Membership has its privileges?

Published 9:20 am Tuesday, September 2, 2014

by Andrew Book

We have all heard that line more than once in our lives: “Membership has its privileges.” But the idea of “membership” has fallen on hard times in an era when more and more people have decided that they do not want to be tied to an organization that may not truly represent who they want to be. Membership may have its privileges, but it also ties us down in ways that many people (including me!) are resisting.

I was born in 1980, which puts me on the border between “Generation X” (those who are my age and older), and the “Millennial Generation” (those who are my age and younger). I have found some of the traits of both of those groups in myself, while other characteristics of my “generation” do not seem to apply to me at all. I have also found the generalizations about Gen Xers and Millennials to be helpful in understanding both myself and the people around me. When it comes to the idea of membership, I tend to agree with my generation: we don’t like to be “members” of organizations because we are suspicious of institutions; we are people whose loyalties and priorities are broader than an institution can usually represent; we like the freedom to move from one organization to another as we please. Older generations may see this as fickle, but for me (and many Gen Xers and Millennials like me), being tied down as “members” of an institution is often not a burden that we are willing to bear.

The truth is, having a dislike for membership does not mean that we are fickle. Many of those in my generation have deep commitments and passions that guide us, and we are deeply committed to living out those passions. Our commitment is not to an institution; it is to our passions. This quote says it well: “They (Millennials) will not show loyalty to an organization like previous generations did, but they will show loyalty to a cause. Membership organizations must therefore articulate a clear and compelling cause, mission and purpose.” (“Membership and the Millennial Generation” Plexus Consulting) In short, if you want Millennials and GenXers in your organization, you have to be an organization that exists for a reason, and you have to make that reason clear.

Now, I am sharing my reflections on membership with you because I find myself leading a membership class at Courtland United Methodist Church. Not only am I, as a pastor, a member of the Virginia Conference of the United Methodist Church, but I am also inviting others to join this organization. Preparing to lead a membership class has challenged me to think about the reasons that I have joined the United Methodist Church as a whole, and the reasons I am excited to invite others to join our local church and the connection of churches and ministries around the world that bear the name “United Methodist.”

The United Methodist Church is focused on a number of things that I am passionate about, which flow out of our mission statement: “Making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.” As a good GenXer/Millennial, my passions are what drive me, and I am passionate about seeing people truly living lives that reflect the life of Jesus Christ, so the idea of “making disciples of Jesus Christ” connects deeply with me. The second part of that statement — “for the transformation of the world” — reflects another deep passion of mine: the belief that we are all uniquely gifted to impact the world as God’s ambassadors.

That mission statement is what drives the United Methodist Church to be involved with everything from fighting Ebola and malaria in Africa to reaching out to people living in slums and garbage heaps in the Philippines to working in Washington D.C., for laws that reflect God’s call for justice to planting new faith communities throughout Virginia and around the world. What I hear about the work of the United Methodist Church excites me because it is about disciples transforming the world.

In Courtland, those same passions are at work on a local level as we seek to become fully devoted followers of Jesus through worship and study; serving our neighbors through ministries involving food, clothing, and more; living life together; and encountering God as people who long to be shaped by God. All of that is why I am a United Methodist and why I am excited to invite others to become members of Courtland United Methodist Church. My passions are the passions of the United Methodist Church, so I am more than willing to claim “membership.”

What about you? What are you passionate about? Have your passions led you to become a member?

If you are interested in finding out more about membership at Courtland United Methodist Church, we will be having a membership class on Sunday, Sept. 7, from 12:15-2:15 (with lunch and childcare provided). Call the church office at 653-2240 if you are interested in joining us. Regardless of whether you join us in Courtland, I hope you will think about why you are a “member.” Then think about how you are going to be a part of transforming the world and make it happen!

ANDREW BOOK is the pastor of Courtland United Methodist Church. He can be contacted at 653-2240 or