We in the cell church world believe that both cell and celebration are the church. The natural result of this conviction is to encouage active participation in a cell group as a prerequsiste for membership.
Yet some might ask, “why membership?” Or, “why must I belong to one local church?” Why not just float from congregation to congregation, belonging to the body of Christ at large? Why do we even talk about commitment to one local church?
I’ve been thinking about this question a lot lately in my attempt to explain to an uncommitted family in our cell group why it’s important to join a local church. In my first conversation with the husband, I stumbled and bumbled. I didn’t want to appear legalistic or overbearing but ended up giving him fuzzy, unclear signals. The next morning, however, the Lord spoke to me clearly and reminded me why each believer needs to be committed to a local church.
Scripture says in Hebrews 13:17, “Obey your leaders and submit to their authority. They keep watch over you as men who must give an account. Obey them so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no advantage to you.” God reminded me that He has ordained the local church to “watch over the souls” of believers. The local church is God’s vehicle to take care of believers. When a person joins the local church, he or she is placing himself under God-ordained leadership. The person is saying, I will receive spiritual direction from the local church leadership, and I will also contribute to the local church (e.g., tithing, using his or her gifts, etc.).
I live in California. We have a lot of illegal immigrants in this part of the world. An illegal alien can’t receive the full benefits of the government, nor can he or she truly contribute to the nation. Those who hop from church to church are a lot like illegal aliens. They neither contribute to the needs of the local church, nor receive the full benefits of pastoral care and discipline. They are constantly wandering (like one couple who attended our church for 1.5 years without ever saying, ‘this is my church’).
The next week after the cell, I told this husband that he and his family needed to make a decision to join one local church and submit to the pastoral leadership. I told him that if he and his family made a decision to join our local church, he wasn’t making a life-time decision. He could always leave later on. But if and when he did leave, I would then encourage him to once again find one local church. I even told him that I didn’t feel comfortable taking his family through the training track unless he was called to be part of our church. Why? Because as his pastor, I wanted to know that I had the spiritual authority to minister into his life.
What do you think about this? What has your experience been in this area?