This article was originally published by The Mennonite

Membership and the Mr. Potato Head Church

I was the kid who could never take care of my toys.

Lost or broken moments after receiving them, my toys never stood a chance. I did not intentionally destroy my toys, it just kind of happened.

That is probably why I never got a Mr. Potato head even though I wanted one so potato head I loved the idea of having a bucket of parts that could be switched in and out at will. There were commercials that showed giant buckets of tiny little parts and I guess mom just thought “another mess to clean up.”

So I bought one right away for my daughter and guess what? Most of the parts are missing.

I am positive Paul would not have even imagined the possibility of a Mr. Potato head and his bucket of parts when he was talking about the “body with many members” in 1 Corinthians 12: “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. For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and we were all made to drink of one spirit.”

Indeed, the body does not consist of one member but of many.

In other words, God does not have a bucket of spare parts lying around waiting to be switched in or out at will. One is either a part of the body or not.

That is why I find our current concept of membership problematic, but not for the reason most people are immediately thinking.

For far too long the church has functioned with a “bucket of parts” membership mentality.

A person is able to become a member of the church at some point in life and as long as they don’t do anything categorically sinful enough to get kicked out of the bucket, they may stay. Silent. Comfortable. Settled.

That may be membership, but it sure ain’t discipleship.

Membership in many churches often looks very similar to that of any other secular club. It is a place where one is on “The List” and “The List” affords one privileges.

Membership as we know it today implies a certain amount finality, a certain amount of “you-have-arrived-ness.”

As one person said, “We think of membership [in the church] as giving us rights, when really it should give us obligations.”

Speaking as a Millenial pastor (yes, I am pulling out that trump card, forgive me), I have to say that I find congregational membership somewhat superficial. It feels an awful lot like a backstage pass people wave around in certain circles.

WAYNE'S WORLD, Dana Carvey, Mike Myers, 1992, showing their backstage passes
WAYNE’S WORLD, Dana Carvey, Mike Myers, 1992, showing their backstage passes
But I can buy into discipleship.

Discipleship is going somewhere. Discipleship says that you and I are moving toward Christ, together.

Discipleship makes room for anyone from the most honored member of the body to the lowest member of the body because we are both moving together.

 And most of all, discipleship dumps the bucket of spare parts and says, “If you want to be a part of the body you have to jump on board or be left behind.”

Perhaps that is scary to the bucket of spare parts, because what if the bucket of beautiful spare parts who has all of the right beliefs gets outdone in faithfulness, by the active and engaged uglier parts who don’t have their theology straight?

And that’s scary in itself that just thinking a part of the body is ugly or shameful, a part we might want to cover up and hide, doesn’t make it any less part of the body. It’s still there.

What if the 21st century church stopped marking membership by beliefs we hold together as indicators of belonging and instead place discipleship traits as indicators of belonging?

If there are 35,000 denominations in the world, what are the chances that we are going to have just the right combination of beliefs to get us into heaven anyway, if that is really how we think it works?

In our American individualistic culture, whether we like it or not, it is going to be harder and harder to have a document that clearly indicates what we believe together, but what if we were committed to marking traits of discipleship?

I agree with Jewel Longenecker Gingerich. What if a weekly Bible study was a mark of membership or not? Weekly worship? Weekly service? Daily prayer? Intentionally being with our neighbors and co-workers as purposeful representatives of Christ?

Jesus never called members, he called disciples. Paul never calls us to be members; he used membership of the body as analogy to help us recognize how important each and every disciple is to the mission of God.

The body of Christ does not have a bucket of spare parts.

Each member is precious and specialized for a particular ministry within the body and it is only through discipleship that each one of us become who God has intended us to be.

Come on. Let’s lose the bucket.

Jessica Schrock-Ringenberg

Jessica is on the pastoral team at Zion Mennonite Church in Archbold, Ohio where she lives with her husband Shem Read More

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