Member care at Capitol Hill Baptist Church: an interview with Mark Dever
Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, D.C. -- where Mark Dever serves as senior pastor -- is known for a strong emphasis on preaching, membership, church discipline and church government.
What few people know is their equally strong emphasis upon member care.
In December 1993, Mark Dever accepted the call to be pastor of Capitol Hill Baptist Church. From the moment Dever came to the church he started to get a pulse on its spiritual heartbeat.
"The first thing I did when I got to the church was get pictures of all the members and started learning their names and praying regularly for them," Dever said.
He also began getting together with some of the members.
"When I first came to the church I thought I was going to do a Richard Baxter type ministry (regularly ministering the Word to people in their homes), but I soon learned that with a large church this is impossible," Dever said.
Dever would go over to the members' houses and begin to talk to them about the church, their spiritual journey and whatever else came up.
"It was a good way to find out landmines beforehand so you can avoid them," Dever said.
Through this process he also found out where they stood on their understanding of the Gospel.
"In some of the interviews some people were less clear on the basics of the Gospel so we would go through (the book) ‘Christianity Explained' with them," Dever said.
Most importantly Dever said the interactions were a good way to meet with every member of the church and get to know them.
Member care begins at CHBC with membership classes and interviews.
In Dever's book "What is a Healthy Church" he argues that church membership is an implication drawn from several passages of Scripture.
He uses 1 Timothy 5 to show that the New Testament churches kept lists of people, such as the lists of widows. In 1 Corinthians 5, the church is told to exclude someone, which implies that there is also inclusion, he argues. Also 2 Corinthians 2:6 speaks of "the majority," which Dever says again shows that there is separation between those who are part of the church and those who are not.
CHBC's membership process includes going through six classes, followed by a personal meeting with one of the staff elders.
These six classes take place during Sunday School and are centered on the following topics: (1) statement of faith, (2) church covenant (3), why join a church?, (4) summary of church history, (5) why Southern Baptist? and (6) nuts and bolts.
These classes are meant to provide prospective members information on the type of institution they are joining. The classes answer questions like, "What does the church believe?," "What is involved in being a member?" and "What is the history of this church?"
"In the membership interview we are hearing people's stories essentially," Dever said. "We ask them basic questions about their life like if they have been married, divorced, baptized as a believer, and if yes, when and where. We ask them if they are coming from another church and if yes why they are leaving that church. We ask them if they are happy to attend regularly and make clear their responsibilities as a member."
Each person is also asked to explain the Gospel in 60 seconds or less.
"This is not so much a test as it is a way to see if they can boil down the basics of Christianity for us," Dever said.
Once people are members of the church Dever says that CHBC's pastors/elders encourage a culture of discipleship among the members of the congregation.
"We don't have a tier structure where I disciple a couple people and they disciple the rest. Rather we encourage the members to be a kingdom of priests," Dever said. "If the members are not creating a culture of discipleship and member care then the pastors' work (of member care) will fall woefully short."
Dever encourages members to move close to the church so that it is easier for them to get involved. Many of the staff pastors lead by example, living literally right next to the church.
The staff and lay pastors/elders of CHBC work to keep up with the spiritual state of their people by discussing a portion of the members in every elders meeting. Every member of the church comes up for discussion on a rotating basis over the course of time. If no pastor/elder knows how a certain member is doing, then one gets assigned to follow up with that person.
At Sunday worship services, it is clear that preaching of the Word is central. Sometimes sermons go over an hour.
Dever said he sees preaching as his main task and an essential component of member care.
"If I sit down and talk to one member that is great. I am helping them," Dever said. "But I have 750 other members I am not helping. Ironically, it is actually the time that I am sitting here preparing my sermon that I am serving the entire congregation."
CHBC's forward-looking mentality regarding member care takes the form of an internship program. The internship program at CHBC trains six young men each semester who move to Capitol Hill where they get a stipend for five months, a place to live and a lot of books.
The pastors/elders at CHBC spend a significant amount of their time with the interns. Each intern regularly trails pastors, read books and write papers.
"I read these papers and make comments on them," Dever said. "Then on Thursday morning we sit down for three hours and talk about them."
The conversation usually starts with topics surrounding the church but often reach into all areas of theology. The purpose of the internship is to teach interns the doctrine of the church and to do so in the context of a church.
Dever said he would encourage pastors to think about what they are doing to train up leaders for the future.
"Christianity's impact in America is shrinking," Dever said. "Our kids are growing up in a culture where people are increasingly hostile to Christianity. I think one of the best things we can do is raise up a generation of pastors who think about the Gospel and the church well."