I got word early this week that Maggie Caldwell, one of WACC’s last remaining charter members, had died. We were already in short supply, but if I’m right, this takes us down to a remnant of two. “Charter member” is not a term I learned until later in my pastoral life; I’m sure the other churches I’ve served had them, but we didn’t use that term. In case you’re not familiar with it either, back in the mid-last century when a church would begin meeting for the first time they would look for a block of individuals and families who would commit to becoming members of that new church. For one thing, that way you knew who you could count on, who you could expect to see on Sundays and Wednesdays at church; also, you knew you could depend on these for financial support, fellowship support, volunteer support and outreach support–and for all of the other myriad kinds of support required to get a church program “off the ground” and healthy. Charter members—people willing to “sign on the dotted line” and invest heavily in every way into the future of their church home. As the church progressed, a “charter” period was established, usually a few months or even a year, when those who joined would forever be considered “charter members”—the first wave, first committed, and, typically, first in more ways than you can easily count.
Churches do things a lot differently now, and I’m not sure modern church planters give as much thought to any kind of church membership, much less “charter membership”. And since the New Testament doesn’t have all that much to say about things like membership (which may well be more practical than doctrinal), it’s understandably often an understated issue. It doesn’t take long in a church to KNOW who consider themselves a part of your church family. It doesn’t take long in a church to KNOW who you can count on for support of all the right kinds. You just know. And if you’re blessed, you have a lot of families like Maggie and “Jiggs” Caldwell who were willing to become foundational people that could be counted on. And built on! Our fellowship has been so blessed through the years to have so many of that kind; we would be poorer and weaker and perhaps not even existing today—were it not for the likes of these humble servants of God who gave so much of themselves to His Church. That list is long, and God numbers them and rewards them for their faithfulness!
In stark contrast to these, some call themselves “members” of the Body, but in reality, if they are, the Body is a double-amputee—because some of those on the “membership roll” never even bother to grace the church with their presence; with the notable exception of those with genuine limiting health issues, these folks tend to be takers and often complainers—wondering “where was the church?” when they found themselves in some need. The rest of the church family could wonder the same thing about them. As Paul the apostle once stated (see I Cor. 12), none of the parts of the body are more important than others; you need them all to function healthily as God designed and intended. But it’s also true that a kidney or liver or hand or big toe for that matter—doesn’t do a body much good if it’s on the shelf somewhere. All the parts matter!
That takes me back to my thoughts about “Charter Members”—and actually about all church members who take seriously their commitments to God and church. I thank God for people who are willing to count the cost and pay it, people who are willing to make a commitment and keep it. I thank God for people who put their church first and are constant voices of encouragement for their pastors and leaders. Take a minute and make a mental list of some of those people you know. Thank God for them right now–and if you think of it, thank them. They’ll wonder why you are, because, after all, faithfully serving is just what they do!