Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Cleaning the Membership Rolls (Part 2)

I posted the first half of this article two weeks ago, and wanted to follow up the the remainder.

The Care List

By Matt Schmucker

How can we lovingly remove members from the roles of our churches without
causing division and hurt feelings among the members who remain? A
pastor may be rightly concerned about bloated membership lists that do
not accurately reflect who is actually involved in the church. But it
is difficult to predict how the very ones he wants to protect—the
active believers!—will respond when he recommends trimming down the
list. In more than one of our church’s members meetings, Iand the other church elders found ourselves faced with members who were
suddenly hurt or even upset when we presented a friend of theirs for
removal (discipline) from membership. Invariably, the upset member said
the same thing: "you elders are moving too quickly; you don’t have all
the data!"

Several years ago, a woman named "Kate," once a
fruitful and active member, grew unhappy with our church. Over several
months, her activity lessened and her communication narrowed. We elders
heard second-hand reports that she was upset about our complementarian
view of men-women roles or about funding for certain missions projects.
Yet she never directly addressed her concerns with any leader. Whenever
a leader asked, she always responded with pleasantries and nothing
forth-telling. Finally, she asked for a meeting with our senior pastor,
where she announced her resignation from membership. Again, she voiced
no particular criticism. Our senior pastor took the notice to the
elders, who then took a motion to accept her resignation to the entire
congregation at the next regularly scheduled members meeting. That’s
where it got messy!

After the elders presented the motion to accept
Kate’s resignation, a member raised her hand and said, "I just had
lunch with Kate this afternoon, and she said she didn’t want to
resign." No further evidence was given. The congregation felt stuck
between the conflicting stories, and it became a very awkward position
for the elders because it raised questions of integrity. Was someone
not telling the truth? Were the elders trying to push Kate out before
she was ready? Was this loving? Was this right?

Kate’s situation involved an actual resignation, but
generally we found that active members tended to object when an
individual was being disciplined for non-attendance. Non-attendance is
one of the most difficult sins (Heb. 10:25-26) to discipline because
it’s common and it does not seem flagrant, like adultery or
fornication. Not many people will object to disciplinary actions taken
against an unrepentant adulterer. Yet it is the member who is on the
periphery of the church, who has not attended in months, who has been
dabbling in other churches, yet who still relates to a few of his or
her old friends in your church that is the most difficult and, frankly,
dangerous. He is neither in nor out! He’s disaffected, but for some
reason he won’t let go.

Two good things came out of the situation with Kate
that have removed much angst among both the elders and congregation.
First, our church now requires a written notice of resignation. It can
be an email, letter, or a sticky note. Yet having something written
eliminates embarrassing moments in members meetings like the one with
Kate and her friend who said she didn’t want to resign.

Second, our church created something called a "care
list." Before we recommend an individual for discipline, we announce
the individual’s name to the congregation in a members meeting as part
of this "care list." So the elders will say something like, "Bill has
not been at church in five months. Elder Bob and pastoral assistant Ben
have both pursued Bill by phone and email. Yet Bill won’t return
anyone’s messages. So we are placing him on the ‘care list.’ If you are
friends with Bill, please get in touch with him. Tell him that we love
him, and encourage him to once again join our fellowship. Otherwise, we
will remove his name from membership for non-attendance in our next
regularly scheduled member’s meeting," which, incidentally, occurs
every other month at our church.

Notice, we state the name (Bill), the reason why we
are concerned (non-attendance), the steps we have already taken (Bob
and Ben pursued him), and what the congregation should expect in two
months’ time (a motion for discipline). We also tell people to speak
with us after the meeting if they have any immediate information—names on the care list are announced, not discussed then and there.

Why go to all this trouble? Too many times, we had seen Satan exploit the newness or suddenness of
a motion for discipline in our meetings. The elders would have worked
with a disaffected member for months and months to no avail, and often
we had done so without informing the congregation of the struggle. When
the motion for discipline was then brought to the congregation, the
information felt sudden to many. Sometimes, the body absorbed the news
without a peep. But sometimes, it shocked their system. And even if the
congregation was inclined to follow the elders’ recommendation, you
could feel a certain reluctance. Unanswered questions hung in the air,
and the whole process seemed to undermine the congregation’s confidence
in the elders. With the institution of the care list, however, we began
to go to the congregation with our concerns about an individual prior to calling for a formal act of discipline.

The care list has grown to include more than
upcoming discipline cases. We now will address other matters like
member needs resulting from health issues or finances. Sometimes
members have even asked to have their own names placed on the care
list, so that the congregation knows they are in a season of needing
special care.

We do not publish the care list, but verbally tell
the members of the church at a members meeting (closed to non-members!)
who is on the list. This avoids potential undue embarrassment.

This simple idea has had many benefits. First, it has removed the
"shock" value Satan regularly seemed to exploit. Second, it has
protected the elders from unwarranted charges. Third and best of all,
it has involved the entire church in praying and pleading with their
fellow member to come back to the church and live out their covenant
pledge. I am delighted to say that, after years of working with the
care list, issues that were once divisive are now used to unite,
strengthen, and protect both the church and leader-congregation

  • Cleaning Up the Rolls (Part 1)

  • Mark 6: Biblical Understanding of Church Membership

  • Other Articles on Membership

  • Other Articles by Matt Schmucker
  • No comments: