“We have to remember that the ancient faith communities that set a course to change the history of the world did so without church programs, without paid staff, without Web sites, and without brochures, blogs, or buildings. They were lean! The point of going without all the stuff is simple but profound. When you don’t have all the “stuff,” you’re left with a lot of time to spend with people.”
Ok, here it is. My “church” conversation. I really don’t want to talk about this.
An internal struggle has been going on in my heart regarding the “church”. I have hesitated to write about it on this blog because I know so many people who have a love/hate relationship with “church”. The reason many of you reading this blog are soulstuck is precisely because of the “church”, or at least the version of it that you are familiar with.
The difficulty for me lies in the fact that I, too have been wounded, jaded, and embittered by people within the walls of the “church” as I have experienced it as well. And if we are all honest, we expected something different from the “church” when we went in, only to find out that those people are just as jacked up and broken as we are.
As you can see, I could write an entire blog post on what’s wrong with people and with our version of “church”. But that is not where I’m going here today.
If there is one resounding truth about “church” for most of us today, it is that we do not truly know what it is, or what it was intended to be.
Far too often we put expectations on the church that it was never intended to be for us. And when it doesn’t measure up to our ideals, we ditch it or refuse to join it because it didn’t live up to the hopes we had put into it. We settle for a more domesticated form of it because the last one we belonged too didn’t live up to the hype.
Today I want to offer some opening thoughts about “church” and help you navigate through a better understanding of what it is supposed to be.
- Church is not “Church”, it’s “Ecclesia”. Great. Right out of the box I’m going to confuse you. I’m sorry. Church is a term that is fraught with baggage for many of you. So…I’m going to use a different term. Ecclesia means “called out ones”. It refers to people. Not buildings. Not Sunday morning productions. Not American religious enterprise. People. A special people. A “called out” people. So… for the rest of my thoughts I’m going to use the term Ecclesia.
- The Ecclesia was begun by Jesus. This “called out” people has a leader. Jesus is that leader. We believe Jesus is the author and founder of our faith. He is the reason we exist. His mission is the one we exist to carry out.
- The Ecclesia is our spiritual family. Jesus initiated a new way of thinking about life on earth when He came. The example He gave was that of a family that lives together, eats together, shares life together, and serves its city together. His teaching was a radical shift from the religious teaching of his day. He taught that we are a spiritual family, not simply an organization or institution.
- The Ecclesia is to be about the business of the Kingdom of God. This one is a whole other blog post. Let me just say that Jesus is a King, but his Kingdom is not of this world. And even though His Kingdom is not of this world, it has influence on this world and is in a constant state of breaking through in this world. God’s Kingdom is coming. We can talk more about this at a later time.
- The Ecclesia is to be known for its service to humanity. The “called out” ones of God should be just as concerned for their fellow human beings as the rest of humanity is. We are not better than other people. But our motive for serving people is not for our own credit, it is for the glory of the One who sent us. God is working through the hands and feet of his people to make himself known to people because there is a veil over their eyes keeping them from seeing Him. Tangible acts of service bring the Kingdom reality into the lives of people who need to see it.
- The Ecclesia is just as susceptible to failure as the rest of humanity is. At the risk of being anti-climactic here, I just have to say that the church is feeble. We aren’t some extra-ordinary super hero people who get to swoop in and save the day for the world. But we also aren’t a passive group of by-standers waiting for the world to go to hell. We were all losers, sinners, drop-outs, failures, thieves, liars, cheaters, swindlers, and poor souls on our way to lives without purpose or passion. But then, God in his kindness, saw us in our broken state and swooped down and saved us, restored us, patched us up, and now He sends us to the world that is in the same condition we were in. We fail and we fall, but then we realize who we are in Christ, and we get back up and keep fighting for the people who still need to see the hope we’ve found. This is the Ecclesia, the Church.
In their book, The Tangible Kingdom, Hugh Halter and Matt Smay tell the story of when they were trying to re-create a community of people on mission for Christ in their town. In one of their conversations they came across a guy who they began to tell about their vision for the church in their city. When they shared with him, they got a great response. I’ll leave you with this today. This is what they told him.
“If Christianity was only about finding a group of people to live life with who shared openly their search for God and allowed anyone regardless of behavior to seek too and who collectively lived by faith to make the world a little more like Heaven would you be interested? ’ ‘Hell yes ’ was his reply. He continued ‘Are there churches like that?”
I don’t know what your experience with church is. But I wonder, if that is what church was really like, would you be interested? Because I know a lot of people who would be.