Most churches today would agree with the above statement, at least in theory. However, when it comes to actual practice, many local Christian groups function within a hierarchical framework. Put simply, almost all institutional churches treat some people as if they are more important than others. The usual order of importance - with some variation - is as follows: senior pastor, assistant pastors, elders, deacons, board members, committee members, members, visitors. This is a top down structure that is based in the secular business world.
Christ's plan for his church is far different from today's far too typical hierarchies. Jesus' church is a heavenly creation, and thus operates far differently from the world. Within this body no hierarchy exists. Rather, everyone is of equal importance. All have equal value. All matter. Everyone needs everyone else to the same degree. This is the only way for a body to be healthy.
We are all familiar with Paul's use of the body metaphor in I Corinthians 12. This passage is absolutely critical for our understanding of body life. Paul chooses the functioning of the physical body to show us in concrete terms that we, a spiritual body, all need one another. All the individual parts must be healthy for the whole to be healthy. All matter equally.
Let's reflect on I Corinthians 12:12-26:
For 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. 13 For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body — Jews or Greeks, slaves or free — and all were made to drink of one Spirit.
14 For the body does not consist of one member but of many. 15 If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. 16 And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? 18 But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. 19 If all were a single member, where would the body be? 20 As it is, there are many parts, yet one body.
21 The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” 22 On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23 and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, 24 which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, 25 that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. 26 If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.
The final paragraph in particular is amazing. Three truths stand out. First, those within the body who might seem of less importance are actually critical to a healthy church. Those who come to mind are the folks who quietly serve others in the background, not desiring attention. Churches need people like this. Second, Paul tells us that God composed the body this way. It is no accident; rather, this is God's plan. Third, God did it this way "that there may be no division within the body." Our Lord's purpose in everyone being equal is to bring about and maintain the unity of the church family. God understands that when we all matter, all have value, and all have a part to play, we also will be more united.
I'll end this post where I began it: within the body of Jesus Christ, everybody matters equally. Only when we embrace this truth can the church be the healthy body God wants it to be.