Learning to be a Church Member

Posted on July 20, 2011 by Dr. Jerry Rankin in Rankin Connecting

This may seem to be a strange topic for someone 69 years old who has served the Lord all his life. However, this is one of the surprising challenges of a new retirement lifestyle. It is not that I have not been a member of a church since trusting the Lord and being baptized almost 60 years ago, but ministry roles have precluded what others experience as faithful Christians involved in a local congregation.

Before leaving for the mission field 41 years ago, I served on a church staff and pastored two churches. But pastoral responsibilities don’t really compare with the role of normal church members. On the mission field I started a number of churches, but an indigenous church plant requires avoiding dependence on outside leadership. So while I was discipling new believers, training lay pastors and facilitating groups of Christians becoming a church, I wasn’t personally involved in any one congregation.

The problem was exacerbated once I moved into a mission leadership role on the field and later as president of the International Mission Board. Traveling 70% of the time prohibited any practical involvement as a local church member, especially when almost every Sunday found me preaching somewhere across the Southern Baptist Convention.

My pastor understood and considered me a good member as long as I sent my wife and my tithe to church. The rare Sundays, three or four times a year, when I got to sit in the pew, worship with others and hear my pastor preach were truly times of inspiration and refreshing. Most Sundays continue to be committed on my calendar as I have no intention of ceasing to be an advocate for missions or relinquishing my calling to preach.

However, settling into retirement has allowed me to be more consistently involved in my home church, Morrison Heights. My wife even has me going to Sunday School for the first time in 45 years! Actually, Sunday School classes are called Life Groups at our church, because it is more than just discussing a Bible lesson on Sunday morning; the bonding with this small group is where the body-life of the church in a caring and nurturing fellowship is really carried out.

I was a little offended when they referred me to a group of old folks but quickly realized they were peers, many younger than I and still actively employed! It is inspiring to get a double dose of the Word each Sunday, great expository preaching from my pastor, Greg Belser, and then a good application of a Scripture passage from Gaylon Joullian, the teacher of my Life Group. The sharing and prayer time on Wednesday nights is genuine and meaningful as we get to know people and they speak into our lives.

I have discovered as a reality what I always envisioned one should experience in a local church: to be fed by doctrinally-sound biblical preaching, to participate in authentic worship that leaves a sense of having met God, to be a part of a body-life of caring and mutual ministry, and a strong priority of mission outreach and ministry. Morrison Heights, like any other church, is not perfect in all these regards—there is room for growth—but we are finding it a joy and blessing as we learn to be church members and find our place of ministry within a local body of believers.

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