A. Our Mission Statement.
1. We have ongoing discussions among our staff about what it means to be a member of our church. These discussions are fueled by a desire to maintain a standard for membership that aims at our sense of mission.
2. About fifteen years ago, we adopted a mission statement. To make it appropriate to our Anglican identity, we took it right from the Book of Common Prayer. In the Offices of Instruction, the question is asked, “What is your bounden duty as a member of the Church?” The answer given is: “My bounden duty is to follow Christ, to worship God every Sunday in his Church; and to work and pray and give for the spread of his kingdom” (BCP 291). This is what we understand the mission of our church to be. We can summarize its meaning as follows:
a. To follow Christ. Through prayer, Scripture and the counsel of God’s people, we are called to discern what Jesus is calling us to do and obediently follow where he leads us.
b. To worship God every Sunday in his Church. Sunday is the Lord’s Day and the Day of Resurrection; it is the day we gather to remember the Lord’s death, reaffirm our baptism, and receive a foretaste of the coming heavenly feast. As Hebrews says, “Let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works: Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching (10:24-25).
c. To pray for the spread of the kingdom. Thought it is second in the list, prayer is the first activity of faith. The Christian life is a life of prayer. We believe that it is best lived according to a pattern or Rule. Our life of prayer begins at the Altar. It continues in daily prayer that is rooted in the Daily Offices of Morning and Evening Prayer. These are the foundation for our ongoing personal conversation with God in Christ through the Spirit. Through prayer, we worship God, give thanks, confess our sins and intercede for the needs of the world.
d. To work for the spread of the kingdom. This does not refer only to what we do at church. We are called to do whatever we do to the glory of God and for the good of others. We should be excellent, honest and diligent in what we do. Our interactions with othersshould be characterized by love, respect and service. Our primary witness is not telling others about Jesus, but showing Jesus to others.
Of course, there is work to be done in the church. We are called to share in the work of the church according to our available time and gifts. God has given each of us what the Bible calls “spiritual gifts.” We discover who we really are by identifying our gifts and using them to serve others for Christ. 1 Peter says, “As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace” (1 Peter 4:10, ESV, see also Romans 12:3-8, Ephesians 4:7-13).
e. To give for the spread of the kingdom. We believe that stewardship begins with the tithe. We tithe when we give back to God through his church the first tenth of what God has given us. This is how we acknowledge that all we have belongs to God. There are many objections to tithing, rooted in our attachment to our money, but there are no good reasons not to tithe. In a culture in which we spend so much money on so many things, from sports, hobbies and entertainments to homes cars and other possessions, the failure to tithe means, simply, that our faith is not as much of a priority to us as other things. As Jesus said, “Where your treasure is, there will you heart be also” (Matthew 6:21).
Beyond the tithe, we are called to be generous givers according to our ability. As St. Paul wrote to the Corinthians, our giving is accepted when we are willing to give, “according to what one has, not according to what one does not have” (2 Corinthians 8:12). We give because we are made in the image of a generous God who gives us all things, and we give because God has made a world in which we receive by giving. As Jesus said,
Give, and it will be given to you: good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over will be put into your bosom. For with the same measure that you use, it will be measured back to you. (Luke 6:38).
B. Membership in our Church
1. A member of our church is one who participates in our mission. We have been particularly blessed as a church—we have been able to accomplish so much—because so many of our people share this vision for ministry. I am extremely grateful for your presence in this church, and I am continually humbled by your faithfulness and generosity.
2. There are, to be sure, other ways to look at membership in the church. One who prays infrequently—mainly in times of crisis—comes to church on Christmas, Easter and a few other occasions and makes some occasional contribution may, by some stretch of our by- laws, qualify as a member. However, we aim higher than this.
3. Aiming higher is the challenge of spiritual growth. We strive to be “perfect as [our] Father in heaven in perfect” (Matthew 5:48) even as we acknowledge that we are not there yet. This is why we need the church. In the Body of Christ we can confess our failures, be forgiven and receive the grace and strength we need to make progress towards the goal.
4. Still, there is a distinction between those who work, by grace, at growing towards the ideal and those who settle for the status quo. It is one thing to struggle and occasionally fall. It is another thing to not get back up or to never engage the battle in the first place.
C. Membership in the Body of Christ
1. We often associate the word member with the word club. However, when we are baptized into Christ, we become living parts of an organism—not members in a club. As Ephesians says, “We are members of His body, of His flesh and of His bones” (5:30, NKJ). In a living organism, members are interdependent. The behavior of one member affects the well being of all. If the legs decide not to do their work, the whole body is stuck in place. If the mouth decides not to chew, the whole body becomes malnourished.
2. When God calls a church to do something, God provides the gifted people that are necessary to carry out the work. But if the gifted people are unwilling to use their gifts, the church will not be able to fully accomplish God’s will. The Body of Christ in that place will walk with a limp or suffer from a lack of resources. Our individual behavior as members of the Body of Christ always impacts the whole body, whether for good or ill.
D. An Exhortation
1. In a sermon I gave after my consecration as bishop, I said that our whole church has been called to a higher office. A bishop is but one member a body. As I begin to do new work, other gifted members of our church will need to step in and do new things to fill in the gaps. Some who are now on the sidelines will need to enter the game. And God will send us new members with new gifts so that we will be able to do new things. The net result will be an increase in ministry everywhere. When all give more, all receive more.
2. Each year we send pledge cards to our members. A pledge card is a tithing estimate that helps the church to make a budget for the coming year. A pledge card is not intended to bind us to a commitment we cannot keep if we lose our job midyear or receive less income than we estimated. The commitment to tithe is a commitment to tithe from actual income. A tithe of 0 is 0; if we do better than we thought our tithe will be more. The most important thing is this: A pledge card indicates that you are committed to our mission to follow Christ, worship God and work and pray and give for the spread of his kingdom. If we all make a commitment to our mission, God will provide the gifts and resources we need.
3. We have great opportunities for ministry. In a broken and dying world, we have the opportunity to do things that matter for eternity, to participate in God’s work of new creation. I ask you to join me in renewing our commitment to our mission so that we may fulfill our calling—so that we, in the words of Ephesians,
May grow up in all things into Him who is the head—Christ—from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love (4:15-16, NKJ).