For Christians, the Bible is the most precious and important book we possess. In its pages are the divinely inspired words that guide us to know and love our God.
After the Bible there are a few books that every believer should probably read, reread, and apply. On this short list would be works like Foxe's Book of Martyrs, Pilgrim's Progress, Augustine's Confessions, Mere Christianity, Knowing God, and Operation World. But even these great works fall behind what I consider the second most important book for every Christian.
What book is that? Your local church's membership directory.
Now, before you roll your eyes and run off to read something else, give me a moment more of your time.
Christians are not isolated spiritual pilgrims on a journey to heaven. Rather, the Bible says we are all members of His body (1 Corinthians 12:27), children in His family (1 John 3:1-2), and sheep of His flock (John 16:10). These descriptions reflect the reality that God intends Christians to be part of a tight knit community.
One day that community will all be together in heaven with Jesus (Revelation 5:9-14, 7:9-17), but for now we gather together in local churches. These churches are assemblies of believers who regularly come together to worship Jesus through song, prayer, preaching of the Word, and sharing in the ordinances (baptism and Lord's Supper).
But we don't just gather for those reasons, we also gather to foster relationships in which we help each other to the heaven. Consider these two verses from the book of Hebrews.
“Exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin” (Hebrews 3:13).
“Let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near” (Hebrews 10:2425).
These verses highlight the kind of things that flow out of relationships formed in a local church. We are not merely a social club who gets together for sweet tea, chitchat, and a round of golf. We are in the midst of a spiritual battle awaiting our Savior's return. We are being assaulted with temptations, trials, and hardships of every kind. In light of this, we need each other to help one another not give up, but to keep our hope set on Jesus’ return.
So what in the world does this have to do with a church membership directory?
I believe it is the second most important book you own because it keeps before your eyes the brothers and sisters you are responsible to help to heaven. God has called you to help particular brothers and sisters to fight against sin. He has called you to stir up particular people to love and good works. He has called you to encourage particular people every day until it is no longer called today.
The directory, if designed and used well, can be one of the most practical tools to helping you and your church fulfill the one another commands of the New Testament.
Let me explain a little more…
1. It gives every member a practical tool to aid in prayer and encouragement.
When someone joins our church we explain that they'll likely develop several deep relationships, but that they won't be able to be friends with everyone. However, one way they can encourage everyone else in the church is to pray for them. The membership directory is the best way I can think of to help them do this.
Here's a few ways our church is encouraged to use the directory:
Make it part of your daily devotions. I suggest that our members pray through a page of the directory each day. Some keep it in their Bibles, some in their cars to pray during their commute (be careful), some have it downloaded on their iPads for lunchtime prayer.
By making prayer for fellow members part of your daily life, God knits your heart to them while also moving in their lives in response to the things we've prayed. In case you aren't sure what to pray for when you do pray, I suggest asking God to help your fellow members…
…love God and hate sin.
…become more like Jesus everyday.
…have open doors to share the Gospel.
…grow in humility, wisdom, compassion, and courage.
…be sensitive to the Holy Spirit's conviction and leading.
…be willing and able to endure persecution for Jesus’ sake.
Make it part of your family's devotions. You can use it as part of your family's devotional time. By picking one person each night or one person per week that your family is praying for, you take a good opportunity to teach your family the importance of loving and praying for the local church where you are members.
Along with this, if the directory has a section in the back of missionaries your church supports, your family can regularly intercede for Gospel workers around the world. If your family sends them encouraging notes or emails telling them that they are being remembered in prayer, it will only bolster their faith.
Use it as an opportunity to encourage someone. If you pray for another member, consider taking a moment to text, email, or call them and let them know. A simple “I just wanted you to know you were prayed for today, may God bless you” kind of note can be hugely encouraging to people.
Also, if the Lord brings to mind something specific to pray about for someone, consider checking in with them and see if they need any further prayer or counsel on the matter. You might be surprised how often God's Spirit uses prayerful members of the church to encourage other members of the Body.
Use it as tool for hospitality. Take some time to look through the directory and see if any other members live near by. If so, extend an invitation to have them over for a meal. You never know how the Lord might use that connection to reach your neighborhood with the Gospel.
2. This helps pastors better shepherd the flock Jesus entrusts to them.
Hebrews 13:17: “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account…”
As pastors we need to know whose souls Jesus expects us to be watching over and preparing to give an account for. Church membership helps make this clear, but a church directory helps make it practically clear.
As a pastor, there are few things that help me feel the weight of the Hebrews 13:17 responsibility like spending time praying through the pages of our church's membership directory. As I do this, I see the eyes of those who have said “I am following Jesus by obeying and submitting to your leadership.” If that isn't weighty to you as a pastor, then I'm not sure what is.
Here's two ways I've found the directory helpful to our church's leadership:
Elder / staff meetings. Our elders take 30-40 minutes to talk about and pray for members at the beginning of every elder meeting. To aid this we use the membership directory and intercede for a group of members in our church. To make this more fruitful, we try to email or call those we'll be praying for beforehand to see how they are doing spiritually. This is one of my favorite parts of our elder meetings.
Sermon preparation. By taking time during my sermon prep to look through the directory, I am able to think more clearly about how the promises and commands in my sermon best apply to different types of people who will be hearing it. I often take a truth from the sermon and pray it over several people from the directory. This tends to bear good fruit for my prep and the people who hear the message.
3. It keeps homebound members on your mind, though they may be out of sight.
James 1:27: “pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and father is to visit orphans and widows in their distress.”
Members who are no longer able to worship with us are marked as “homebound” in our directory. We encourage families and non-married members to write them letters or go by and visit them. The Lord has used this to help us keep these sometimes forgotten members close to our hearts. I'm not sure of a better tool to help keep these members on our mind like a well-used directory.
4. It helps homebound members continue to invest in the spiritual health of the church.
For many members who can no longer come together with the church for worship, prayer has become their primary ministry. By ensuring that they get updated copies of the picture directory, we remind them that they are not forgotten and that they are still playing a vital role in the life and health of the church. By having pictures and names in a booklet they can look at each day, it can help those whose memories may be fading to be reminded of their bothers and sisters in Christ.
5. It helps alert church members to people who may be in danger.
James 5:1920: “My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.”
We'd like to think that our church is the kind of tight knit community where everyone knows who's showing up regularly, and even more importantly, how one another's souls are doing. But the fact is, some people get overlooked.
If however your church and elders are regularly praying through the directory, the probability dramatically increases of someone saying, “have you seen ______ in a while?” And, over time, as God develops a culture of members knowing (and caring) that they have responsibility for each other, members will take initiative to reach out to people they haven't seen in a while.
I know of several people who had been absent from church and wandering in sin, but when a praying member noticed they hadn't seen them in a while, they reached out and God used them to help that fellow member begin walking with the Lord again. May God make us a people who are always alert to those who may be wandering into dangerand may people rescue us were we to ever be the ones who wander.
While the idea of a membership directory being the second most important book a Christian may not be real sexy, I hope you can see why I say it is. There are few other practical resources that help every member in your church love one another by praying for each other. So if you've got a directory, start using it. If not, lead the charge to get one put together. To help spark some ideas, consider this article.
May God make us a people who are intentional to pray for one another.