Empty Bottle Membership

The story is told of a man who hopped from church to church, never remaining long in any one place as a member. One day he asked his current pastor, “What would you think if I joined another church?” The pastor answered, “I think it would be all right in your case. It doesn’t do any harm to change the label on an empty bottle.”

Have you ever met a professing Christian who couldn’t settle down in any one church? I have. Have you ever met one whose church letter never seemed to translate into much holy living? I have. Have you ever met one who seemed to think that church membership was some kind of get-out-of-jail-free card in regards to sin? I have.

I’m not trying to devalue having your name on a church roll, but I would like to point out that it’s not exactly the end-all-be-all of living the Christian life. I forget who it was but some famous preacher once said, “The Lord has some the church doesn’t have, and the church has some the Lord doesn’t have.” That sums up the situation pretty well, doesn’t it? As another preacher once said concerning the “dead wood” on our church rolls, “We’ve got some members even the C.I.A. couldn’t find.”

Unfortunately, the church growth movement that swept this county some years ago has wired us to equate spirituality and God’s blessing with the number of names on a membership roll. Again, I’m not railing against church membership, but I do want to remind us that the great commission calls for the making of disciples, not just church members (Matthew 28:18-20). Give me a choice between a disciple and an “empty bottle” church member, and I’ll take the disciple every time.

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2 Responses to Empty Bottle Membership

  1. John Moore says:

    A couple years ago I was in an accident and messed up my foot. I now miss an occasional sunday at church because it is much more of a job to get there, etc. I feel guilty but I dont think God minds too much. Do you?

    • russellmckinney says:

      John, to answer your question, God isn’t nearly so rigid and legalistic as some Christians (including some of us pastors) are. He does understand your situation and He does sympathize with it. He knows who’s really trying and giving effort and who isn’t. He knows our hearts, our intents, our motives, and our desires. Nothing escapes His understanding. So, in that regard, perhaps He doesn’t mind you missing services occasionally.

      Now, with that said, none of us should ever be so quick to put God’s stamp of approval on missing a service. If we plan to miss, we should definitely make it a matter of prayer and seeking His will concerning that specific service. Surely there will be times when God will be okay with a miss. For example, when my family and I go on vacation we don’t usually find a church to attend on Sunday morning and we certainly don’t do it for Sunday night and Wednesday night. And yet I’ve always had a peace about such missing. Even as I am writing this reply to you tonight, my neighbors have a child who is undergoing emergency surgery. I can assure you that they didn’t go to church tonight and that God is fine with them being at the hospital instead of the church house. On the other hand, though, God’s approval of missing a service is probably rarer than we assume it to be. Having been a pastor for twenty years, I can tell you that people missing church for reasons that aren’t God-approved is a far, far bigger problem than people dragging themselves to church when God wouldn’t mind them being someplace else.

      The word that jumps out to me from your reply is “guilty.” So my advice to you is this: Whenever you plan to miss a service and sense some guilt over it, you really need to pray and ask God to show you the truth about that guilt. Is the guilt actually conviction coming from Him because He wants you to attend that service? Or is the guilt false guilt that you have conjured upon within yourself out of some overly exaggerated sense of legalism or duty? You see, I can’t answer that for you. What I can tell you is that there isn’t a one-size-fits-all blanket answer for such instances. That’s why you must take each one on an individual basis and ask God to help you determine what His will is for THAT particular service. I hope this helps.

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