“Your glorying is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump?” 1 Cor 5:6
It does not take much yeast to cause bread dough to raise 3-4 times its size. Given the right temperature and time, a large lump of dough can raise fairly quickly with a fairly insignificant amount of yeast.
Depending on the recipe, normally 6 cups of flour will call for about one tablespoon of yeast. The ration of 6 cups to one tablespoon is 192:1, or one half of a percent. And yet that one spoon of yeast will cause those 6 cups of flour in a batter to rise over and over again.
While having yeast is helpful for making certain kinds of bread, Paul used this allegory to teach a negative lesson. He was illustrating that allowing unchecked sinful behavior among members of a local church impacts the entire church membership. He likely used this illustration because of its example of a very unbalanced ratio, 192:1. When church leaders allow one member to live in obvious sin, the result impacts the remainder of the church just like leaven!
So any given pastor or church leader needs to be aware of the spiritual state of the members of his church.
In a perfect world all members of a church would be regenerate and would remain so throughout their lives. But we do not live in a perfect world. When a new pastor comes to a church, he inherits all the membership decisions made in the past. Perhaps unregenerate people became members in a church by mistake or even intentionally.
So it is beneficial that we have strategies in mind to safeguard regenerate church membership. Let me recommend ten strategies, to which others may be added:
(1) Baptism for Believers Only
We must guard against the desire to bolster baptismal numbers by baptizing those who have not certain of their faith in Jesus Christ. There is danger on both sides here. We can restrict baptism from “Whosoever will” on one hand, sinning against the Holy Spirit. Or we can baptize those who are not genuinely saved, and thereby sin against the Holy Spirit.
(2) Practicing Communion for Believers Only
Other than baptism, the other command of Christ, the Lord’s Supper, is the place where we need to differentiate between the saved and the lost. Here again there is danger on both sides. On one side, there is the danger of becoming Pharisaical, and on the other becoming Sadducee-ical. For example, it has been my practice to mention the warning of 1 Corinthians 9, stating that the communion table is restricted to baptized believers only, and then allowing the congregants to decide for themselves.
(3) Practicing Church Discipline
Loving ministry necessitates loving church discipline. When a member is found to be living in known sin or immorality, church leaders are obligated to follow Matthew 18, Galatians 6, and similar passages to reestablish this church member. If church discipline is not lovingly practiced, then regenerate church membership is in jeopardy.
(4) Prioritizing Biblical Preaching
A constant diet of the Word of God can protect a church from drifting away from its Master, Jesus Christ. Jesus said, “You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you” (John 15:3). God’s Word preached literally cleanses the consciences and souls of those who have a hearing of faith in a congregation. Biblical preaching is a powerful key to maintaining regenerate church membership.
(5) Maintaining the Bible’s Distinction Between the Saved and the Lost
In a day of compromise, it is important for the pastor to set the pace for his church by maintaining the Bible’s distinction between the saved and the lost in his preaching. Blurring the lines between the saved and the lost is detrimental to maintaining a regenerate membership. When these lines are blurred doctrinally and or in practice the entire congregation suffers from an influx of leaven into the church.
(6) Welcoming Practical Application of the Bible’s Truths
Along with biblical preaching is the importance of clear application of God’s Word. Preaching is more than informing, it also includes the responsibility to warn. The admonition of Ezekiel 3:18-21 comes to mind here. That same admonition rang in the mind of Paul who stated that he was under obligation to teach and warn all men. For example, Paul affirmed that his ministry was one of “warning every man” (Col 1:28). Likewise our preaching should be more than just informing—it should also include warning. And this warning will go a lone way toward helping us maintain regenerate church membership.
(7) Regularly Visiting Our Members
Maintaining regenerate church membership means that we know our sheep. There is no better way of knowing our congregation than visiting them in their homes. Their homes is where we learn how they live and with whom they live. It does not take long to greet a person, read Scripture, and pray for them—maybe 10-15 minutes. But in so doing the pastor shows love for his people and is better able to empathize with them. His regular visitation allows the pastor to understand his people as life issues come up. He can preach to where they live, and build a relational foundation that he may later need in a first level of confrontation (Matt 18).
(8) Fostering Intentional Loving Fellowship
Along with regularly visiting members, the pastor should be sure that there are regular avenues for fellowship among the saints on the church calendar. Isolated church members can drift. Members that are involved in a healthy community with multiple levels of relationship will be discipled and mentored.
(9) Training Our People in Evangelism
Another way to safeguard regenerate church membership is to train our members in personal evangelism. As we voluntarily train our people in personal evangelism, they will have the gospel set before them once again. They can evaluate their own lives in light of the gospel. And they can recommit themselves to a Great Commission priority in their lives.
(10) Giving Our People Opportunities to Share the Gospel
Once a person is trained to share the gospel, they can now proceed to the next level—sharing the gospel! It is helpful and beneficial for a pastor to create varied opportunities for his people to share the gospel—whether in the local context or on overseas trips. They will already have a built in desire to share the gospel from the Holy Spirit. So the pastor puts legs to the work of the Spirit by providing his people concrete ways to share the gospel. He emulates Jesus who sent out his disciples (e.g. Luke 9:2; 10:1). As they share the gospel, they will be reminded of their ongoing need for Christ, and you will safeguard the regenerate membership of your church in their lives!
Just like yeast changes the size of the lump of dough, so unsaved members will transform a local church in a negative way. Maintaining regenerate membership is a challenge. These ten strategies are offered to safeguard the household of God and to help us keep unhealthy leaven from infecting our churches.