Questions regarding becoming a member of a church

Discussion in 'Pastoral Ministries' started by SmalltownPastor, Nov 9, 2012.

  1. SmalltownPastor

    SmalltownPastor
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    I'm a relatively new pastor of a smalltown SBC church. I thought I was familiar with how people become members (baptism, statement, letter), but I'm realizing the lines aren't quite as defined as I'd like them to be. Rarely do situations neatly fall into the boxes that I imagined. Take these three cases.

    1) Someone came forward to join by baptism. But in counseling with her after the service, I find out that she had already been baptized (because she had "accepted Christ" years earlier, but she was now ready to really commit to Him. I explain that we need only get baptized once. So she joined by statement of faith (she was not a member of a church anywhere...). She has rarely attended since then, even though we regularly check on her and seek to include her.

    2) Someone came forward to join by transfer of letter. I find out that she's a member of the ABC church in town. I didn't realize that SBC and ABC churches exchanged letters before that day, but apparently they do, because without even requesting the letter, the ABC church sent us one for her. Is this normal?

    3) Someone came forward to join by statement of faith. I find out she's a member of an IBC in a nearby town. She didn't want to transfer her letter (still not completely clear on why...has something to do with her divorce and the previous church siding with her ex-husband who abandoned her), so I asked her if I could at least call her previous pastor and ask if she was in good standing. She was okay with that, so I called him, left a message, but haven't heard back yet (this was just this past week).

    How would you handle each of these cases?
     
  2. RG2

    RG2
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    Though to say. The church letter holds more or less significance depending on where you are. In some places it's held to be pretty sacred, in others it seems to just be a courtesy to say "btw, your member is now a member of my church so you can take them off your rolls."

    As for #2, I have found it to be good practice to notify any church that their member has transferred. I just think that if I had a member attend a different church (Baptist or not) it would be nice to know that they have found a home somewhere else.

    For #1, some places practice the one baptism and that's it. Other places seem to baptise someone anytime they have a change of heart, or rededication, or whatever. I think it's important to talk to the people and make sure they know that the act of baptism while a great event and a special time... it isn't a supernatural experience. It's not like God's going to add extra favor or grace every time they get dunked. It seems like some people seem to think and believe that it is.

    #3, there seems like there is more to that story. Again I understand if someone wouldn't want you contacting their other church, so they wouldn't want to transfer their letter. However, I do not understand why they wouldn't want to transfer it, and then tell you to call them. Only thing I can think is like I mentioned earlier, some people are very particular about their letter... and they might not want to show them going from a IBC to a SBC church? I don't know about that one.
     
  3. Tom Butler

    Tom Butler
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    The fact that we're having this discussion suggests that it would be wise for a pastor to revisit this topic on occasion, and not assume that all the members are up to speed on the church's policies.

    And it might be wise for the church to revisit te policy with a new pastor, so they're on the same page.

    That said, each church sets its own policies. Fifty years ago, my church refused to grant requests for letter from folks who came from Independent Baptist churches. That's because a couple of newly-formed IBCs had been pretty agressive in "sheep stealing," and ths was a natural reaction. Attitudes have softened on both sides over the years, and now such requests are routinely granted on both sides.

    The point is, of course, that an autonomous Baptist church may decide for itself its policy on membership.

    We have to remember that letters are just tools. They're a means of communicating between one church and another. I believe it's useful for a granting church pastor to tell the new church about the member. Things such as gifts and talents, faithfulness, etc. And, if the member was a troublemaker, the new church deserves to know that, too.

    If a new member doesn't want you contacting their former church, that's not their call. It should raise a warning flag.

    Now, regarding (1) in the OP. Strange, that she'd been baptized, but was not a member of any church. I'd want to know what church baptized her and why she was not a member of any church. Not every "baptism" is valid or scriptural.

    About (2). I frankly don't know about ABC churches, or how our church would treat such a situation, since we've never had to deal with it before.

    About (3), see what I've written earlier.
     
  4. Van

    Van
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    In congregational churches members vote and exercise ultimate authority over hiring and firing, budget allocation, and any real estate transaction. The constitution has a "what we believe" systematic theology section.

    We interview potential new members to ensure they are seeking water baptism because of obedience to Christ's command, and not because they think the act accomplishes more than getting wet.

    We have a "new members" class where we present our understanding of the gospel and the distinctives of our church. We do not baptize little children, i.e. less than about 10 and prefer to baptize youths and adults, in accordance with our understanding of "believers baptism."

    In speaking about red flags, the one I came across most often was the unwillingness of an older person to provide their testimony, and describe their changed life. The mind set was they had been members elsewhere for a long time and therefore they should be accepted without challenge.

    I think performing a second baptism is a good thing, provided the first was of a child or youth performed in a prior church. If you block a person from being baptized, they may internalize the action as a rejection and be hurt deeply. Not what Jesus had in mind!!
     
  5. JohnDeereFan

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    I would be very concerned about her.

    The first red flag I see is the way she uses words like "accepted Christ" and "really commit to Him".

    We don't "accept Christ". He accepts us (or not). And we don't "commit to Him". The fruit of the Spirit and growth in Christ should be occurring naturally.

    It doesn't sound like she's produced very good fruit.

    Just based on the little bit you've described, I couldn't consider her eligible for church membership or baptism and I would share the Gospel with her.

    It's possible that she's just really bad at articulating the Gospel, but those words would make me concerned that she doesn't understand the Gospel.

    Well, it's not abnormal. When I got saved and became a Baptist, my Methodist church forwarded my letter to my new Baptist church. They weren't happy about it, but they did it.

    I would keep calling the pastor but, in the meantime, I would meet with her (with another female present, of course) and counsel her. I would want to know how she understands the Gospel and if she has repented and received Christ.
     
  6. Batt4Christ

    Batt4Christ
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    1) Someone came forward to join by baptism. But in counseling with her after the service, I find out that she had already been baptized (because she had "accepted Christ" years earlier, but she was now ready to really commit to Him. I explain that we need only get baptized once. So she joined by statement of faith (she was not a member of a church anywhere...). She has rarely attended since then, even though we regularly check on her and seek to include her.

    I would say more counseling on her conversion "experience". In my view (and that of most of the churches in the association in which the church I pastor is affiliated), the only valid baptism is one that comes after a person is born-again. It almost sounds like this person either wasn't at the time she was "dunked", or has some insecurities about her salvation. If she indeed was not saved the first time around - baptism would have been in order. If she was not a "member of a church anywhere" - then how do you surmise that her baptism was scriptural?


    2) Someone came forward to join by transfer of letter. I find out that she's a member of the ABC church in town. I didn't realize that SBC and ABC churches exchanged letters before that day, but apparently they do, because without even requesting the letter, the ABC church sent us one for her. Is this normal?

    I have found that SBC churches vary considerably from congregation to congregation - some are a bit more "strict" in what churches they will accept letters from. Others will take just about anyone (including folks who have been "sprinkled"...

    3) Someone came forward to join by statement of faith. I find out she's a member of an IBC in a nearby town. She didn't want to transfer her letter (still not completely clear on why...has something to do with her divorce and the previous church siding with her ex-husband who abandoned her), so I asked her if I could at least call her previous pastor and ask if she was in good standing. She was okay with that, so I called him, left a message, but haven't heard back yet (this was just this past week).

    I know quite a few IBC pastors - and many will not grant letters for members to join associational or convention Baptist churches. Some also will not accept letters from said churches.

    I have also found in a lot of IBC churches, they get caught up in these personal issues and often do take sides - leaving the people who leave the church (often with good reason) out to dry.

    When someone who comes from an IBC desires to join the church I am pastoring, I spend a bit of extra time counseling - confirming as best as possible their testimony, and I don't expect a letter (though I often do make sure a letter is sent to let the IBC congregation know the disposition of their former member.
     
  7. JohnDeereFan

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    I wouldn't have a problem baptizing her again, but when she uses phrases like "accept Christ" and "really commit to Him", that's a big red flag. That, coupled with the fact that she never became a member of a local assembly would make me concerned about her salvation. I would say she needs counseling and some mentorship, first.

    I don't think it's normal these days, but only because the world has so influenced the Church that we now see church as just another place to go, just another social exercise. But, in the past, denominations often exchanged letters. For example, when I left the UMC, they sent a letter to my new Baptist Church.

    I'm a little confused as to why she would want to join, but not transfer her letter. But she's not responsible for what the pastor of that church does. If the pastor isn't cooperating, then I would have a couple of weeks of counseling and mentorship with her and then decide what to do. If her testimony is Biblically valid, she holds to sound doctrine, and appears to be producing good fruit, then I don't see any reason not to consider her for membership.
     

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