Join the Mission: Partnership at LifeSpring Church
One of the things that we feel really strongly about is that followers of Jesus are called to belong to a local church. When we become followers of Jesus, when we experience salvation, we are not just saved from something (from our sin, death, and separation from God); we are also saved to something. Salvation not only includes a relationship with the God of creation, but also a relationship with his redeemed and restored creation. Salvation in the New Testament was understood as deliverance from one group to another—from a life of sin and separation from God to the family of God.
So what does it mean to be part of the family of God? Paul uses the human body as an analogy for the church and how a church family should function (1 Cor. 12:12-22). The human body has a mission — to give and to maintain life. Likewise the church has a mission — to make disciples. In order for the church to fulfill its mission, each part of the body must do their own part. Just like our bodies have many different parts (arm, leg, eyes, ears, etc.) the church is made up of many different people all partnering together and each with their own responsibility for fulfilling his or her own role within the body.
At LifeSpring Church the way that we define "belonging" is through this partnership process. The concept is not all that different from a traditional understanding of church membership. But our current culture typically holds a particular view when it comes to membership. We live in a "have it your way" culture, where someone can be a member to any number of things (gyms, country clubs, entertainment services, wholesalers, etc.) For most people, the reason you are a member of something is because of the privileges that come with it. All we have to do is pay the going rate, and you can have others taking care of you while you enjoy a life of leisure. And tragically this understanding of belonging is what many people who belong to the church hold.
For a lot of people being a part of a church is about our preferences. It is about receiving instead of giving, being served instead of serving, rights instead of responsibilities, and entitlements instead of sacrifices. Unfortunately this wrongful view of the church essentially sees our tithes and offerings as dues that entitle us to a never-ending list of privileges and expectations, instead of being an unconditional cheerful gift to God. We do not want to reinforce the cultural understanding of membership. We want people to recognize that what it means to belong to a local church means that you are a contributing partner of the church.
Being a partner of our church means that you are an identifiable and accountable part of our body. This partnership is characterized by being responsible for each other’s discipleship (each person’s process of following Jesus) and each person’s decision to live out his or her discipleship under the care of the church — under the care of the other partners. In other words, church partnership is all about a church taking a loving responsibility for you, and for you to take a loving responsibility for a specific church. It is about loving, serving, encouraging, and contributing not just for the good of yourself, but for the good of the body as a whole. When you decide to become a partner of LifeSpring Church you are saying that you want the other partners to know you and recognize you (identifiable) and you are saying that you want other people to help you in your mission to follow Jesus and to make disciples of Jesus (accountable).
So how do you become a partner? There are two prerequisites for partnership, which we did not come up on our own. Our two prerequisites for partnership are the same prerequisites that the early church held as seen in the book of Acts: belief in Jesus as savior and baptism (2:38-41; 8:12, 38; 9:18; 10:47-48; 16:14-15, 31-33; 18:8; 19:5).
It has already been said that we were saved from something to something. We believe that we were all created by God to be in a relationship with God. God’s desire was that we would know him, love him, and be in communion with him. But instead of worshipping God, we decided to create our own god’s by putting our own wants, needs, and desires above God’s intended desire for us. And in this sinful act our relationship with God was severed because a righteous and perfect God cannot be in communion with unrighteousness. But this was not the end of the story. The good news was that God loved us so much that he made a plan to restore the severed relationship with his creation. In order to do this the penalty for our disobedience had to be paid. And in loving grace God took this penalty upon himself through the works of Jesus, and he extended to us a new relationship with him.
We were saved from our sins through the work of Jesus. This is the something that we were saved from. But just as we were saved from our sins, we were also saved to a relationship with God and a relationship with others. When we say that salvation is a prerequisite for membership, all we are saying is that before you can be saved to something (the relationship with God and his people) you must be saved from something. You must have first crossed the line of faith and given your life to Jesus.
Now, what does salvation as a prerequisite not mean? This does NOT mean that we require you to have reached a spiritual benchmark. It does NOT mean that you have arrived to a certain level of spiritual maturity. Salvation in Jesus changes people’s lives, so all we want to see is evidence of a changed life — evidence of how you are living for Jesus now. We do not expect everything to be cleaned up, but we do want to see you living a life of repentance, and particularly the willingness to publicly identify before the church as a follower of Jesus.
This leads us to the second prerequisite for partnership: believer’s baptism – which serves as this public profession/identification with Jesus. There is a natural progression in the book of Acts: First comes salvation, then comes baptism, then comes a person being welcomed into the church family. Now there is nothing special or magical about the water. Baptism is not necessary for salvation, which comes from faith in Jesus alone. Baptism is merely a public profession of faith in Jesus. It is a person’s declaration that they have crossed the line of faith and are willing to do whatever Jesus call’s them to do, and go wherever Jesus calls them to go.
Now some of you might say, “I was baptized when I was younger, do I need to be baptized again?” I would answer your question with another question, “did your conversion precede your baptism?” We find an overwhelming amount of evidence in the Scriptures for baptism by immersion, which is why we hold to this traditional belief. If your baptism preceded your faith in Christ (infant baptism, etc.), or if you were baptized by a different mode (sprinkling, pouring) after you put your faith in Christ we would love to talk to you more about being baptized by immersion as a public profession of faith in Jesus before becoming a partner.
Salvation and baptism – these are the only two prerequisites we have for partnership. These are the only things that we find that Scripture says must happen before becoming a part of a faith community. But in addition to these prerequisites for partnership we also have expectations for our partners.
Why do we have expectations for our partners? The reason we have these expectations is not because of what we want from you. It is because of what we want for you. It is because we believe that the expectations we have are healthy for us, and are vitally important in the work of us all growing into the likeness and fullness of Christ.
So what are the expectations for partnership? All LifeSpring Church partners will be expected to:
1. Regularly gather with other LifeSpring Church partners to worship together. If I am in town and not sick, I will do my best to be present at all corporate worship services.
2. Maintain a spirit of unity amongst the body – my preferences, needs, and desires are secondary to fulfilling the mission of the church.
3. Submit to the authority of Scripture in all matters of life.
4. Pursue my relationship with God through regular times of Bible reading, prayer, and the practice of spiritual disciplines.
5. Seek to live like Christ in all areas of life by striving to live the way Christ wants us to live.
6. Regularly participate in small group gatherings and be part of a gospel community.
7. Humbly and gently encourage one other and receive encouragement from others as needed.
8. Regularly serve those both inside and outside the church.
9. Steward the resources God has given me, which includes my time, talents, spiritual gifts and finances. This includes serving on a LifeSpring Church team as well as regular financial giving to LifeSpring Church.
10. Faithfully consider participating in domestic and/or international mission trips.
After reading these, some people be feeling a little overwhelmed right now. You might be thinking, “I don’t really know how to have a devotional time” or “I have never really been a part of a small group, I don’t even know what that looks like. How could I ever become a part of this church family when these are the expectations.”
The beautiful thing about Jesus is that he meets us right where we are. He does not require us to reach a certain level or to do a certain amount of good works before he will give us salvation. He seeks us, finds us, and meets us right where we are at. And as a church we want to do the same. We understand that people are probably at different stages with each of these things. Some of us might be really good at serving others, but we really struggle with our devotional life. Some of us might have experienced an amazing small group community, but we struggle with living a life of worship. We want to meet you where you are in each of these areas, wherever that might be. Our expectation is not that you would be perfect with each of these, only that you would be growing to reach your full potential in each of these.
We want anyone who attends to be engaging in and participating in these things because Jesus gave these to us as examples for how we should grow and how we should help others to grow. The more and more we do them, the more they become part of our way of life, and the more we grow in our fullness of Jesus. But while we want these lifestyles for anyone who attends, we expect our partners to be committed to growing in these areas. Again, not because of what we want from you, but because of what we want for you.
What happens if a partner fails to meet these expectations - if they fail to be committed to trying to grow in each of these areas. Scripture has a process for dealing with people that have partnered together with the rest of the church body that do not meet the expectations of the body. This process is often called church discipline, but this particular language does not do a good job explaining what should really happen, nor does it really get at what Scripture commands us to do. People often hear the words “church discipline” and they immediately think punishment, chastisement, and exclusion. But the concept more true to Scripture is that of Church encouragement (Heb. 10:24-25).
The goal of church encouragement is accountability, care, and restoration. If you get a splinter in your finger, you’re not going to cut your losses and amputate the finger. You are going to remove the splinter. Likewise if you are a part of this body and you are not functioning as the body is meant to function; if you are not living up to the expectations of the body, our first thought is not to punish you. It is going to be to figure out how we can care for you, walk with you, encourage you, and figure out how we can help you truly and more fully be a part of the body. The exclusion part only comes a long way down the road when a partner essentially has already decided that they do not want to be a part of the body anyways. As long as you want to be here, we want to help you be here. But by being here, and by partnering with us through joining this body, I also want you to understand that you are giving us the right to hold you accountable, to care for you, to encourage you, and to seek restoration with you if need be.
Again, being a partner means that you are an identifiable and accountable part of the body. And church encouragement is a big part of that — it is the accountable part.
So this is what it means to become a partner of our church. This is what is expected of partners. I want to be up front with all of you: our church may not be the church for everyone. You are welcome to attend our church at anytime. We will never turn anyone away. But becoming a partner of this church might not be for everyone. We want you to prayerfully consider making this commitment before you decide to join this body.
So where do we go from here:
1. Get Involved!
Whether you want to partner with us or not we would love for you to get connected and get involved!
2. Partner Interest Form
Once you have decided that you are ready to partner, fill out a brief interest form. Nothing fancy, just a way for you to formally tell us that you are interested in partnering with us. You can find the interest form online at www.lifespringdurham.com/partner.
3. Partner Conversation
We want to give you an opportunity to have a conversation with one of our leaders. We want to hear your story, and give you an opportunity to ask any questions that you might have.
4. Partner Commitment
After reading and praying over the expectations for partnership, and when you have decided that you want to partner with us, we will have you and an elder each sign off on the partner expectations so we are clear what we are all committing to.
5. Partner Commissioning
We will invite you up front during a Sunday service to introduce you and to commission you not only as a partner of this church, but also as a missionary to our city.
6. Partner Renewal
We will hold an annual partner meeting each May where we will celebrate together as a church family the gospel transformation that has been happening in our church and in our city and we will renew our commitment to our church and to its mission.
Are you ready to become a LifeSpring Church partner? We are ready for you to partner with us!