on April 12, 2013
Many of us church members have lost the biblical understanding of what it means to be a part of the body of Christ, according to Thom Rainer in this book. We join our churches expecting others to serve us, to feed us, and to care for us; and we don't like the hypocrites in the church, but we fail to see our own hypocrisies.
The book is a journey of rediscovering the privilege and joy of church membership, a journey through six pledges which are about the joy of being last instead of first, the joy of being a unifier rather than a complainer, the joy of being a servant rather than being entitled. The six pledges are:
* To be a functioning member, giving cheerfully and abundantly, and serving without hesitation.
* To be a unifying church member, avoiding gossip and negative talk, and promoting forgiveness and unity.
* To avoid insisting on personal preferences and desires, and to put up with associated inconveniences.
* To pray for church leaders every day, including for protection and physical and mental health.
* To lead one's family to be healthy church members, worshipping together and praying together for the church.
* To treasure church membership as a gift, rather than treating it as a legalistic obligation.
The book is a very short one, at around 80 pages, easy to read and inexpensive. I found it quite inspiring, and by the end I was feeling eager to commit to a higher level of church membership. The problem with passivity in churches is usually diagnosed - probably correctly - as a leadership problem, but it is also a followership problem, and this book is a great way to open the eyes of ordinary believers to the importance of their role as fully participating members of the body.
on May 9, 2013
I really wasn't impressed by this. I think the concept was a good one, but I don't like the way it was done. While he doesn't explicitly say that people should blindly go along with whatever is going on in their church, that is easily the message people could come away with from this book. In a perfect world, that would be safe to do, but this is anything but a perfect world. I think if you're going to be a church member, you should support one another and the church leadership, but you should never, ever abandon your own judgment. I've seen a lot of damage done when this occurs in real life. I agree with some point in the book, namely that people should be aware of what many pastors deal with in their positions, and that they should not be petty and demand their way all the time. Still, the back your church no matter what outlook disturbs me.
on May 30, 2013
This is the first book by Thom Rainer that I have read. In what I have discovered about him in general, but as a result of following his blog in particular, I have developed quite a bit of respect for him. His latest did not disappoint.
Published on April 14, 2013, I Am A Church Member is available in Kindle e-book or hardcover versions and it is just under 100 pages long. I read the book in Kindle form in less than 2 hours. It is easy to read, digest and sensitively but unashamedly addresses issues like gossip, a "what's in it for me" mindset, worship wars and more.
Rainer asks the reader to consider what he believes is a biblical attitude of church membership and how that differs from the culture's definition of membership. Unlike other books of this type, Rainer doesn't ignore Scripture but brings them forth alongside research and experience to offer a compelling description of what a church member is and should be and the difference that would make in our churches and thus in the culture as a whole. The pledges he ends each chapter with and includes in the back are a great reminder of what has been learned so that the reader can put them into action. In addition, each chapter ends with questions pertinent to that chapter's content.
With enthusiasm, I recommend I Am A Church Member. Useful for personal enrichment as well as a group Bible study or even as a resource for a pastor in discussing these important issues with the board or a small group or church setting, I am sure that if you purchase it, it will not go to waste. It is a must read for every church member.
This review also appears at: http://beacon2light.blogspot.com/2013/05/review-of-i-am-church-member-by-thom.html
on March 1, 2014
This book (presentation) reminded me of when I was a kid/teen and I heard various pastors emphasize the importance and necessity of wives submitting to their husbands. What about husbands loving their wives like Christ loved the Church? Yeah, yeah, a token remark was offered from time to time, but the clear emphasis was always on the wives.
Similarly, this book was just too imbalanced for me to derive much benefit from it. As a pastor myself, I would be embarrassed to give this book to the members of our church. As I listened to the book, I kept thinking, but what about the responsibilities of the pastors? What if he's an incapable and/or insensitive pastor (for whatever reason)? I realize I'm likely in the minority, but those are my observations.
UPDATE: As an excellent alternative, I do recommend Joshua Harris' book, WHY CHURCH MATTERS. I liked this book so much that I purchased 50 overstock copies (elsewhere) in order to give to every family in our church!
on July 14, 2013
Rainer has put together an excellent prescription for the sickness of selfish thing that has invaded the Christian church in the last thirty years. The book is short yet back with challenging thinking. Each of the six commitments should be made by every member of every church. If that happened a lot of what ails the church and keeps it from being Christ's witness in the world would go away. Great questions and covenants at the end of each chapter. Our church will be including it in our orientation for new members.
The one drawback is the chapter on Pastors and church leaders. There are very few pastors that run into the situation of constant overwork that Rainer describes. Most churches have more that one staff member now to look after some of what he attributes to a single pastor or churchs have developed proceedures to ensure they have proper time to themselves.. There are times when a Pastor may find himself harried with a number of colliding demands on his time, but rarely on an ongoing basis and, in these days this is not different that the average working person. While Rainer does mention praying for other church leaders they are given only passing mention. Many lay leaders work full time and then put in a lot of additional time to volunteering in various church activities. This needed as much recognition as the Pastor.
I would like to have used this book as a church-wide small group study, but this chapter was my reason not to. I felt it would be demeaning to hard working lay people and create controversy over the role of the pastor in our church where the pastor recently left.
On the whole though it is a book every church attender should read and consider.
This book was disappointing to read, and seems to be more of a sermon than a book. I knew I was in trouble when chapter one started at 30% of the book content on my Kindle! While I found some of the content useful, such as the theory of "church membership vs country club membership," I found most of the content very one-sided. The blame was placed on the church member throughout the book, each chapter asking the attendee to commit to change. Ranier writes "nine out of ten churches in America are declining or growing at a pace that is slower than that of their communities." Later he writes "many of us church members have lost the biblical understanding of what it means to be a part of the body of Christ."
In this short book, Ranier details how church members can change their attitude and expectations. The topic is one sided and does not address the lack of leadership in churches today or the disconnect from pastors who run video sermons and don't attend Sunday service. Using the membership model, is it considered entitlement to expect a live pastor on Sunday rather than a video? Is it entitlement to expect a compassionate call from the pastor when a family member dies? Is it entitlement to wonder who will lead your own Celebration of Life, when the pastor is so disconnected from his flock he only attends church once a month? In this book, the burden seems to be placed on the church member without any attention to the heart of the pastor. I would have preferred more balance, with examples of what works and does not work from both sides of the pew.
After reading this book and also "Answers to Pastor's FAQ's" by Warren Wiserbe and Howard Sugden, I'm convinced that when the pastor has a servant heart, it will pass on throughout the church body from head to toe. I found the Wiserbe book to be much better than this one.
on February 22, 2014
Thom Rainer is a respected evangelical, as head of the Southern Baptist's LifeWay publishing company. If you look at his blog you see evidence of a man with a passion for Jesus Christ and for reaching the lost. He clearly had a heart for the church in writing this book as well, which he argues is stagnant or in decline. It's a slim volume -- I read it in a little over an hour -- that focuses on six desired attitudes of church members... and, by extension, the distorted attitudes that led him to highlight those six desired attitudes. The legions of endorsements at the beginning of the book, which read like a who's who of modern American evangelicalism, speak to how this small book has resonated with pastors and other leaders frustrated the way Americans view and interact with their local congregations.
Different denominations place different values on the idea of church "membership," but I do think some of Rainer's points are valid regardless of denominational affiliation. American evangelicalism often views church with the same commercialism and entitlement they view the free market, asking what they can get from the church rather than how they can give to it. I could quibble here about some of his underlying data and sense of history, but I understand Rainer's concern about those who view the church in such shallow and self-serving ways. It is a problem, and chances are we've all seen it.
On the surface, then, I think Rainer offers some valuable advice to Christians. He emphasizes the importance of the local church body, notes that no churches are perfect, and exhorts believers to give to the church, pray for their pastors, involve their families in church life, and use their gifts for the church, among other things. If nothing else, his book ought to move us to prayerful self-reflection. What is my current role in the church? Am I using my gifts in the church or am I just a consumer? Do I pray for my pastor? If I am considering leaving my church, are my reasons good ones?
As I read the book, though, I also harbored a growing concern about how easily it could be a tool for abuse in the church. The book implies that we ought to stick with a church without exception, be in the church whenever the doors are open, and submit to all decisions made by the pastors. In its brief simplicity it simply makes no allowances for circumstances where confronting leaving a church might in fact be the right decision.
That is troubling. In my lifetime of church I have been in churches where serious abuses have taken place. In different instances I witnessed various pastors: embezzle church funds on personal items, declare that the "canon was not closed" and that God was still writing the Bible, and refuse to remove worship leaders even though they were living in unmarried sexual relationships. I even witnessed a dysfunctional church board systematically force out pastors every few years just to remind the pastors who was in charge. In each of these cases there was no accountability and their actions did great harm to the church's work in their communities.
These situations don't happen every day, of course, but they can happen, and the fact that Rainer's book is too simple to account for what to do when such abuses occur -- and could in fact easily be used to justify remaining in churches with such abuses -- troubles me. It seems to me that Rainer either a) assumes that readers of his book attend an orthodox, reasonably functional church or b) assumes that his book is proscriptive to all churches. Both of those assumptions have potential problems, and the fact that the book lacks the depth or breadth to even make clear what those assumptions are speaks to the book's overall lack of clarity.
So what to make of the book, then? I've obviously got mixed feelings. On one hand, I think it is a good reminder that the church is not about me and is a good tool for self-reflection. On the other hand, I have misgivings about how easily it can be twisted for purposes that can actually harm the mission of the church.
on July 15, 2014
Good view of how the Bible wants us to be in our churches. I like the analogies and examples used. Brings the points home. It's short and sweet and to the point.
My two points where I think it can improve:
1. Questions at the end of each chapter do not make you think deeper. It is more review questions rather than invoke deeper reflection.
2. It assumes that the pastor/minister's hearts are good. It is good to assume the best in others, but that may not be true each time. We need to have the right attitude and respect toward our leaders, but also not follow blindly.
on July 16, 2013
The present statistics are compelling. The church is shrinking, not growing. Point the finger in any direction: secular culture, godless politics, hypocritical members, uncaring pastors. In the end, though, each church member must take responsibility.
I am a church member. I bet you are, too. But are we the kind of members who will turn the tide of these dismal statistics? I've been dissatisfied with a church. I bet you have, too. Dissatisfaction is as old as Eden. It starts with making my desires and my preferences primary. This attitude, of course, presents itself in many ways. We think and say things like: "I just don't connect to the message." "The music is too ______." "No one says `Hi!' to me." "Our small group feels contrived." "There are so many hypocrites."
Do these examples sound judgmental? I hope not. I'm simply admitting what I've said.
Put simply, each of us either thinks biblically about church membership or we don't. We either serve or we are self-serving. We're either functional members or dysfunctional complainers.
I Am a Church Member prods us by asking, "Which kind of member am I?" Through this book we undergo a robust church membership assessment in which Thom Rainer, president and CEO of Lifeway Christian Resources, invites us to carefully and prayerfully take six pledges. During this assessment, Scripture shapes Rainer's wisdom, all the while fixing the reader's gaze on Christ, the head of the church. And with each pledge, he pushes us toward self-examination, discerning the difference between dissatisfied and functional membership in the church.
In a word, the difference between the two is attitude. Dissatisfaction occurs when skewed expectations and misaligned understandings supplant the church's purpose. Rainer's country club membership image was helpful here. Country club membership includes perks and privileges. It involves a customer service mentality. It's not "I serve" but "I get served." All too often, unfortunately, we import this notion of membership over to the church.
To correct this membership misconception, then, we need an attitude overhaul, since attitude alters our identity.
A functional church member is characterized by love, generosity, and service. In order become--and remain--such a member, Rainer exhorts, "Give abundantly and serve without hesitation" (14). Indeed, functional church members are characterized by attitudes of unity, service, and prayer.
Even more, church members are unified; they detest gossip and cultivate forgiveness. Rainer exhorts the reader to nip gossip in the bud and to gently rebuke those who are a source of it. Concerning forgiveness, he writes, "Unity in the church will not happen if members have unforgiving hearts" (28). In churches full of imperfect sinners, forgiveness is often required, and it begins with and is upheld by Christ himself.
We all have the propensity to make church about our preferences and desires, and self-serving attitudes are often the product of an inward-focused church. You want this book for the research Rainer shares about such churches; indeed, it will help you diagnose if you're in one. Don't run, however, if you are; become a change agent and put yourself last, not first. Rainer commends this kind of patience: "True joy means giving up our rights and preferences and serving everyone else" (36).
Church members also pray for their leaders' ministry, family, protection, and health. Our enemy is intent on ensnaring church leaders. Unfortunately, he often succeeds. "We should not be surprised, then, when we hear of a pastor's moral failure," Rainer writes. "We are grieved and heartbroken, but not surprised" (49). Intercession for church leaders therefore is important, as it insulates them against some kinds of temptation.
God's Stake in His Church
Thankfully, despite our failed past attempts at being a functional church member, God has a heightened interest in overhauling and altering our dismal attitudes for his glory and the church's good. When he turns dissatisfied members into functional, unified, serving, and praying ones, the difference is striking. And one by one, the church gets transformed.
But all of this change is purposeless if it cannot be sustained. Functional members must reproduce functional members who continually treasure God's church.
Rainer posits a few ways this reproduction may be easier to achieve. First, functional members must lead their families well. This involves praying together, worshiping together, and fostering love for the congregation. Second, functional members understand their membership as a gift. "It's not a legalistic obligation. It's not country club perks. It's not a license for entitlement," Rainer writes. "It's a gift. A gift from God. A gift that we should treasure with great joy and anticipation" (71). This entails full engagement in the life of the church. Third, functional members uphold the importance of local churches. By appealing particularly to the Spirit's work in Acts, Rainer soundly resolves this dispute--vague commitment to the universal church is insufficient. As he concludes, "The Bible is clear that we are to be connected to a specific church in a specific context" (72).
Take Up and Pledge
With brief books there's always the temptation to read too quickly, ultimately leaving the reader with an ineffectual experience. Don't let this happen with this book! Linger over these six chapters. Each one ends with a pledge and discussion questions, and I encourage readers to find a group or a friend with whom to use these as prompts for further reflection. In fact, churches would especially profit from using this resource in small group and discipling contexts.
Perhaps you've picked up on it by now, but I used to be a dissatisfied church member. Though I'm glad it's behind me, the transition certainly wasn't easy. Nevertheless, I probably would have made it much sooner had this book been around circa 2000. Thankfully, it's available now. Don't miss out; benefit from Thom Rainer's I Am a Church Member.
on November 25, 2013
I wanted to listen to I Am a Church Member: Discovering the Attitude that Makes the Difference by Thomas Rainer, because I was looking for a book that might be of assistance to those people that are new to our Church, but also new to church in-general. I thought about picking up the Kindle Version, but when I saw this book on Christian Audio, I decided to go ahead and pick it up. Listening to audiobooks on my ride to work and while I am working out, has been very beneficial.
Basically this book breaks down a few basic elements of Biblical Church membership. The author speaks as a Pastor (and the member of a church). He shares different stories with each chapter, and then builds a Biblical basis for the point of understanding Biblical Church Membership. I appreciate that the points, though they include the stories and personal experiences, are not built on these accounts. The principles are built on scripture, the other elements are just there to assist in illustrating different aspects of these principles.
At the end of each chapter, he restates the principle in the form of a commitment that a person could state as a promise to others in the church. There is a huge benefit here, because it draws people in for the application of the Biblical truth they just read/listened to. It is also a fairly short book. the audio chapters are only about 15 minutes long, and there are only about 6 chapters. I am considering looking for a package deal of these in paperback for the church. I will at least get one for myself to draw from as new people continue to come to Edgewood ([...]
If you are looking for a great way to help new members understand what they are "getting themselves in to" then this is a good book that could be used to accomplish that task.