|As I wrote in the February newsletter, the By-Laws of Divine Shepherd are the guidelines regarding how the church is structured to serve the members of the congregation. These guidelines range from providing worship services, educational opportunities for all ages, mission and outreach opportunities, community involvement, and evangelism efforts to how we care for our property, organize our internal operations, and staff our church and school. The By-Laws also identify what is expected of members of the congregation. Section I discusses membership in detail while Section II discusses Termination of Membership, including reasons for and methods of termination.|
First, Section I – The first group of members are Baptized members, those who have been baptized in the name of the Triune God and are under the spiritual care of the Pastor of Divine Shepherd. The second group are Confirmed members. These are baptized members who have been duly instructed in the Lutheran faith and are familiar with the contents of Luther’s Small Catechism, who have been thoroughly instructed in the doctrine of the Lord’s Supper, and who accept the doctrinal standard of this congregation as given in Article 11 of the Articles of Incorporation. The third group are Communicant members. These are baptized and confirmed members received through the right of confirmation; by transfer from sister congregations in fellowship with the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod; by profession of faith when previous membership has been in a Lutheran congregation not in fellowship with the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod; and by reaffirmation of faith when transfer of membership is not possible and a previous membership in this or a sister congregation must be reinstated.
The By-Laws also state 9 requirements of communicant members:
- Shall conform their entire lives to the rule of God’s Word;
- Live Christian lives and abstain from manifest works of the flesh (Galatians 5:10-21)
- Attend Divine Worship services faithfully;
- Partake of the Lord’s Supper faithfully and frequently;
- Devote time and talent to the work of the congregation and the extension of the Kingdom of God;
- Contribute financially to the needs of the congregation according to the measure of blessings which God has provided;
- Submit, for the sake of love and peace, to all regulations of the congregation;
- Accept brotherly admonition and correction when having erred or offended;
- Not be a member of any Lodge or organization whose principles and conduct are in conflict with the Word of God.
Many, perhaps most, members do not realize and are often surprised that these 9 items are requirements of membership.
What about Termination of Membership? This usually happens when a member or member family moves away from the area and requests a “transfer of membership” to a new congregation. Baptized members not yet confirmed (usually children) will accompany the communicant members of the family in this case.
The Pastor, with input from the Board of Elders, transfers members in good standing upon the members request. Members who move away from the area are encouraged to seek out a new church home that is in fellowship with the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod to which they may be transferred.
Members who move away from the area may do so for a period of time, with the hope and intention of returning, and these members do remain as members at Divine Shepherd. If they are away for a lengthy period with little or no likelihood of returning, we encourage a transfer so that they can find a a church home that will allow them to receive God’s gifts of Word and Sacrament. Sometimes that is not possible, but no member is ever forced to leave the membership of Divine Shepherd Lutheran Church simply because they live in another area of the country.
Occasionally, members will drift away from the church for many reasons. They don’t attend worship, don’t attend Bible studies, do not partake of communion, and don’t offer their gift. In other words, they are not meeting many of the 9 requirements for membership. At Divine Shepherd this is addressed by contacts from their Elder, from Pastor, and eventually from the Human Care committee members. Time and effort are devoted to helping people remain as active members of the flock of Divine Shepherd. Unfortunately, these efforts don’t always result in a member returning to full active membership, and sometimes not even occasional attendance and participation in worship and sacraments. After a period of 3 years of absence, and especially when no request has been received from the member to transfer or to be released from membership, the Elders and the Church Council begin the process to remove a member from the congregation. This is done without prejudice, without judgement, and can be reversed anytime up to the point a letter is sent advising them of their release from membership. Never is this done in haste but always with thoughtful deliberation.
Finally, and sadly, Communicant members who conduct themselves in an unchristian manner shall be admonished according to Matthew 18:15-20. This could result in membership being in jeopardy, but there are processes in place to make the removal from membership the very last option when such a situation occurs.
Membership has its responsibilities, and each member has their expectations. The leadership of Divine Shepherd, both called and lay leadership, work very hard to help members recognize their responsibility and to experience their expectations. Together, membership at Divine Shepherd can be a rich and rewarding experience every day.
Part 3 in May.
In His service,