The church is described as the "body" of Christ. More specifically it, the body, is "fitly joined together". I think this point is so crucial because the text goes on to describe it as being "compacted", it goes on to describe "joints" and the "supply" which is provided and also an "effectual working".
Consider if you will, the idea that is popularized today of the "universal church". I have stated before that no one can doubt that the body of Christ world-wide, and past, present and future, certainly according to the Scriptures make up the totality of the "body" of Christ. But again, it is no mistake that the vast majority of the usages of the word "church" in the New Testament clearly refer to a local church or a local assembly. The context of these passages is very clear but this makes sense.
My father was an orthopedic surgeon. I remember as a young man I began studying particular joints of the body. I was fascinated with my father's "knee replacement" surgeries. As I studied THE knee, I began to see it as entity in itself while at the same time being connected to, dependent upon, and serving the rest of the body. Certainly, the knee was controlled by the brain. The knee was nourished by the blood which circulated throughout the entire body. And the working of the knee effected things like the mobility of the entire body.
The knee joint is very compact. It is tight. It is woven together to work as a finely tuned instrument. This "fitly joined" and "compacted" design enhances its "effectual working". When dissecting a knee, it is hard to even sperate its individual parts because it is so very much ONE joint.
Yet, the compacted design has draw backs as well. When I sprain one ligament in the knee, the rest of that knee is effected. When one part of the knee swells or becomes inflamed, other portions of the knee are compromised. In addition, often times more demand is put on other portions of the joint to compensate for the injury to one part. Beyond that, even other portions of the body (for example the other knee or the hip) are also required to bear more of a burden while the knee is operating at less than full capacity.
INTIMACY: If all the specific parts of the knee were separated, if we put some distance between them, then when one part hurts, the others might be spared that hurt. But, we would not have a joint and ultimately we would not have a body. We would certainly not have the same "effectual working". No, God designed the church so that humans would by necessity need to get very close and work under high pressure and extreme demands with one another for one common purpose. And then the Lord told us that as we do this, the way that we demonstrate unconditional love for one another in the midst of this work will show the world that we are His disciples. So, this human tendency to not get close, to operate as little islands unto ourselves, is not biblical.
PURPOSE: If any one part of the knee fails to do its job, the entire joint and ultimately the entire body suffers. This idea today that I can "go to" church or "attend" worship and not really be involved in ministry to, with and through the church is not biblical either. The Bible says we are saved "unto good works". We are "servants". We are "laborers together". The elders are to equip the saints to "do the work of the ministry". We each have a job to do. Not having a purpose is not Biblical.
Furthermore, this self dependent or independent selection of our purpose is not entirely Biblical as well. Certainly, in the human body, the brain dictates most everything. In the Body of Christ, the Lord Jesus does. Yet, in the same way that the functions of the body might go through one to reach another, the same is true int he church. Ultimately, there is no doubt that a man or woman must seek the will of God for his or her life and he/she is responsible to God for that. But the cartilage of the knee has no choice but to serve as the cartilage of the knee. We do have a choice and when half the church wants to serve in the same role we have a joint very out of balance and not effectually working. A football player relies on the coach to tell him where to play and how. Now, I am not saying that the elders of the church should dictate everyone's ministry like a coach dictates the team. But, the apostle Paul himself, when he sensed the call of God on his life, went to the church leadership for them to validate and confirm that calling.
This is SO crucial. A father came to me this week and said his daughter wants to go on an extended cross cultural mission. They believed they knew God's calling but sought the counsel and leadership of their pastor. I think I was able to give some help. But more than that, if our elders agree that this young lady is being called of God to do this, than by default a "part" of our "Body" is being called. She does not go as an island but as an extension of this local body. We are accountable and responsible to help, support, pray, etc. This is how a body or a "family" (another word for the church) functions.