The Rule of Membership

Last night, I watched the sun set in Kettle Cove while reading Adam Hamilton’s Leading Beyond the Walls: Developing Congregations with a Heart for the Unchurched. The view was awesome (as you can see) but this particular book leaves me a little numb. Numb is the wrong word. It just doesn’t fit where I am in my faith journey and I can’t quite put my finger on why. Nevertheless, it’s something I’m required to read as part of my commitment as a Lewis Fellow. Next week, I will make my way to Kansas City where I’ll see Hamilton’s church. Maybe I’ll even ask him a question or two.

For now, I’m musing over what I read about membership last night. Tonight, we’ll host a meeting for potential members. We’ll do what Hamilton points out that churches do. We’ll give them a little background. We’ll try not to make it too scary. We’ll try to tell them who we are and then make a really soft lob toward asking them to make a commitment. Of course, Hamilton also makes the well-founded point that we don’t ask much. So, he tells us what they do in his church. They ask their members to make the following commitment (which I actually cut and paste from the website):

  • To worship regularly.
  • To continue to grow in your faith by participating in a small group study.
  • To serve God with your hands, by volunteering in service to the congregation and the community and world.
  • To give in proportion to your income.

Doesn’t sound all that unique to me. He writes in such a way that this provides a formula in the magic method toward reaching the unchurched. Somehow this commitment will speak to them. Maybe but it doesn’t speak to me. I’m part of that generation that doesn’t like institutions and doesn’t want to join anything that sounds remotely like an institution. This sounds like exactly that institution to me. So, you lost me but that’s not really his point. He’s interested in creating a pathway that creates mature disciples — but that maturity is going to look differently in each church. That might mean regular worship or tithing, but it might not.

Increasingly, I’m more and more interested in monastic life. I’m interested in the ways that the monks and nuns have chosen to live in the world. I think there is an interesting parallel with those of us that choose to be Christian in today’s world. We don’t necessarily retreat from the world but we do try to find some way to order our days. We’re trying to find some covenant that will hold us accountable. We’re trying to understand what it looks like to choose to associate with a particular group of people with a shared set of ideals. That could be an institution. That might work for some but I’m still not grabbed by this list. It doesn’t give me a daily orientation of how to live in the world. Instead, I’m more interested in choosing to live by a shared rule as the members of the Iona Community do. When you join the community, you covenant to this five-point rule:

  • Daily Prayer and Bible-reading
  • Sharing and accounting for the use of our money 
  • Planning and accounting for the use of our time 
  • Action for Justice and Peace in society 
  • Meeting with and accounting to each other. 

I know there are churches that are choosing this sort of order. I’ve seen them though I can’t find any of their website right now. For me, it is so much more exciting to know that there is a group of people that has shared in this huge commitment. There is something unique about the commitment we share and there’s a group of people that holds me accountable to that rule. Now, I’m not actually a member of the Iona Community. I haven’t joined because I haven’t been in a space where there are other members in my geographic neighborhood — but it’s the kind of church I dream about leading. It’s the kind of commitment that excites me about such an institution as the church. For me, this five-point rule sounds more like the community I understand the church to be. For me, that’s what really matters.


I’m very flattered that this post was featured in the Wednesday Festival at RevGalBlogPals. Follow this link to see the conversation that followed my words.

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