I grew up in a traditional church in small-town Texas and still remember people joining that church. Whether after a year or on their first Sunday, people walked the red-carpet aisle during the final hymn, and chatted with the pastor for a moment. The pastor announced the new members, people clapped, and a Polaroid was taken to adorn the foyer wall. The church I attended during grad school had more of a process: people attended a class, agreed to support the church’s doctrine and leaders, and signed a form. (They were still announced with a snapshot, though now with a Kodak disposable.)
Two churches, one unified goal: they got new members.
Then church members could do whatever they wanted, as long as they came on Sundays and gave to the offering. (As one pastor I know joked, between those two options even Sundays were less important!) In the Bible, however, the picture of “membership” is not about accountability or liability; it isn’t about a finish line or signed form. The word “members” in the New Testament speaks to relationships: it was a starting line for the long race of devotion and discipleship God’s people committed themselves to (2 Tim. 4:7).
Rather than joining an organization – like a “member” of a social club God calls followers of Jesus “members” of each other! Those in a local church are as integrated into each other’s lives, and as vital to each other’s spirituality and sustenance, as a right hand to a left, or an eye to a foot. God’s church is “the body of Christ.” Our mouths, noses, and ears serve different roles in our heads, but exist mere centimeters from each other and need each other. A body’s functions are incomplete with any part missing.
With that foundation, read the apostle Paul’s words: “Just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ” (1 Cor. 12:12). A new “member” committing to a local church is like an arm offering to serve a physical body who is missing an arm. To function well, the arm needs a hand to grip its load, eyes to see where to take the object it lifted, etc. That “member” imagery describes the depth of need Jesus’ followers have for each other: no foot can declare independence and thrive if isolated from the rest of the body; nor can an eye reject the body parts it sees as unneeded. If we think in terms of literal bodies, such thoughts would be ridiculous!
The physical body makes a spiritual point: God’s people need each other.
Whether a church has a formal “membership process” or not, each follower of Jesus is a “member,” designed to fit a “body.” We need each other’s gifts, experiences, and faith, and others need ours. Paul describes this more specifically: “We, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another” (Rom. 12:5). The commitment between God’s people is not about legality, finance, or event attendance; it’s about intertwined lives and devotion to each other.
Only when Jesus’ followers realize that our spiritual interconnectedness echoes our very bones, muscles, and organs working together do many biblical images come alive. We cannot “let love be genuine, [or] love one another with brotherly affection” without interpersonal relationship.
Adapted from A Field Guide for Genuine Community: 25 Days and 101 Ways to Move from Façade to Family by Ben Connelly (© 2021). Published by Moody Publishers. Used by permission.