The Church is the body of Christ acting in the world as a witness to the gospel of grace. If the Church is to serve as Christ’s faithful evangelist in active community, it must work at engaging and examining new members.
An active member is one who makes a profession of faith in Christ, has been baptized, and is received into the body by an act of session. As a community of faith, the Church entrusts its life to God and works at becoming a community of hope, “rejoicing in the sure and certain knowledge that, in Christ, God is making a new creation. This new creation is a new beginning for human life and for all things. The Church lives in the present on the strength of that promised new creation.” The Church is “a community of witness, pointing beyond itself through word and work to the good news of God’s transforming grace in Christ Jesus its Lord.” (Book of Order, F-1.0301)
“Membership ... is a joy and a privilege. It is also a commitment to participate in Christ’s mission” (Book of Order, G-1.0304). Therefore, it is appropriate that new members be prepared and examined for membership by the session overseeing their care and nurture. While “[n]o person shall be denied membership for any reason not related to profession of faith” (Book of Order, G-1.0302), even if a new member is joining by letter of transfer or reaffirmation of faith, thus renewing a faith commitment made at an earlier date, they are still dedicating themselves to a new congregation and should know how the mission and ministry of Christ are lived out in that particular assembly. While the pastor can be helpful in sharing this information, and is often the one to lead a “new member class,” the session is best-positioned to tell the church’s story and invite discussion over areas of mutual interest and dedication. Such a discussion can help the ruling elders discern an individual readiness to grow in covenant faithfulness.
The term of a new member class is largely dependent upon the spiritual maturity and level of discipleship already achieved by individuals seeking membership in the body. In general, though, such classes could lift up:
- Being a Presbyterian—the church’s history, polity, and doctrine.
- Being a Presbyterian in this Place—the congregation’s history, mission, and service, as well as the expectations of membership.
- The intersection of life and faith, including an inventory of gifts and talents.
- And, especially for those making a profession of faith, developing a statement of faith that speaks to their trust in God, their reliance upon grace, and evidence of the Spirit moving within them, prompting them to confess Christ as Lord and accept the responsibilities of membership. In the church I serve, that statement takes many forms. Recently, one confirmand composed a musical piece in three-parts to profess her faith. Another created a liturgical dance, which she performed and described in beautiful detail.
New members bring energy, joy, and hope to a congregation. They also encourage us to welcome the “new creation” in Christ. Preparing, examining, and celebrating these new members in a time of fresh commitment to the ministry of the Church can prompt an experience of the Spirit that leads to congregational renewal.
The Reverend Dr. Rhonda Myers is pastor of the Chapel Lane Presbyterian Church in Midland, Michigan, serves as chair of her presbytery’s CPM, and is married to an intentional interim pastor, the Reverend David Myers, who is currently serving in Linden, Michigan.