It is the right and obligation of every believer in Jesus Christ to join a local fellowship of Christian believers for accountability, support, teaching, and service. Participation in the life of the gathered church is not an option for Christians, any more than participation in the body is an option for a hand, foot, eye, or ear.
What is Gospel Partnership?
Most evangelical churches practice formal church membership in one way or another. The reasons are simple. First, formal and deliberate union with a body of believers makes the obligations of fellowship plain and obvious to every believer. Second, formal membership provides a clear line between the local church and the world. Third, formal membership enables the practice of the ultimate sanction of corrective church discipline – excommunication – as it creates a clear body from which the unrepentant sinner is sent out. Finally, it provides the elders of the church a plain and simple way to be aware of and remember which sheep the Lord has entrusted to their care.
At Grace Church of Cochrane, we call formal church membership “Gospel Partnership.” We chose this description for two important reasons. First, Christians are saved from sin and death not by their own efforts, but by the power of the Gospel of Christ. It is the Gospel that sets apart a Christian. Second, the word “partnership” is, we believe, more descriptive in our day of the nature of formal membership. The word “membership” can have passive connotations in our society, after all; one can be a member of a social club or political party and actually contribute very little to the life of the group. “Membership” in our society is often understood more in terms of the rights and privileges of the person holding membership in a group, and less in terms of the obligations and expectations that group has of the member. A “partner,” however, has a vital interest and stake in the life of the body. A “partner” shares the hardships of the body’s life and contributes actively to its work.
Furthermore, and even more importantly, we are convinced that “Gospel Partnership” is an apt biblical description of the status of the Christian believer. Paul told the Philippians that his affection for them was “right” as they were all “partakers” with him not only in grace but in the work of “defense and confirmation of the Gospel” (Philippians 1:7), a work he earlier described as a “partnership in the gospel” (1:5). And Paul also described his ministry companions in this way: of Titus he said “he is my partner and fellow worker for your benefit” (2 Corinthians 8:23); and he once appealed to Philemon as a “partner” – in the context, a partner in the faith – in his plea for mercy toward Onesimus (Philemon 17). The apostle John described himself as a “partner” to the churches in tribulation, and the kingdom, and the patient endurance in Christ (Revelation 1:9).
So at Grace Church, we expect more of our members than passive presence in the pew. We encourage, and expect, active participation in the life and mission of our fellowship. Hence, the term “Gospel Partnership.”
What is the Process to Becoming a Gospel Partner?
Any person residing in the greater Cochrane and surrounding area who has a saving understanding of the essentials of the evangelical faith and evidence of true and living faith in Christ may enter into Gospel Partnership at Grace Church of Cochrane.
Here is a brief summary of the steps we follow in welcoming newcomers into Gospel Partnership, which has six steps:
1. Complete the Gospel Partnership Course
Several times a year, we run a Gospel Partnership class that explains who we are, what we believe, and how we live together as a church. These Gospel Partnership classes cover the following topics:
- What is Gospel Partnership?
- Our Congregational Confession of Faith
- What makes Grace Church of Cochrane distinct
- Our Gospel Partnership Covenant
- Missions and Outreach
- Life together at Grace Church of Cochrane
Classes are usually announced on Sunday's prior to the next class. Classes are also posted on our Events calendar.
For those in unique circumstances who are unable to attend a class, we also offer a self-study version of the course.
2. Elder Interview
Once you've gone through the classes, you book a Gospel Partnership interview with the elders. In this interview, two elders (or, an elder and a man in training for ministry) will sit down with each person or family seeking membership in order to get to learn more about you, your walk with the Lord, and your family and religious background. This is also an opportunity to ask any unresolved questions of the elders.
3. Sign the Promises
After the elder interview, candidates for Gospel Partnership are asked to sign three documents:
- our Confessional Promises (that is, our Congregational Confession of Faith),
- our Promises to One Another (that is, our Gospel Partnership Covenant), and
- our Promises Regarding Accountability (that is, our Policy on Church Discipline). Signature of all three documents is the formal application to join the church in Gospel Partnership.
4. Elder Consideration
Once the signed Promises are submitted to the elders, they will decide at their next meeting whether they support the application for Gospel Partnership. The elders will decide either to (a) conditionally support the application and send the candidate’s name to the congregation for review; (b) hold the application, if there are unresolved questions or concerns on the elders’ part, and take more time for teaching and assessment of the candidate; or (c) deny the application, if the elders believe the candidate is unqualified for Gospel Partnership.
5. Congregational Review
When the elders believe a candidate is qualified for Gospel Partnership, they will send all current Gospel Partners a letter introducing the candidate, informing them of the application for partnership, and asking for input. While not a formal vote, this allows the elders to collect feedback on the candidate, for any Gospel Partner who has concerns about the candidate’s qualifications to approach the elders, and for Gospel Partners to actively endorse the candidate if he or she is qualified. This process usually takes about 10-14 days to give people time to respond.
6. Presentation of New Gospel Partner
If no new and disqualifying information comes to light during the Congregational Review, the new Gospel Partners are announced to the church in the next congregational meeting (held three times each year) following the end of the review period.