During our Cabinet and Directors Planning Retreat earlier this week (which, by the way, was a great experience of team-building), we talked about the Five Practices and the Five Membership Vows.  We wondered how those might be related.

Let me remind you:  the General Conference of our UMC in 2008 adopted an additional membership vow.  Now when persons are welcomed into our  church as Professing Members, in addition to the faith vows, they are asked to promise to support the local church and the UMC by their “prayers, presence, gifts, service, and witness.”  The word "witness" is the newest vow, so now we have five vows.

Of course the Five Practices that we are emphasizing in our congregations call us to practice Radical Hospitality, Passionate Worship, Intentional Faith Development, Risk-Taking Mission and Service, and Extravagant Generosity.”  Together we, as a Cabinet and Directors leadership team, wondered if there are parallels or implications from the Five Membership Vows of individuals which might support the Five Practices of congregations.

So I called Bishop Robert Schnase, the author of the “Five Practices” book who will be our Conference Teacher at the Indiana Conference in 2010.  He and I had a good discussion about this issue, and the following are my words (so don’t blame him), but they seemed to resonant with Robert.

The Five Practices remind us that our Five Membership Vows are not about joining a religious club.  One might read our membership vows and assume that they are directed to what we are promising to do inside the church.  For example, we might see our promise to “serve” as fulfilled if we simply usher on an occasional Sunday, or our promise to “give” if we throw a few dollars in the offering when we happen to show up for worship.  Likewise we might be tempted to see “presence” as a promise that is fulfilled merely by showing up in church a few times a year.

The Five Practices inform our Five Membership Vows.  Especially the “edgy adjectives” of the Five Practices remind us that this is serious discipleship; using words like “radical, extravagant, and risk-taking.”  The Five Practices also help us to remember that our Five Membership Vows are outward-focused, not just the kind of inward-focused promises one might make to join a club.

So here is my attempt to put these Five Practices and Five Membership Vows together (remember, these are mine, so don’t blame Schnase if I have misunderstood his intentions):

  1. Our promise to support the church by our “presence” is a part of our effort to offer “Radical Hospitality” to all persons.  My promise of “presence” is not fulfilled just by my showing up at the church; no I am promising to make our church a place where everyone’s presence is invited, expected, and welcomed.
  2. Our promise to support the church by our “prayers” is a part of the practice of making our church a place of “passionate worship.”  I am promising to pray for my church, its leaders, its people, and its mission in such a way that demonstrates my desire to see my church become a place of passionate, heart-felt worship.
  3. Our promise to support the church by our “witness” is all about engaging in Intentional Faith Development.  For me to be a good witness – whether that be in sharing my faith with another person, or carrying a sign to march for justice – must grow out of my own intentional growth in grace and holiness.
  4. Our promise to support the church by our “service” is about joining and leading the church in Risk-Taking Mission and Service.  It more than just serving on a committee in the church, it is taking the risk to help our church serve beyond its walls.
  5. Our promise to support the church by our “gifts” is about moving beyond offerings and support of the church budget, all the way toward engaging in Extravagant Generosity” and leading my church to be extravagantly generous beyond paying its own bills.

Perhaps just a pairing of these Five Membership Vows with the Five Practices will help to reinforce both the vows and the practices.  I hope so, and that is why I offer them to you