A few weeks ago I mentioned a couple questions people sometimes ask us (elders) when we talk about the importance of church membership. I would like to mention another frequently asked question that sometimes comes up in a discussion about church membership.
Q. Shouldn’t we show love to unbelievers even though they aren’t part of our local church?
I don’t think people asking this question are necessarily opposed to the idea of church membership. In most cases I think they just want to make sure we don’t become unbalanced and forget to reach out to unbelievers. That’s certainly a valid concern we all need to have. We need to watch out that we don’t forget about the lost.
A heart for the lost
The Scriptures are clear that we need to be reaching out to the world. Therefore, we cannot limit our focus of ministry to those within the church. Jesus came to seek and to save the lost (Mark 11:35), and we should have the same mindset. We are to see ourselves as ambassadors of Jesus Christ, pleading with unbelievers on behalf of Christ to be reconciled to God (2 Corinthian 5:20). Of course, we could list many, many more Scriptures to show the necessity of lovingly reaching out to our community and to the world with the gospel.
In light of our God-given responsibility to reach out to the world with the gospel, it must be said: If our life in the church consumes our affection, time, money, and energy so that we are not able to show Christ-centered and Christ-generated love to the world, then we have erred and must seek forgiveness from the One who commissions us to go to the world (Matthew 28:19-20).
It has been said many times. God could have saved each of us and taken us to heaven immediately, but He wants us to be a light to the world.
So, while we emphasize the importance of church membership and the importance of being faithful members of our local church, we must also remember our responsibility to show Christ-centered and gospel-centered love to the lost people all around us.
What is more important: a heart for the church or a heart for the lost?
I’ve heard people entertain this question as though it is a valid one. But, it’s actually a trick question because it leads one to believe that one is in fact more important than the other. The truth is: A heart for the church and a heart for the lost are both essential.
How do we balance the two?
We can say they are both important, but it is sometimes really easy to become unbalanced. We must remember that we have many responsibilities as Christians, and God gives us grace to fulfill each of them. Here are some principles that help us balance a heart for the church and a heart for the lost.
We should do good to everyone – especially to church members. Galatians 6:10 says, “So then, while we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, and especially to those who are of the household of the faith.” Members of the body should not exclude unbelievers when showing God’s love. However, Christians should prioritize the members of their own church body, or “household,” when showing love and “doing good” to others. Do not treat members of the church body the same way you treat unbelieving neighbors and acquaintances.
Let the unbelieving world see your Christian love for one another. Jesus told His disciples, “”By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35). Loving fellow believers is part of reaching out to the world. As well, loving church family members is part of the excellent behavior that God sometimes uses to save people (see 1 Peter 1:12; cf.1:22 ).
Let the unbelieving world see the worth of the gospel. Philippians 1:27 says, “…conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ…standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel.” Fulfilling your responsibilities to church family members is part of Gods’ strategy for reaching the world.
Don’t love only when it benefits you. Watch out for partiality! James 2:1 and 9 say, “My brethren, do not hold your faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ with an attitude of personal favoritism…if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors.” While James was warning believers about the sin of favoring the wealthy, the principle is clear: We must not love people only when there is personal benefit. The church shouldn’t be an exclusive club. We should communicate the truths that we love every soul and that the gospel is a message for all people. When we ignore unbelievers (perhaps attending a worship service) simply because we are more comfortable talking to church family members we already know, we are sinning.
So, church membership actually helps us to reach out to the world.