Imagine you are an orphaned child. You long to have a mom and a dad. Your deepest desire is to be part of a family. You think about it during the day (especially when you see other children with their parents!) and you dream about it at night. You are grateful for those who take care of you and for the friends who share your “home.” But your heart craves more. You’ve rejoiced with others who were blessed with a new family and home of their own. But you still wonder when your time will come. If your time will come.
Adopted into God’s Family
Some readers know that experience firsthand, either as a child blessed by adoption or as parents who opened their hearts and home to an orphaned child. But all who follow Jesus as our way to life have experienced adoption as an eternal reality. In Ephesians 1:5 Paul wrote that God “predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ.” God actually adopted us into his family. He “chose us in him before the creation of the world” (v. 4). He lavished on us the riches of his grace (vv. 7, 8). We were not just adopted into a loving family, but into the most desired, joyful, and eternally resourced family and home. When we see and fully realize in eternity all that is ours in Christ (v. 3), words cannot express the delight and amazement we will experience. As Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 2:9, “What no eye has seen, what no ear has heard, and what no human mind has conceived—the things God has prepared for those who love him.”
Do you feel some of that delight here and now? You should. Adoption into the family of God and inclusion in the local church should fill you with a sense of wonder and awe. On occasion you should shake your head and have to pinch yourself to be sure that it’s really true! You are a part of God’s eternal family. If you are growing in grace as the Father intends, or if you seem to be nearing the end of your journey, you know that feeling.
Why then do many church members seem to not feel that way? Clearly there are members in churches today who don’t feel the ecstasy of their adoption into and involvement in God’s family. For them church membership feels more like a burden than a joy. Just making it to a weekend service is a chore, and one they evade as often as possible. These members definitely don’t feel like they matter as a part of God’s family.
A Plan for Involvement
For every member to matter in the church, a concerted effort must be made on the part of its leaders and growing members. Christian leaders must structure an intentional plan of involvement that enables each of God’s adopted children to experience practically the eternal reality of loving inclusion in his family. That begins with clear teaching about the adventure of faith they are undertaking. Why does a person need to be adopted into God’s family? How does that adoption take place? What are the benefits of being a member of the church? What are the responsibilities (chores) involved with being a part of God’s forever family? The goal is for every member to be welcomed into the church with their eyes wide open. They must be helped to understand how much they matter (how valuable they are) to their new spiritual family.
I know. It’s hard. Getting people to slow down long enough to take a comprehensive new member class seems all but impossible. But if we want every member to matter in our churches, we must try. In our church we mail new members a letter each week for six months, reminding and teaching them about their inclusion into God’s family. Proactive church leaders work to get new members involved in small groups so they can make Christian friends and be guided in the next steps of spiritual growth. Through small group involvement they can also be guided into areas of service. One of the greatest joys of being a member of a growing church comes with being a part of the team. It feels good when a new child of God realizes he is helping others to grow spiritually or enter the family. The ultimate goal of our discipleship efforts is to lead members to the point where they can reproduce themselves spiritually. To make disciples who make disciples. When one of God’s adopted children shares the “redemption . . . the forgiveness of sins . . . the riches of God’s grace . . . lavished” (Ephesians 1:7) on them with another spiritual orphan, the circle is complete. A church member who does that has no doubt that she truly matters.
The same cannot be said for the adoptee whose growth in the likeness of Jesus is stunted. A new family member who feels distant from their heavenly Father and his family is naturally going to feel insecure. To trust Jesus but fail to follow him leads to emptiness and a crisis of identity. A church member will not sense that he matters without the presence of Jesus and active involvement in the Father’s family. Revelation 3:20 paints one of the saddest pictures in the Bible. It depicts Jesus knocking on the door of the Laodicean church asking them to let him in. That was not a church in which every member mattered.
Connected by Our Assurance
For every member to matter there must be the assurance of salvation. As Paul wrote in Ephesians 1:13, 14, “And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory.” When church members know that they are connected with God and his family they have a stronger sense of the Spirit’s inner presence. They believe they are in God’s grip and nothing can separate them from the love of their Father and church family (Romans 8:38, 39). They sense that they really do matter.
In the Greco-Roman world of Paul’s day adoption was a commonly recognized practice. Under Roman law an adopted child received all the rights of a family’s natural born children. The child also became known by the family name and shared in the status of the new family. Think about that. Members of the church (God’s family) receive all the rights of our brother, Jesus. As Romans 8:17 declares, “we are heirs . . . of God and co-heirs with Christ.” Christians are known by the family name (Acts 11:26). At least five times in Ephesians 1 Paul described us as being “in Christ.” We live in the lofty status of the family of the King of kings and the Lord of lords. It can’t get any better than that. Through faith in Jesus, wretched, helpless, lost sinners have been adopted into the first family of the universe. What a mind-boggling eternal reality! Let us live and serve reflecting this beautiful, eternal truth: every member matters.
Michael Wood is senior minister of Bethany Christian Church in Carrollton, Georgia. He and his wife, Joni, do marriage counseling together and gratefully enjoy the beautiful family God has given them. Mike’s book, Are you a Christian? No, I mean really? can be purchased through amazon.com. https://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=are+you+a+christian%3F+no%2C+i+mean+really