There is one book outside of the Bible that stands far above the rest in importance. I would go as far as to say that to ignore this book is to be unfaithful as a pastor. If you don’t care to give yourself to this book then you might as well pack it up and go home. It is in this book where you will find the heart of a shepherd, the essence of your ministry, and the secret to your church’s growth. It is in these pages that your endurance will be tested and your motivations grounded. I am not talking about the latest in practical theology or the newest trends in missiology. I am talking about your church’s membership roll.
For many, “church membership roll” will sound like an ancient dialect from a faraway land of irrelevance. Perhaps your membership roll is inhabited by both the physically and spiritually deceased from the last century and it in no way represents your present congregation. Or perhaps you have shed yourself from such archaic and traditional means of “doing church”. Now you are an organic church planter where the membership lines are blurry and so is your understanding of pastoral responsibility and Christian accountability. Whatever your context, I want to plead with you to reconsider the value of a true membership represented in a tangible list of people.
Every pastor and especially church planter needs a clear accurate list of those for whom he will give an account (Heb 13:17). I will say that again. According to the Bible, you will stand before God and give an account for the people you are leading. Shouldn’t you know who those people are? A membership roll should include the names and faces of those born-again believers covenanted to serve one another in your fellowship. These are the people doing the work of the ministry. These are the people who represent your church. These are the people who will grow your church through their evangelism and discipleship efforts. They are the flock whom God has entrusted to you (1 Pt 5:2-4), and it is important that you not only know them but that you pray for them and pay careful attention to them.
Paul gives this clear command to pastors, “Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock” (Acts 20:28). Early in our church plant, it was easy to care for the whole flock personally and to pray for each of our church members regularly. There were only about 15 of them. As our church grows, however, I feel the difficulty of the task at hand. We are now approaching 100 members. I can’t imagine pursuing obedience to such a command without some type of list or book of members to refer to. I want to encourage you, pastor, to make a book containing the names and faces of your church members and to begin the work of praying through that list little by little on a daily basis.
This is something I committed to early in the life of our church and I have felt myself slacking on it in recent days. As I have slacked in this discipline, I have found myself longing for its many benefits. Praying systematically through your membership roll will increase your love for your flock. It will enrich your prayer life and it will fuel the fire for your preaching. Members who once would have slipped through the proverbial cracks are noticed and cared for long before the awkward months of absence. Praying through a membership roll regularly will help protect you from turning ministry into something other than shepherding people. We are so tempted to rewrite our job description as pastors. We turn into CEOs, event coordinators, church growth strategists, and sermon writers, but we cannot be those things at the expense of the most important things – like being a shepherd who knows his sheep.
Tips for Utilizing a Membership Roll:
- Make hard copies of the membership roll available for the church and exhort them to utilize them in their prayer lives.
- Pray through a portion of the membership roll as part of your daily devotional. I try to pray for just three members each day.
- Pray through a portion of the membership roll as an elder board or church staff at each meeting. Our elders pray for six names at each meeting as we work through the roll over time.