What is the Church?

Posted by Worldview Warriors On Monday, April 14, 2014 0 comments

On Sunday mornings, do you go to church? Do you belong to a church? You’re probably thinking that “yes” is the right answer to both of these questions; if so, you need to change your thinking.

Like me, you may have been raised going to church every Sunday. You may have gone because you wanted to, or you may have gone because your parents made you. For me when I was young, I never really thought about why I went to church - I just went. But here’s the thing: church is not a place, it is people. Reggie McNeal writes in his book Missional Renaissance, “Church is not something outside of themselves that they go to or join or support; it’s something they are.”

The Biblical Greek word that’s often translated as church is “ekklesia” (pronounced ek-lay-SEE-ah). It comes from a root word meaning “to call out,” so the church is the people whom God has called. It means a gathering or assembly of people, not a building or a place.

The Apostle Paul uses ekklesia multiple times. For example, in Philemon 2 he writes, “…also to Apphia our sister and Archippus our fellow soldier —and to the church [ekklesia] that meets in your home.” In Colossians 4:15 he writes, “Give my greetings to the brothers and sisters at Laodicea, and to Nympha and the church [ekklesia] in her house.” In 1 Corinthians 10:32 he appears to consider the church similar to a race of people: “Do not cause anyone to stumble, whether Jews, Greeks or the church [ekklesia] of God.”

Do you see the church being a building or a place in any of those passages? I sure don’t. But that’s how many of us see the church - that place we go to on Sunday mornings, or that institution we support and are a part of. That’s not the Biblical definition of church at all; church is not a place, but an ekklesia - a gathering of people called by God. Yes, it helps to have a place for that gathering to happen, but the place is not the important part.

I am a part of the body of believers called the Catalyst Church in Findlay, Ohio. In case you’re not familiar with Findlay, we have a river through the city that floods pretty often. The building where the Catalyst meets is in the flood zone. In the seven years I’ve attended there, I’ve lost count of how many times we’ve had to get out of that building due to flooding, but it’s at least half a dozen times. We’re pretty efficient at packing and unpacking all our stuff, and needless to say we don’t keep a lot of extra things around! But here’s the thing - when we have to be out of our regular building for a month or so, the church doesn’t fall apart at all; in fact, it often gets stronger as we build stronger bonds with one another. Yes it can be a challenge with all the organizational details of being at a different location for a time, but the building is not what matters - the people are what’s important.

In contrast to that, back in 2003-2006 I attended a church group in Sylvania, OH. There came a point when that church had the opportunity to sell our land and building and merge with another church nearby. However, the majority of the people decided that the building was more important than furthering God’s Kingdom and investing in the people around us by joining with the other group. That body of believers is now very small, and not flourishing at all.

See what a difference it makes when we consider the church to be what it really is - an ekklesia, a gathering of people called by God - rather than just a building or a place where we go! I challenge you this week to consider what you believe the church is, and change your mindset to a Biblical one of people, not a place.