The Meaning of Membership in The United Methodist Church

By Steve Manskar

Following are paragraphs from The Book of Discipline of The United Methodist Church - 2008 pertaining to membership. On Sunday, January 8, many United Methodist congregations will read and hear the gospel account of Jesus' baptism by John. I pray that many congregations will re-affirm the Baptismal Covenant (see The United Methodist Hymnal, Baptismal Covenant IV on pages 50-52).

Church membership is established in the Baptismal Covenant. This is reflected in the paragraphs that follow. Membership is shaped Christian discipleship which requires intentional support and accountability for following and serving with Jesus Christ in the world.

What is striking to me is that in every United Methodist congregation in my experience membership is much more akin to a voluntary association in which people expect to be served rather than to serve with Christ. I have yet to find a congregation that is intentionally living as a community of discipleship found in the Book of Discipline and the Baptismal Covenant. What is your experience?


¶ 216. 1. Christ constitutes the church as his body by the power of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:13, 27). The church draws new people into itself as it seeks to remain faithful to its commission to proclaim and exemplify the gospel. Baptism is the sacrament of initiation and incorporation into the body of Christ. After baptism, the church provides the nurture that makes possible a comprehensive and lifelong process of growing in grace. Becoming a professing member requires the answer of faith of the baptized person made visible in a service of profession of Christian faith and confirmation using the of the Baptismal Covenant.

a) Baptized infants and children are to be instructed and nurtured in the meaning of the faith, the rights and responsibilities of their baptism, and spiritual and moral formation using materials approved by The United Methodist Church. Using the services of the Baptismal Covenant, youth will profess their faith, commit themselves to a life of discipleship, and be confirmed. Confirmation is both a human act of commitment and the gracious action of the Holy Spirit strengthening and empowering discipleship.

b) Youth and adults who have not been baptized and who are seeking to be saved from their sins and profess Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior are proper candidates for baptism in The United Methodist Church. It shall be the duty of the congregation, led by the pastor, to instruct them in the meaning of baptism, in the meaning of the Christian faith, and in the history, organization, and teachings of The United Methodist Church, using materials approved by The United Methodist Church for that purpose. After the completion of the period of nurture and instruction, the sponsor(s) and pastor shall bring the candidates before the congregation and administer the services of Baptismal Covenant, in which people are baptized, confirmed, and received into the Church.

2. a) Formation in the Baptismal Covenant and in the call to ministry in daily life is a lifelong process and is carried on through all the activities that have educational value. The pastor gives specific leadership that prepares youth for their profession of faith and commitment to discipleship and for the Holy Spirit’s action confirming them in their faith and empowering their discipleship. This preparation focuses attention upon the meaning of discipleship and the need for members to be in mission in all of life’s relationships.

b) There are many occasions as people mature in the faith when the Holy Spirit’s confirming action may be celebrated, such as in the reaffirmation of the Baptismal Covenant or other services related to life passages. Unlike baptism, which is a once-made covenant and can only be reaffirmed and not repeated, confirmation is a dynamic action of the Holy Spirit that can be repeated.

3. Preparation for the experience of profession of faith and confirmation shall be provided for all people, including adults. Youth who are completing the sixth grade shall normally be the youngest people recruited for such preparation. When younger people, of their own volition, seek enrollment in preparation for profession of faith and confirmation, such preparation shall be at the discretion of the pastor.

¶ 217. When persons unite as professing members with a local United Methodist church, they profess their faith in God, the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth; in Jesus Christ his only Son, and in the Holy Spirit. Thus, they make known their desire to live their daily lives as disciples of Jesus Christ. They covenant together with God and with the members of the local church to keep the vows which are a part of the order of confirmation and reception into the Church:

1. To renounce the spiritual forces of wickedness, reject the evil powers of the world, and repent of their sin;

2. To accept the freedom and power God gives them to resist evil, injustice, and oppression;

3. To confess Jesus Christ as Savior, put their whole trust in his grace, and promise to serve him as their Lord;

4. To remain faithful members of Christ’s holy church and serve as Christ’s representatives in the world;

5. To be loyal to Christ through The United Methodist Church and do all in their power to strengthen its ministries;

6. To faithfully participate in its ministries by their prayers, their presence, their gifts, their service, and their witness;

7. To receive and profess the Christian faith as contained in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments.

¶ 218. Growth in Faithful Discipleship—Faithful membership in the local church is essential for personal growth and for developing a deeper commitment to the will and grace of God. As members involve themselves in private and public prayer, worship, the sacraments, study, Christian action, systematic giving, and holy discipline, they grow in their appreciation of Christ, understanding of God at work in history and the natural order, and an understanding of themselves.

¶ 219. Mutual Responsibility—Faithful discipleship includes the obligation to participate in the corporate life of the congregation with fellow members of the body of Christ. A member is bound in sacred covenant to shoulder the burdens, share the risks, and celebrate the joys of fellow members. A Christian is called to speak the truth in love, always ready to confront conflict in the spirit of forgiveness and reconciliation.

¶ 220. The Call to Ministry of All the Baptized—All members of Christ’s universal church are called to share in the ministry which is committed to the whole church of Jesus Christ. Therefore, each member of The United Methodist Church is to be a servant of Christ on mission in the local and worldwide community. This servanthood is performed in family life, daily work, recreation and social activities, responsible citizenship, the stewardship of property and accumulated resources, the issues of corporate life, and all attitudes toward other persons. Participation in disciplined groups is an expected part of personal mission involvement. Each member is called upon to be a witness for Christ in the world, a light and leaven in society, and a reconciler in a culture of conflict. Each member is to identify with the agony and suffering of the world and to radiate and exemplify the Christ of hope. The standards of attitude and conduct set forth in the Social Principles (Part IV) shall be considered as an essential resource for guiding each member of the Church in being a servant of Christ on mission.

¶ 221. Accountability—1. All members are to be held accountable for faithfulness to their covenant of baptism.

2. If a baptized member neglects faithfulness and discipline in terms of the Baptismal Covenant, every means of encouraging that member to return and of nurturing him or her to assume the vows of professing membership should be made.

3. If a professing member should be accused of violating the covenant and failing to keep the vows as stated in ¶ 217, then it shall be the responsibility of the local church, working through its pastor and its agencies, to minister to that member in compliance with the provisions of ¶ 228 in an effort to enable the member to faithfully perform the vows and covenant of membership.

4. In the event that those efforts fail, then the professing member and the local church may agree to voluntary mediation in which the parties are assisted by a trained, neutral third-party mediator, mediation team, and/or their district superintendent in reaching a settlement or agreement satisfactory to all parties.

5. In the further event that those efforts fail to effect reconciliation and reaffirmation of the vows and covenant of ¶ 217 by the professing member, then the professing members of the church may pursue the procedures set forth in ¶¶ 2702.3, 2706.5, and 2714.