In my experience most people have a very weak understanding of church membership. Rather than seeing their membership to a congregation as an interdependent commitment to a body (think of Paul's metaphor in 1 Corinthians 12), they view membership through the lens of our consumer culture. They associate "membership" in a church as a religious version of the relationship one has with Costco, Netflix, or AmazonPrime.
To combat this some churches have undertaken the admirable task of elevating what a commitment to a congregation means. They've clearly articulated expectations and formalized the process of church membership in a manner that reflects the gravity and biblical roots of the idea. In addition, the process of membership is also a way of protecting the flock from wolves who seek to prey upon God's people. As reported in this interview with Ken Sande from Peacemakers, membership is both a congregational and legal means of protecting the church.
But can this pursuit of security go too far? When a copy of the confidentiality agreement from Elevation Church hit the web a few weeks ago, it raised red flags for many people.
It has become increasingly common for churches to issue such contracts to members or volunteers. Sadly such forms are often necessary in our litigious society, but Elevation's contract, in some people's view, takes things too far.
For example, the document forbids volunteers from disclosing confidential information they may encounter in the course of their participation at the church. This is usually a means of protecting church attenders' privacy. No one wants to discover the Amway salesman got their contact information from the church office. Likewise, prayer or healing ministries function best when there is a reasonable expectation of privacy.
Elevation's confidentiality agreement, however, goes far beyond protecting members. It focuses much of it's language on securing the financial details of its staff and leadership initiatives. It reads:
Confidential Information includes,but is not limited to, such information relating to: (i) Church participants, including lists, contact information, prayer requests personal information; (ii) the Church's finances, including personal financial/salary information related to the Church's financial statements, balance sheets, offerings information, cash flow, forecasts and cost analyses; (iii) the Church's plans and projections for opportunities for new or developing ideas; and/or (iv) the Church's research and development activities and technical data.
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