The other day I took a look at my book shelf. I admit that I am a reader and have accumulated a lot of books. I also do an annual purge or give away books that I probably will not use down the road. It is a difficult process for me.
Regardless of my book departure woes, I realized the other day that I might also have another disorder: a multiple-church-personality-disorder.
By surveying my bookshelf, I realized that I have many books that speak on and address a variety of important issues pertaining to the church. Each author has written their masterpiece and stated their opinion as to what the church needs to be, represent, have and not have. It has left me wondering what kind of ‘church’ I am to aim for and be.
Am I to be a strategic church, simple church, healthy church, emotional-healthy church, transformational church, multi-ethnic church, purpose-driven church, unleashed church, missional church, deep church, essential church, next level church, vertical church, converged church, emerging church or even a comeback church? It sure looks like the ‘church’ has a lot of issues … and then along comes COVID!
Now, I am not knocking any of these wonderful authors, and please do not take my comments out of context. I deeply appreciate what the Spirit has impressed upon each writer’s heart for the church. However, I honestly am asking the question: What is the church to be?
There is no doubt that the ongoing pandemic continues to bring a level of uncertainty to all aspects of church life, worship and economics. As someone whose income is based in the charitable giving of others, the continued economic realities of church economics are obviously very real. But that is not the point of this blog.
I recently read through a book entitled Ekklessia by Ed Silvoso. You guessed it, another book on the church. However, this book was not like many of the others. This book did not give a list of principals or practices that were must haves, essential or needed in order for the church to thrive or be relevant. It was much simpler than that. The focus of this book was people.
The full title of the book is “Ekklesia: Rediscovering God’s Instrument For Global Transformation”. The title suggests that God’s ekklesia is the chosen instrument to bring about His transformation to the known world. Perhaps this is a common understanding for you. Perhaps not. But it refreshing to be reminded about God’s favourite building project.
Ekklesia is the word that Jesus used in the famous verse that Matthew re-captures. Peter had just been inspired by God to make this statement about who Jesus really is.
Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God!”
And Jesus responded, “Simon son of Jonah, you are blessed because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father in heaven.
And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My ekklesia, and the forces of Hades will not overpower it. (16:16-18)
In a nutshell, ekklesia was a very common word that simply means assembly. That’s it. An assembly of people. Oftentimes, the word ekklesia was used by the Greek and Roman empires to refer to a body of people assembled together to conduct governmental business. That’s a far cry from buildings, steeples, pulpits, pews, choirs, members, robes and music. Those things may help people of faith express their faith, but those things do not truly capture the essence of ekklesia.
So why did Jesus use this word? Allow me to suggest three things.
- Jesus has come to build people. Could it be that the modern day church has confined within the four walls of a building something that was originally designed to be a unstoppable transforming movement? Could it be that we have settled for and focused on principals and programs rather than people? All I know is that Jesus said that He came to build people. Period. Not buildings, systems, programs or principals. Ekklesia means people.
- Building people is not systematic. For all of the hundreds of books written on the ‘church’, it is helpful to remind ourselves that Jesus actually talked about it twice. Matthew’s gospel has the only two references in the entire synoptics. This means that Jesus really did not talk about it a whole lot. This also means that ‘we’ like to talk about it a whole lot more than He did. Here’s the point, there is no single normative model of ‘church’ that can be drawn from scripture. None. This means that ‘we’ ought to think critically (self-awareness) about all of the latest models, programs, principals and presentations that come our way. Seriously, if those closest to Jesus don’t recall Him speaking about it much, then perhaps our focus on the church is a little bit unbalanced. Just saying.
- Whoever tells the best story wins. The cultural experts tell us that our nation is filled with people searching for a non-institutional spiritual experience. Institutional religion has been rejected, and the masses are looking for new experiences that bring meaning into their lives. But here’s the thing, we are also told that the majority of seekers do not necessarily know what they’re looking for. They are simply searching for people to journey with and to share communally the story of their lives. That is music to the ears of the followers of Jesus because the ekklesia that Jesus is building has a story to tell.
So … what is the church truly to be? In one word: built.
Jesus said that He was going to build His ekklesia so that the forces of darkness and evil would not be able to stand against it here on earth.
So let me end with this. If we are not building ekklesia, then what are we building? If we are not structuring ourselves around ekklesia, then what are we structured around? If we are not listening to the stories of ekklesia, then whose story are we listening to? If we are not opposing the evils that plague society and the soul, then what are we doing with the ekklesia?
So, from one church leader who at time feels bombarded by all the many principals, procedures, purposes and programs to do with the ‘church’, it is refreshing to remember that Jesus promised to build one thing: people.