly sees their son as a brother in Christ as well as a biological family member.

Thanks for your help!


  1. Hey Jason,

    I'll give you my two cents...

    If you want to keep a membership role of local Christians you gather with, then to exclude a follower of Christ because of his age seems a little absurd to me. When we become followers of Jesus we are members of his church. I do not see the need to have secondary and/or tertirary requirements that God himself does not have.

    I am thankful that God did not require me to go through a membership class or have a full grasp of my accountability and responsbility to other Christians before inviting me to become a member of his Church. The only requirement was that I followed Jesus, the rest is just discipleship, discipline, and relationship.

    But, if you want to have secondary and/or tertirary guidelines before admitting someone as a member of your local gathering, that is not necessary unbiblical... it just stops being about following Christ and starts being more like a club membership.

    That's my opinion in a nut shell.

    God Speed,

  2. If the child is a christian, then he is already a part of God's Church...why would a congregation's standards for acceptance be any higher or more complicated?
    Your girls are a part of your family but they probably aren't subject to the same responsibilites or expectations that you and Erika are and they shouldn't be. They aren't prepared to deal with adult problems or situations. But as they grow, you and Erika will continue to teach and prepare them to function as teenagers and adults. The church (both universally and locally) should be doing the same things with new members regardless of age.

  3. Both of my children were saved at an early age and joined the membership of our church. They have both remained active and involved in church. A couple of questions:
    1. What harm will occur if the child is allowed to "join" the church?
    2. What harm will happen if he is not allowed to "join"? What message does that send to him and the family?

    I think we sometimes over analyze situations much like this. He loves Jesus, pretty basic and simple understanding. Why can't we as adults just be as simple? God's plan is not one of complicated issues and "policies and procedures". We try to fit our social and work organizational charts into God's and it just doesn't fit. We say our belief is not based on "works" yet we "work" pretty hard at tring to form these "policies" and abide by the rules to the constitutions and convenents and such.

    Let the child join.

  4. Jason,

    In Scripture, the term "member" is only used to indicate whether or not someone is part of Christ's body. It seems clear that someone becomes a member based on their salvation - indwelling of the Holy Spirit - not by a corporate choice. If the child is saved, then he is a member of Christ's body.

    Now, if you're using "member" in an extra-biblical manner, then I suppose you can also use extra-biblical methods of determining whether or not someone is a "member" according to your definition. I'm not sure why anyone who considered Scripture to be authoritative would be interested in this though.

    If he is a member of Christ's body, then accept him as God accepted you in Christ. Your acceptance of him is not about membership though, but about accepting him into a discipling relationship (brother to brother) in which you both (and all) grow in maturity in Christ Jesus.

    By the way, since God has already brought this family into your life, you are already responsible for them, and they are responsible for you.


  5. Jason,
    I think more harm than good could come from this if you don't let the child join. Clearly, if he's expressed his faith in God and Jesus, he understands the responsibility that comes with that. Telling him he's old enough to understand salvation but not old enough to joing a group of people in a church who also have pledged they understand the same thing is sending a mixed message. It could actually set him back and make him resentful of the church as a whole. I know churches can do that for me. As we have moved around with the Army and visited new churches, I'm offended by churches that refuse to let me join because I wasn't dunked when I accepted Christ; I was sprinkled with water on my head. Those churches are sending me a message that a detail like that, as opposed to the person I am, what I can offer the church, and overall my belief in Jesus Christ, is more important. I refuse to attend a church that can't see past that. You could run into the same probelm here with this child down the road...if you refuse him now, could he not refuse church, God, and Christ in the future?

    If your goal is to lead a group of believers, which I know it is, then this believer, young as he may be, should be allowed to be included in that group. Take this as a chance to really teach him what is expected of a member, so as he grows up in your church, these specifics are implanted and expected. That way, when he's an older teen and adult, he'll have grown up with the expectations of a church member and could very well be one of your best members because you've taught him how and what to do.

    Just my two cents...what do I know? I'm just your sister-in-law :)


  6. Jason,

    Two questions:

    If the child is not allowed to become a member, does this change his responsibilies to his brothers and sisters in Christ? does this change their responsibilities to him?

    God Speed,

  7. You guys got to relax...we are going to make him a full member, that was my original leaning, just didn't want to tip my hand.

    Just want to make sure and take as much care with Christ's church, and making membership a responsibility rather than a social club privilege, as with people's feelings...

    And I had hoped to get some other church's who had dealt with the same issue, and get their thought processes. And I had a couple of other comments emailed, but only one dealt with it from anything other than a "you might hurt his feelings" perspective.

    Thanks for all of your help!

  8. Ditto my comments with most of what has already been stated, however one quesiton: Would this child be allowed full voting rights on church business issues?

  9. Jason,

    I am not one who believes that a child is too small to grasp Christ, in fact, quite the contrary. I feel like sometimes as we grow older we minimize Christ rather than believe in Him with a whole heart as a child does. You know before the world teaches you that God can't do things. On the other hand, you better be sure what you're doing. I believe a child knows what sin is, which is why my children stare at the ground when I get on to them, and I think they grasp repentance, as they seem so true in telling me when wrong has been done and why they are sorry. I also know that my five year old also believes she is a princess and that she will one day be queen. Lets put it all in perspective, maybe there's a middle ground where they can be members of children's church or something until they are old enough to assume responsabilities. Never turn them away from the church, but don't heap so much responsability on them as they are still babes.--Terri Stafford