Book Review: Church Membership – How the world knows who represents Jesus

Author: Jonathan Leeman

Reviewer: Joel Gilbert

What’s the big deal with church membership?  Is it even biblical?  Why do we have the membership processes that we do?  Why would I want to be accountable to a church?

All of these questions are frequently asked and good questions.  These are all things that Jonathan Leeman addresses in his book Church Membership: How the world knows who represents Jesus.  

Published as a part of the 9Marks “Building Healthy Churches” series, Church Membership addresses some of the biggest hang ups that people have around joining a church.  Leeman uses both biblical and metaphorical examples to explain the value of church membership.

One concept that I’ve often wrestled with is the idea that “membership” feels like a social or shopping club term.  I belong to this organization or that store in order to get rewards.  Leeman explains that while there is a social club element to membership, it is so much more than that.  In one of his metaphors he equates the church to an embassy.  If we think of an embassy as a representation of one country inside another country, then belonging to a church begins to make sense in a different way.  Each church is an embassy of the Kingdom of God here on earth.  Membership in a church is sort of like citizenship (or a passport) of a nation.  Where the embassy could vouch for our citizenship of the USA, a church affirms our membership in the Kingdom of God.  Each church will do that differently – and that’s ok.  It’s far more than a social club, it’s citizenship, it’s family, it’s a body….

On the issue of the biblical relevance of church membership, Leeman takes a whirlwind tour through the New Testament, suggesting dozens of references to provide evidence of some form of membership.  Some of these references we might overlook as the cursory reading just makes sense to our ears.  For example,  in Acts 12:1 – notes that King Herod “laid violent hands on some who belonged to the church.”  What does it mean to belong?  Is that attending or visiting or is there something more?  Some form of membership or belonging together is certainly implied.  

Leeman also makes it clear that the church is the people.  It’s not the 501C3 organization, but the people.  When we accept one another as members, we affirm the evidence of faith that we see in one another.

As a believer, reading this reinforced the decision I made to officially join a church when I was 22.  In that church I got to grow and be discipled.  As a member, I got to use my gifts and talents in ways that I otherwise would not have been able to.

Today, I’m grateful that I get to be a member with my brothers and sisters at PBC.  I’m grateful you have affirmed my citizenship in the Kingdom of God.  I’m grateful for the prayers and encouragement and even for the discipline that could come – if needed.

If you wonder why you joined a church, then this book is for you.  If you wonder why some people (maybe the pastor or elders or another Christian) want you to join a church – this book is for you.  If you’re dead-set against joining a church – then this book is for you too.  It might not change your mind, but it will give you a bigger, clearer perspective of what membership can and should be.

You can get this book here:


Categories: Book Review

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