Is local Church Membership Biblical?

Since becoming a pastor I have found that certain questions crop up more than others. These questions are not always more important, but rather more indicative of our culture malaise. One common conversation concerns “formal” church membership. Over the previous 18 months, I’ve talked with many people concerning membership at Oakland, what it is, why we do it, what privileges and responsibilities come with it. Sometimes these questions arise in New Members Classes, but other times they happen over coffee or bbq.

CathedralHonestly, most of these conversations begin with someone’s concerns or hang-ups or past hurts regarding Church Membership. I hear things like, “My dad and granddad were both members of a church for a long, long time, and they served faithfully for years, until they eventually got burned out. I’m afraid if I become a member, I’ll be taken advantage of or taken for granted, and church will become more work than worship.” Others plainly state, “I don’t need to be part of a church to be a Christian,” or “Church just isn’t for me.” Some people are hurt when I suggest they join the church, saying, “I thought I was already part of the church, why do I need to need some slip of pater to make me part of the church.”

Like all things, our answers to these questions and concerns must come from the Scripture. So does the Scripture endorse or at least encourage some sort of “formal” membership in a specific church community rather than just general membership in The Church Universal? Does the Bible command us to participate in the life of a congregation?

I recently read an awesome article by a pastor in Texas, to whom I listen regularly. It answers so many of these questions and challenges both members and pastors to take membership more biblically and seriously. Check it out.

Is Church Membership Biblical?  by Matt Chandler


Weekly Bible Reading Plan – July 12 – July 19

Matt 6.1-18 - Reading Slide - The Kings Speech (part 4)

 Questions to Guide You:

  1. In Matt 6:1, Jesus warns us about practicing our religion in front of folks, but in Matt 5:16, he says let your light shine; what’s the difference?
  2. What assumptions does Jesus make about the role of giving, prayer, and fasting in our lives?
  3. What are alms? How should we give so that our left hand doesn’t know? To avoid ostentation?
  4. What do we learn about God and prayer from the Lord’s Prayer?
  5. How should you act while fasting? Who should know you are fasting?
  6. 1 Kings 18 and Neh 1 give us OT examples of prayer. What do you notice about how these men pray? Do they pray like Jesus? What relation do you see between fasting and prayer?
  7. Phil 1 and Col 4 are NT Prayers, pray them for someone in your life.
  8. Jesus assumes we will do these things. So, what time of day will you regularly pray? Maybe put a reminder in your phone. What day of the month will you give away money to the poor? Maybe put a reminder in your calendar. When will you fast next? Reminder?

For a printer-friendly copy of this reading plan, including sample questions to augment your study of Scripture, Download the PDF. 


Weekly Bible Reading Plan – June 28 – July 5

Matt 5.17-37B Reading Slide - The Kings Speech (part 2B)

 Questions to Guide You:

  1. What stands out on your second time reading these texts?
  2. Last time we mainly talked about the role of God’s Word in our lives, this time let’s look deeper at each command.
  3. What does Ephesians tell us about our anger? How should we manage it? Is it always sinful? When does it become sinful?
  4. How are anger and lying and oath taking all linked together?
  5. What does God want for your sexuality according to 1 Thess 4? Your sex life? How important is this according to Paul in 1 Thess 4?
  6. What is God mad about in Malachi 2:13-16? How might this critique and correct our culture’s approach to marriage and divorce?
  7. What does it mean to let your “Yes be Yes” and “No be No”? How is that different from “maybe?” How can you answer more definitively this week?
  8. What does Numbers 23:19 tell us about God? Why is this good news concerning our salvation? How scary would it be if God could at anytime change His mind or lose His temper?

For a printer-friendly copy of this reading plan, including sample questions to augment your study of Scripture, Download the PDF. 


Weekly Bible Reading Plan – May 3 – May 10

Snow Globe Kingdom Week 3 Reading Plan - 5.3 - 5.10

 Questions to Guide You:
  1. How did the Magi find out about Jesus? Has God ever led you to worship through nature?
  2. Why do you think Herod and Jerusalem where terrified? Why do you think Herod and the Priests didn’t go with the Magi to Bethlehem? When is it terrifying to hear about King Jesus?
  3. How did the Magi feel when they found Jesus? What did they do when they found him? Who are human beings supposed to worship?
  4. How is Jesus’ birth like Moses’ birth (compare Pharaoh and Herod)? What did Moses do for Israel? How will Jesus be like Moses?
  5. Herod’s murder of the babies is horrible. Stop and pray for those violent places where kids are soldiers, refugees, or murdered? How hard is it to believe that God wants to save a world that kills babies?
  6. Thinking about the Jesus Star and about Ps 19, what can we learn about God from the world? How does God’s Bible in Ps 19 and Matt 2:6 clarify and go beyond what we learn in Creation?
  7. What encouragement do Psalm 37 and Psalm 42 give us when we are victims or when we’re just saddened?

For a printer-friendly copy of this reading plan, including sample questions to augment your study of Scripture, Download the PDF


For the New Giver – Where to Start

Hey Oakland,

Some of you are some of the most generous people I’ve ever met, and I want to learn from you how we can create more generous disciples of Jesus. This blog is a starting point for those wanting to grow in generosity.

Sunday’s sermon, “I am Called to Give” was intentionally broad. I did not name the sermon, “I am Called to Tithe,” because that is much too narrow a definition of generosity. This entire sermon series is about cultivating life long dispositions, patterns, habits, and ways of living. Just as there are many different ways we are called to Love and different groups of people we love with different opportunities (family, friends, neighbors, enemies), there are equally variable ways to practice generosity in various situations involving a number of different groups of people.

In addition to commending 10% as a starting place for our giving (Matt 23:23), in one of Jesus’ scariest commands, he even calls us to “give to everyone who asks of you” and “loan to people without expecting repayment” (Luke 6:30,35). Jesus repeatedly tells us to give to the poor and to look after the vulnerable. Jesus’ brother, James writes in James 1:27, “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.

These are incredible commands that demand a level of generosity that seems beyond approach and outside reality – so much so that they are almost paralyzing. Sometimes it makes me feel like an illiterate person holding the Bible, knowing I should read it, and wanting desperately to read it – but desire and desperation alone will not teach me to read, baby steps of letters and sounding-it-out are the in between.

Likewise God has given us some helpful, concrete steps to grow us in generosity.

So here is Pastor Andrew’s appropriation and application of those steps for the modern person.

1.) Live below your means.

livetogiveJust because you make $40,000 a year does not mean you have to spend $40,000 a year. Instead, intentionally live as though you had less in order to include saving and giving in your budget. Like I joked on Sunday, this will mean you cannot use the “Mortgage Calculators” to estimate the size house you can afford. There are hundreds of historical Christian examples of this. One example is John Wesley, who founded the Methodist Church. Wesley started as a poor preacher without a church, living off his horse and out of a bag. Over the years, he grew to worldwide fame, receiving offerings and gifts from all across Europe and the USA, but he made a decision that he and his family would perpetually, no matter how much they made, like off of the modern equivalent of $30,000. Everything over $30,000 was given to the Church and to the poor. Modern examples of this include Rick Warren (Purpose Driven Life) and Eugene Peterson (The Message) who both work for $1 a year.

Still, you don’t have to start that drastically. The first step towards giving is to MAKE A BUDGET AND LIVE WITHIN THAT BUDGET. If you have a habit of accruing credit card debt, you need to rework your spending. If you need help doing this, find a Dave Ramsey Financial Peace University Course to help.

For now, find one thing in your budget that you do not need, and dedicate that money to the Church. Examples might include TV service, High Speed Internet, Magazine Subscriptions, Landscaping, Clothes, Four-Wheeler payments, Boat payments, etc.

Claire and I practice this by eating at restaurants less, so that we can afford to host our neighbors for dinner more often at no cost to them. We never want to be miss an opportunity to host because we lack resources.

2.) Decide what you will give before you start spending money on WANTS

Giving comes out of our checks first, even before taxes. To remind myself of this truth, Claire and I give a percentage of our Gross Income away, because God gets his cut before the Government gets theirs. I don’t like paying taxes, but I do like many of the things they pay for, including roads, public schools, hospitals, and EMS teams. Still, giving 13% of my income to Uncle Sam seems steep, compared to giving 10% to God, who provides for all I have, who created my life, and saved my soul. 10% seems huge, but is actually paltry in comparison to the percentage of my income forcefully taken from me by the government, who gives me far less than the Lord. That realization alone, makes me so much more grateful and willing to give to the Church.

Let me pause to say, do not tithe on Student Loans, or any loans for that matter. We tithe on our INCOME not on our DEBT.

So practically for those of you who’ve started to complete step one, meaning you are no longer going further into debt. So once you’ve stopped accruing debt, its time to start redistributing your funds from spending to GIVING and SAVING.

I do this right now by starting my budget with gross income, less my hoped giving percentage (10%), less my hoped contribution to savings (7%), less taxes, less expenses and pocket money. If I come out in the negative, I decrease my savings and giving by a point, and rework the whole thing, while examining my expenses for unnecessary costs. Eventually, Claire and I would like to ratchet both the Savings and Givings percentages higher.


Tomorrow I will post more about some Frequently Ask Questions, when it comes to Tithing in particular, so check back.

Remember, who you are and whose you are,

Pastor Andrew


SERMON: The Way of Jesus (Part 7) – I am Called to GIVE

The Way of Jesus (Part 7): I am Called to GIVE
Giving doesn't pay for worship; IT IS WORSHIP.

Pastor Andrew Ruth
February 22, 2015
2 Corinthians 9:7-11
Matthew 6:19-24
This sermon series includes a weekly Bible Reading Plan.  Each week we read in preparation for the sermon coming next week. Next week we will discuss The Way of Jesus - I am called to SEEK UNITY, so this week we will be reading about unity and reconciliation using this WEEK 8 READING PLAN. Tips and suggested questions available on the PDF.

 TheWayOfJesus-I am called to - Week 8 Reading Slide

A Little about Lent for the Modern Saint

Lent is the 40 days before Easter, not including Sundays, beginning with Ash Wednesday and ending with Easter Sunday. While people will say that it dates back to the Bible or to the 1st century, to be honest, Lent was a season made up by the Church to focus on repentance and devotion through the spiritual disciplines of study, fasting, prayer, and alms-giving. The number of days, 40, is a Biblical number with echoes of Jesus’ fast in the desert after his baptism, which in turn echoes the 40-day fasts of Moses and Elijah, not to mention the 40 days of the Flood and the 40 years in the desert. Still, Lent must not be identified as the same as anyone of those things. So the simple and honest answer is that Lent is a Season invented by the Church over thousands of years. 

While not in the Bible, the origins of Lent are the easier to trace than Ash Wednesday. In the first centuries after Christ’s death and resurrection, new converts to Christianity would be trained for months in Christian doctrine and Christian practices. This process of instruction is called catechesis, and usually involved memorizing an early form of the Apostles’ Creed. The emphasis during these months of training would have been on learning more theology (the Creed), learning more Scripture (the Stories), and learning Christian practices, especially Fasting and Prayer. Often, this training occurred in the months leading up to Easter. Finally, the weekend of Easter, the whole church would fast and pray from Friday at noon to Sunday at Sunrise. Then on Resurrection Sunday, all the new believers who had completed the catechesis, would be baptized and inducted into the then secret, underground church as together they celebrated the death of Death and the Resurrection of the Body.

CathedralHow this transitioned into Lent is difficult to trace with any certainty or clarity. Somehow, over the next 500 years, these months of training transitioned from a time just for new converts to a time for the whole Church to grow in faith, knowledge, and character through fasting, prayer, study, and Alms-giving. The Council of Nicea in 325AD played a large role in establishing this 40 Day Fast. The specific number of days, the starting date and ending date, the date of Easter, and the specific fasts and Fast Days during Lent were all, for better or worse, decided by the Church to promote uniformity and unity.

None of this makes Lent emphatically bad or “unbiblical” or heretically religious. Instead, it means that over the centuries between Christ’s resurrection and now, millions of Christians have practiced a sort of Spring Training. Christians across the globe have found Lent to be a rhythmic way to insert ancient practices like Fasting, Simplicity, Giving to the Poor (Alms), Study, and Daily Prayer as practical ways to FOLLOW JESUS and prepare to FISH for people. Lent is not “about giving something up,” so much as it is about getting back to the basic Christian disciplines. Like Spiritual Three-A-Day Practices they keep us in shape or like Spiritual Spring Cleaning they expose the idols and bad habits that have crept back into our heart. 

So should we practice Lent? Well, we should fast and pray and give to the poor and study God’s Scripture, and so if you want to create extra time dedicated to these basic rhythms of Christian life by sacrificing luxuries, then yes. If you just want to lose weight ahead of Spring Break or just want to gripe about being out of touch with the world cause you gave up Facebook, then Lent will probably do more harm to your soul than good.

In the coming weeks, I’ll write more about Lent and more about Fasting and Prayer and Study and such. For right now, let me point out that Lent is about intentionally doing those things we’re talking about each week in The Way of Jesus – I am Called to… Sermon Series. I will not hammer Lent or Lenten disciplines over the next few weeks, because we’re already talking about and encouraging one another to practice such things when we proclaim, “I AM CALLED TO FOLLOW, FISH, LOVE, WORSHIP, MATURE, SERVE, GIVE, SEEK UNITY, PRAY, and DIE.” So perhaps this year, you want to cut out one bad habit that keeps you from following, fishing, loving, worshiping, maturing, serving, giving, forgiving, praying, or dying. Instead, take one a specific task, such as daily Bible reading or nightly prayers or giving to the food bank that leads you further down these Ways of Jesus.

Celebration of DisciplineLastly, if you’re dying for ways to practice Lent, I cannot recommend Richard Foster’s book, Celebration of Discipline highly enough. Instead of reading all those Facebook posts about “40 Things to Give Up for Lent” or the “Reverse Lent Challenge” or some other pop-Lent, spiritual cotton candy, go out and buy this book and dig into some Filet Mignon.

SERMON: The Way of Jesus (Part 5) – I am Called to MATURE


The Way of Jesus (Part 5): I am Called to MATURE
Reborn complete but not finished.

Pastor Andrew Ruth
February 8, 2015
Proverbs 9:1-6, 9-10
Hebrews 5:11-14
Luke 8:4-15

Take inventory

Maturity is a process not a destination. There are mature 5 year olds and mature 65 year olds. The 5 y/o is not immature because she is not 65. You are not immature unless you are not growing in your ability to FOLLOW, FISH, WORSHIP,LOVE, GIVE, SERVE, PRAY, FORGIVE. Maturity is relative, but overall if we could plot spiritual progress on a chart, we’d hope it looks like a good retirement account – full of ups and downs, but overall trending northward. So first step, take some time this week to take inventory. In general are you more faithful, generous, joyful, knowledgeable, loving, forgiving than you were 5 years ago?

Stop Stunting Growth

Stop habits that stunt your spiritual growth. Continuing to walk in known, revealed, habitual sin after being REBORN is like smoking in elementary school, it stunts your growth. It stunts your spiritual growth and kills your body when your body should be growing. You will never completely stop sinning on this side of Heaven, but that is no excuse to keep pet sins.

Eat More

Find a way to eat more. Take one step to either increase the quality of food you’re eating or the quantity of food you’re eating. When I first started to grow in my faith, the fella discipling me, Chad Shelley is his name, told me, “Ruthy, if you’re going to grow you need to always be reading. Reading the Bible and some book about the bible.” I’d say the same to you. If reading isn’t your preferred learning method, then maybe go on iTunes and find a podcast. Find a musician that sings gospel truth and marinate in that on your way to work.

Work Out

Practice. Work out. Muscles get bigger when we use them. Senses are honed through repetition. Remember, you never learned to walk without falling. You never learned to ride a bike without trying. You never learned to read without errors, but you had help. Your momma or daddy or teacher or grandmomma held your arms and walked with you. Spiritual growth happens the same way. Your faith will never grow, unless you intentionally put yourself in situations where you need God to show up or else you crash and burn.

Weekly Reading Plan

This sermon series includes a weekly Bible Reading Plan.  Each week we read in preparation for the sermon coming next week. Next week we will discuss The Way of Jesus - I am called to SERVE, so this week we will be reading about serving the Body of Christ with our Spirit given gifts using this WEEK 6 READING PLAN. Tips and suggested questions available on the PDF.

 TheWayOfJesus-I am called to - Week 6 Reading Slide