The 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time - The Homily

The First Reading today from Isaiah and the Gospel from Luke are rather sobering. In Isaiah, who are the people who see - and proclaim - the Glory of God? Fugitives, crooks, foreigners. In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus calls out the people who heard about Him and simply dismissed Him - never allowing His words to affect or change their lives in any way. So He dismisses them. They don’t get into heaven.

A clear distinction is being made here. Is it possibly the difference between “membership” and “discipleship.”

Church growth can be viewed in two ways:

  1. Growing in numbers in the congregation, or
  2. Growing in spiritual attributes, character, and understanding.

The primary emphasis seen in the church world over the past 35 years when talking about growth has been, ‘How do we get more members in the congregation? We talk about growing spiritually, but the real emphasis in our churches seems to be on getting the numbers. If this is the primary emphasis for church growth, then we need to perhaps examine the motives behind this quest.



Here’s one story of several churches:

In a particular street different denominational churches were staying with each other in a three story building with different denominations on each floor. On the ground floor was denomination A. On the first floor was denomination B. On the second floor was church C and the third floor was church D.

When church A is doing Sunday School, church B, who did not do Sunday School in their denomination, was doing heavy Praise Worship with loud shouts and instruments. Church C, with a pronounced Pentecostal bent, was having a “fire-filled” and prophetic moment of prayer; all at the same time with their speakers loud enough so as not to be overshadowed and suppressed by the contemporary worship music of church B. Meanwhile, church D, with its more mellow Quaker roots, was suffering from the din coming below as they tried to find some type of quiet, contemplative spirit in order to hear God speak.

After a few weeks, everything was boiling in the air. Arguments broke out. Theological sword fights ensued. Accusations and counter accusations ensued. All in the name of serving God!


It was confusion. Some might have seen it as united confusion because, after all, they were all in one church building. Some might have seen it as prophetic confusion - all struggling along to get to a synthesis of all denominations. Some might just have quietly endured while saying, “Why can’t we all just get along?”

Whatever name you would call it, was still confusion - God is not the author of confusion.

Churches talk about having the largest congregation, the most mission trips, the best “Blue Ribbon” parish school, the most generous givers. Competition and rivalry among denominations or parishes - all in the name of God.

Why is that? I propose two ideas:

  1. The difference between “membership” and “discipleship”
  2. The difference between being “asked to volunteer” and being “called to a ministry.”

Mark Tidsworth is president of Pinnacle Leadership Associates. Pinnacle is a “professional group assisting clients to discern and live out their callings through purposeful living and working.” They focus on the two areas of “Professionals and Business” as well as “Clergy and Congregations.” Mark wrote an article on the membership vs. discipleship dichotomy. First he asks, “What’s a ‘member?’”

In its original biblical usage, the word “member” was a healthy, organic term. It’s found 45 times in the New Testament, with only nine instances in the gospels.

For example, Paul uses “member” in his use of the body metaphor in 1 Corinthians 12, describing the church as one body with many members. This was a beautiful description of diverse people intricately connecting through their common commitment to Christ.

[Today] membership is about the rights and privileges of an organizational connection. When one pays membership dues, then one has access to the privileges these dues provide, including the services of the professionals employed by the organization.

Ministry Magazine outlines the qualifications for being a good “club” member? A member:

  • Must attend the meetings
  • Must give money to the organization
  • Must participate in the organization’s activities

What seem to be the qualifications of a good “church” member:

  • Must attend the meetings
  • Must give money to the organization
  • Must participate in the organization’s activities

Notice the difference? There isn’t one. Ministry Magazine continues:

A church member is concerned about people in the pews, problem solving, church programs, prosperity, etc.. These are not bad things. The problem is that they have become the focus. As a result, you get the crisis in church “membership.” This crisis in church membership shows up as little or no growth, parishioner apathy, parish shopping, sporadic attendance, and even growing apostasy among church parishioners.

Ok, but what’s a “disciple?” Mark Tidsworth continues:

The word “disciple” shows up in the New Testament 263 times, with 235 of these references in the gospels. The term “disciple” can be re-termed as “an apprentice.” An “apprentice” learns a craft or trade under the tutorship of a “master.” In the case of being a spiritual apprentice, or follower of Jesus, it means learning a new lifestyle in the kingdom of God under the tutorship of the Holy Spirit.

A disciple of Christ is somebody who establishes a personal relationship with Jesus, is genuinely concerned for the salvation of their soul, repents from their sins, seriously engages the Word of God, is faithful to the church teachings in their own life and personally shares the faith with others.

This difference between membership and discipleship is reflected in the difference between being “asked to volunteer” and being “called to a ministry.” We hear church leaders from every denomination complaining about the low level of volunteerism among their members. But that’s the nature of membership. Some members volunteer while many more sit back and enjoy the perks of membership. Even more, members who volunteer may do so for a while, but not indefinitely.

What’s the difference between members and disciples?

  • Members volunteer; disciples serve.
  • Members are asked; disciples are called.
  • Members see their involvement at the church as helping out the community with service; disciples see what they do as a ministry to further The Kingdom.
  • Members ask about what it is going to cost them; disciples ask God how He wants to use them.
  • Members shrink back from resolving relational conflict; disciples know from the Scriptures that they are a people called by God to resolve relational conflict for the sake of unity in the church.
  • Members look at what they do as an obligation to fulfill; because disciples are using charisms that they enjoy, are good at and are effective in - they look forward to opportunities to use these gifts and talents by God.
  • Members do little outside preparation for Mass; disciples come to church as prepared as possible, on time and ready to worship, to be fed and to serve God.
  • Members are not open to constructive criticism - they get defensive about it; disciples are humble and docile and are grateful for spiritual direction and feedback because they want to be the best they can be for God.
  • Members feel threatened by the talents of others; disciples praise God for the way He distributes gifts and talents as He chooses.
  • Members want to quit at the first sign of adversity, discouragement or inconvenience; disciples understand and accept the cross, long suffering, fortitude and perseverance.
  • Members find their source of fulfillment in their talents and abilities and the praise of others; disciples find the way God uses them, often in their weakness and failures, as mysteriously fulfilling.
  • Members avoid being put into situations in which they are going to be stretched; disciples respond to God’s call with humble dependence on Him.
  • Members help; disciples serve.

The Scriptures today not only set up distinctions, they also present a dichotomy which demands an examination and a decision. What are you – member/volunteer or disciple/missionary?


Audio version is here:


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s