Today, I’ve invited Thom Rainer, president of LifeWay and author of the new book I Am a Church Member: Discovering the Attitude that Makes the Difference to join me for a conversation about church membership.

This book carries a long list of endorsements from church leaders across the theological and methodological spectrum of evangelicalism. It is a brief book that challenges church members to shift their mindset from self-serving to self-giving.

Trevin Wax: I Am a Church Member began as a blog post that garnered a great deal of attention and response. What prompted you to write the initial blog post? What did you learn from the response to that post?

Thom Rainer: I wrote the initial blog post after noting that in my research that church conflict was increasing. Over one-half of the conflict issues dealt with church members arguing over their personal preferences.

I hoped and prayed the blog would cause all of us church members to rethink our attitude about church membership, and to understand we are there to serve, not necessarily to be served.

Trevin Wax: You write about plateaued and declining churches in North America as seen in declining evangelical influence in the culture. We are tempted to blame secular culture, national politics, or church leaders. But you believe church members should “look in the mirror.” Why?

Thom Rainer: If outside forces and culture were the reasons behind declining and non-influential churches, we would likely have no churches today. The greatest periods of growth, particularly the first-century growth, took place in adversarial cultures. We are not hindered by external forces; we are hindered by our own lack of commitment and selflessness.

Trevin Wax: You devote a chapter to encouraging members to pray for their church leaders. There’s a moving story about a busy pastor who has no time to grieve the death of his best friend. Do you find that many church members are unaware of the pressures of pastoral ministry? How can we be better “pray-ers” for our pastors?

Thom Rainer: Most church members have little awareness of the daily demands and pressures of a pastor. His calling is one of the most challenging a person can have. Indeed, it is an impossible task in the pastor’s own strength.

I encourage church members to pick a time of day (for me it’s noon) to pause to pray one or two minutes for their pastors.

Most church members evaluate the pastor through the lens of “what is he doing for me?” We need to ask how we can help our pastor serve others rather than ask what can he do for me.

Trevin Wax: What happens when church members are focused on their own preferences and desires instead of the church’s mission? How can we move from being self-focused to self-giving?

Thom Rainer: The self-focused church becomes a church in conflict. No church can satisfy all the preferences of all the church members.

I recommend strongly that churches have an entry point class (a new members’ class) so clear expectations can be established for church members, including attitudinal issues. I also recommend that every church buy and distribute hundreds of copies of my book 🙂

Trevin Wax: There has been a resurgence of interest in church membership in recent years. Where do you see the conversation about meaningful church membership going in the years ahead? What are the strengths and weaknesses of this movement?

Thom Rainer: I am encouraged about the resurgence of interest in church membership. I see the conversation expanding in the near future.

Most of the conversation today is about what we are supposed to do as a church member. Very soon you will likely hear more and more about the attitudes church members should have.

An action plan without a biblical mindset is worthless, if not dangerous.

Trevin Wax: What do you hope this book will accomplish?

Thom Rainer: I pray that my little book will contribute to the conversation about biblical attitudes about church membership. I am even bold enough to pray that God will use it to change hearts from self-serving to serving.