Our first challenge in grasping what God intends church to be, is to stop looking at it through the lens of our background and through the lens of 2,000 years of “church” as a formal institution.
Dee Hock says:
"The problem is never how to get new, innovative thoughts into your mind, but how to get old ones out. Every mind is a building filled with archaic furniture. Clean out a corner of your mind, and creativity will instantly fill it."
So our first challenge is to de-program old definitions and wrestle with some accurate new ones.
Let’s start with a basic New Testament definition of church. The Greek word for “church” is “ekklesia” which simply refers to those who were "called out" for an assembly or meeting. It was a non-religious word. It just referred to a group of people. In this case, the group of people who were followers of Jesus.
It really is and must be that simple!
Church is not an organization, building, or meeting of any kind. It’s simply a group of people who follow Christ.
Robert Fitts provides some additional information at DAWN ministries:
Jesus used a common word when he said, "I will build my church." It was not a religious word. It simply meant a called out group, or crowd, or fellowship, or assembly. So we can use the word church when it communicates what we are saying, but we can also use the word fellowship, or gathering, or brethren, or saints, or disciples. It simply means a group of people.
It’s very helpful to define “church” clearly. The temptation is to go around this issue and ask secondary questions: “How is church expressed?” “What will the gathering of believers look like when they come together?” But these are secondary questions!! We must be clear first of all what church is, then and only then can we understand how church is to be expressed.
Church, in essence, is simply a collective group of followers.
Consider this definition of church:
A loose-knit network of Jesus followers who gather together to encourage each other in their spiritual life and who go out, moved by the Holy Spirit, sharing and demonstrating the Gospel.
Loose-knit. Not formal membership, just a love-commitment to God and each other.
Jesus followers. The basic requirement for membership in the church.
Who gather together. Gathering to build one another up and to worship.
Who go out. The purpose of believers… to GO with the message.
Moved by the Holy Spirit. The one and only LEADER of the church.
Sharing and demonstrating the gospel. The reason that the church GOES.
Neither the church gatherings, nor the church’s “goings” had to have anything other than believers + the Holy Spirit. Nothing else was necessary for church to be church. Sometimes apostles were present, many times not. Sometimes elders were present, many times not. The church really is the followers of Jesus who engaged in gathering and going.
As we think this through, I would like to suggest the reading of a “Description of a House Church.” This is an expression of church that is based upon, I believe, an accurate definition of “church.” This is not, by any means, the only expression of church. It’s just one of many. Early church gatherings and expressions were very diverse. But as you read this, ask yourself if it is built solidly on the definition of what church really is. Why? Why not? Click the link and read it!
I would love to hear some reactions to both the definition of church presented here (loose-knit network of Jesus followers, etc… ) and this house church description.
(House Church Blog is an interactive forum for house church, church planting, and related topics. Feel free to post comments!)