2016 Wesleyan Discipline: 550–565
A. Essence and Meaning of Membership
550. Membership in The Wesleyan Church is the doorway into the church following an experience of conversion whereby a person becomes a member of the body of Jesus Christ, followed by discipleship within a family of believers for spiritual life, growth, and service. Therefore it is of high importance that immediate steps be taken to shepherd, disciple, and train believers through the process of membership for mutual accountability and ministry to the church, community, and the world (cf. 2016 Wesleyan Discipline:566-570; 2016 Wesleyan Discipline:725:11; 2016 Wesleyan Discipline:782:8; 2016 Wesleyan Discipline:880:11).
551. The overall mission of membership in The Wesleyan Church is: To acknowledge believers as belonging to the body of Christ; to disciple them into a meaningful relationship with The Wesleyan Church; and to equip them for meaningful ministry in the world.
- (1) The Vision of Membership. It is our belief and practice that The Wesleyan Church is not a collection of independent churches unrelated to each other nor just merely an association of churches, but rather we constitute a “family” of believers connected by our identity in Christ and our identity with one another. Membership serves as the common thread that unifies us within our diversity as a community with the passion for developing fully committed disciples of Christ. Membership is a ministry tool to use in the process of spiritual development, subsequent to conversion and leading to maturity in Christ. To enhance the discipleship process of maturing people toward Christlikeness, membership is the first step in the process of accountability. The accountability used within the community of faith is based on the primary authority of the Scriptures. We also acknowledge the role of tradition, experience, and reason to shape the collective conscience reflected in the membership and discipleship accountability process. Membership becomes the doorway into the process whereby people are discipled and equipped to do ministry in and through the church, as a witness to the world at large.
- (2) The Value of Membership. Membership in The Wesleyan Church is built on the premise that it is an initial step in one’s relationship with the church, and a doorway into the discipleship process within the life of the church. Each local fellowship adapts its ministry scope and sequence but a common path would involve the following process:
- Believing – When people come to Christ in saving faith, they become a member of the body of Christ. Membership is the door into the discipleship process in The Wesleyan Church which helps people identify the essential beliefs taught in the Bible, and how those beliefs impact our lifestyle, relationships, and our witness for Christ within the church and beyond. This faith, empowered by the Holy Spirit, brings transformational growth to the believer.
- Belonging – Every person who is a part of our local church fellowship appreciates a sense of belonging, which in turn opens the door for the church to disciple each believer into a fully devoted follower of Christ. The Wesleyan Church intentionally places “belonging” at the front of the believer’s relationship with the local church, and assumes the responsibility to help the believer grow into a mature child of God.
- Becoming – It is the responsibility of the local church to assume the care of the persons committed to its fellowship, to develop and employ an effective process of discipleship to help its members mature in their faith and character, leading to the raising up of effective leaders. The Wesleyan Church intentionally calls people to move beyond a decision for Christ, into a life of devotion to Christ which leads to a life of service for Christ.
552. Membership Structure.
- (1) Membership in The Wesleyan Church is the entry-level, basic relationship with the church for believers who are willing to participate in the common life of the church and enter into the process of discipleship through the local church. The Wesleyan Church also makes provision for young believers to be a part of the church through student membership.
- (2) Leadership. Membership is the basic standard required for designated leadership positions in The Wesleyan Church at local, district, and General Church levels, as well as for all credentialed ministers (2016 Wesleyan Discipline:552:3). Leaders are expected to live exemplary lives and to serve as models for others to follow. Persons who are elected to serve the church in leadership positions are annually required to affirm and follow the Articles of Religion, the Membership Commitments and the Elementary Principles; be faithful in local church attendance; practice biblical stewardship; participate in active witness and service for Christ; maintain unity in the church; and agree to give proper accountability to those who are assigned spiritual authority over them by The Discipline.
- (3) Leadership positions in the local church that require a person to be a member who meets the qualifications (2016 Wesleyan Discipline:260-268; 2016 Wesleyan Discipline:558) are:
- (a) any credentialed ministry (2016 Wesleyan Discipline:3250–3490)
- (b) local board of administration member (2016 Wesleyan Discipline:752)
- (c) trustee (2016 Wesleyan Discipline:850)
- (d) delegate to district or general conference (2016 Wesleyan Discipline:965, 2016 Wesleyan Discipline:1524)
- (e) nominating committee member (2016 Wesleyan Discipline:820)
- (f) local church secretary (2016 Wesleyan Discipline:638, 2016 Wesleyan Discipline:830)
- (g) lay leader (2016 Wesleyan Discipline:833)
- (h) witness and membership committee member (2016 Wesleyan Discipline:835)
- (i) church treasurer (2016 Wesleyan Discipline:842)
- (j) Sunday school superintendent or spiritual formation director (2016 Wesleyan Discipline:889)
B. Categories of Membership
553. Persons to be admitted to membership in The Wesleyan Church shall be those who meet the conditions set forth in the Constitution (2016 Wesleyan Discipline:297:1-4).
- (1) Candidates for membership shall be examined by the local board of administration (2016 Wesleyan Discipline:782:8; 2016 Wesleyan Discipline:835-837), to determine whether they meet the requirements of the Constitution concerning their experience of regeneration, Christian baptism, their willingness to be instructed in and acceptance of the Articles of Religion, Elementary Principles and the authority of The Discipline in matters of church government, and their willingness to enter into a membership and discipleship relationship with The Wesleyan Church through the local church.
- (2) Candidates for membership who have satisfactorily passed the examination by the local board of administration, shall be voted upon by the local church conference unless the local church conference has delegated this responsibility to the local board of administration (2016 Wesleyan Discipline:567; 2016 Wesleyan Discipline:655:1). In either case, it shall require a majority vote of those present and voting to receive; and if objections are urged against the reception of a member, it shall require a two- thirds vote of those present and voting.
- (3) Members will be asked to reaffirm their commitment to their experience of regeneration, Christian baptism, their acceptance of the Articles of Religion, Elementary Principles and the authority of The Wesleyan Church in matters of church government, and their willingness to continue a membership and discipleship accountability relationship with The Wesleyan Church through the local church annually. The local board of administration shall carry out this annual reaffirmation process in a fair and responsible manner, taking care to preserve both the life and health of the church as well as the established rights of the member. If a member chooses not to participate in the annual reaffirmation process, that choice will be considered as a voluntary withdrawal from membership.
- (4) Persons who have been duly accepted for membership as explained in 2016 Wesleyan Discipline:553:2, should be received into membership in a public service, in which they shall make their confession and vows public, (2016 Wesleyan Discipline:5565), and be given the right hand of fellowship by the pastor or the representative of the pastor.
555. The rights of membership are set forth in the Constitution (2016 Wesleyan Discipline:302). The judicial process for dealing with any member charged with failure to uphold the Articles of Religion are located in the Judiciary section of The Discipline (2016 Wesleyan Discipline:5000-5008) and in the General Board Policy on Church Discipline and Ministerial Restoration. 557. Guides and Helps to Holy Living. The Membership Commitments (2016 Wesleyan Discipline:260-268) are the biblically-based convictions historically held by The Wesleyan Church, which all members are encouraged to prayerfully consider and embrace. 558. Leadership Commitments. All those serving in elected or credentialed office in The Wesleyan Church shall be required to follow carefully and conscientiously the Guides and Helps to Holy Living found in paragraphs 2016 Wesleyan Discipline:260-268.
2. Student Membership
564. Those children and youth who have testified to the experience of regeneration may be received as student members immediately after their conversion and baptism. The local board of administration, having provided for their examination concerning their relationship with Christ and their intention to develop toward spiritual maturity, may receive them by majority vote. Student members should be received formally in a public ceremony led by the pastor or staff pastor. The local church shall provide a program that will guide student members toward spiritual maturity and an understanding of the importance, privileges, and commitments of membership.
565. Student members shall have all the rights of adult level members except to vote and hold office. They may become adult level members at any time the local board of administration deems they are qualified, and should be received as given in 2016 Wesleyan Discipline:553. If student members are not qualified for adult level membership by their sixteenth birthday, every effort shall be made by the pastor and local board of administration during the following year to prepare them for adult level membership. When they are twenty-one years of age, they must either become adult level members or be dropped from the student membership list (cf. 2016 Wesleyan Discipline:782:10). Student members who desire to become adult level members shall be received as given in 2016 Wesleyan Discipline:553.