Our Goal is Discipleship, Not Membership!

Pastor Jim Kniseley presented this sermon at Resurrection May 20, 2012, the Seventh Sunday of Easter.  The gospel reading is John 17:6-19 and the key verse is “…and now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world (vs. 11).”  This is also Commitment Sunday for Witness and Service.


Dear Friends in Christ,


This is a wonderful day for Resurrection.  This day we are both receiving something from God and giving something to God.  What are we receiving?  Eleven new members.  What are we giving?  Whatever the Spirit moves us to commit on our Witness and Service Forms in a little while. 


Eleven new members are for me a reminder of God’s grace.  They come to us as a gift.  This congregation will be strengthened by their presence and we can take no credit for them deciding to join this congregation.  They are here  because  God inspired them to be here.


Receiving new members and taking time in worship to fill out our Witness and Service Forms prompts me to think about what it means to be a part of the Body of Christ.  Perhaps a better question is “ what does God expect of each one of us who is here today?”


In the gospel reading we heard Jesus pray to his Father, “and now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world.”  Jesus is praying for his disciples and he is praying for us.  He knows that he is returning to heaven, but his work and ministry in this world are now to be carried on by his followers in each generation.  This is now our generation, our turn.  It’s “God’s Work   Our Hands.”


Is our goal at Resurrection to have more members or more disciples?  There is a difference, you know.  The goal of membership often includes  things like giving money to support others who do ministry, for  the understanding of ministry in this paradigm is that it is done by professionals.  The goal of recruiting new members then is for the purpose of maintaining the institution (the building included) and further to make sure the traditional structure of committees and council is maintained.  In this understanding of church, the congregation has low expectations of members, after all if we expect too much, people won’t join or stick around long.



In making disciples, the primary relationship is not the congregation.  The primary relationship is with Jesus.  As a disciple, we understand:

1.       Ministry belongs to all the people.

2.      We live out our church life in community.

3.      The mission field starts in the congregation itself and then moves out into the larger community (in an average congregation

there are lots of folks who need to be ministered to, especially the ½ to 2/3 of members who aren’t at worship on an average Sunday morning).

4.      The goal of the congregation is to make disciples.  Membership is not enough.


Some years ago at our Virginia Synod Assembly we had an excellent speaker, The Rev. Michael Foss, at that time pastor of the very large Prince of Peace Lutheran in Burnsville, Minnesota.  He wrote a book called Power Surge: Six Marks of Discipleship for a Changing Church.  In the book he observes that they are 6 things that healthy Christian disciples do,  that seem to make a whale of a difference in moving from just membership to discipleship.  Here they are:

1.      Daily prayer

2.      Daily scripture reading

3.      Weekly worship

4.      Growth in giving to the tithe or beyond

5.      Serving others in Jesus name

6.      Sharing the faith story with the unchurched


In a little while we are going to take time in this worship service to fill out and turn in the Witness and Service for 2012-2013.  Please know that in this congregation that we are structured into about 12 teams and just about all of our ministry is conducted through these teams.  Please pick out a team that matches your gifts and talents and interest.  Make that your primary team for the coming year.  Most likely that will involve participation in a monthly meeting.  Then go through the other teams and see if you can offer your gifts. 


Let me give you an example.  Let’s say you decide that serving on the Health Ministry Team is your primary  team.  You can also sign up for some other things that match your gifts. You could sign up under Worship and Music to be a greeter and serve as an usher.  Under Property you could sign up help shovel snow off the sidewalks or help with indoor maintenance projects.  Under Christian Education you could sign up to help with Vacation Bible School. 


Please don’t sign up for too much, but also don’t sign up for too little.  Think as disciples:  what does Jesus want me to do and what gifts have I been given for building up the Body of Christ? 


Here are a few verses from scripture that set the tone for our response this day:

1.      Ephesians 4:12  “Gifts were given so that the Body of Christ may be built up…”

2.      Ephesians 4:15.16  “We will in all things grow into him who is the Head, that is Christ, from him the whole body, joined and held together by ever supporting ligaments grows and builds itself in love, as each part does its work.”

3.      II Corinthians 9:7  “Each one should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.”


It is my hope and prayer that each disciple of Jesus present will prayerfully check those areas where they are willing to engage.  We will ask our Team Captains to make sure then that you are contacted and plugged in. 


The watchwords for today are these: May we be disciples and not just members.