I work at a church… I get paid by a church. That’s my full-time job. Within me there is a growing uneasiness over the confusion about what this word means. We use it in several different ways in our culture…
Is ‘church’ a place you go, or something you are?
Is ‘church’ a building or a community?
Is ‘church’ a business or a family?
Is ‘church’ a gathering to attend or an identity to be embraced?
Our culture has defined the word as a religious institution or business that offers a service to the community: specifically weekend worship gatherings and programs designed to teach people the beliefs of the church.
I think the issue that I have is how different the biblical definition of ‘church’ is. It came from the Greek word ‘ekklesia’ which literally means ‘called out ones’ but the common meaning of the word in the ancient world was a community of people that gathered or assembled in devotion to a deity or a cause. They had lots of different ‘ekklesias’ that were devoted to different gods. They also had “ekklesias” organized for political causes that people would assemble to discuss.
It wasn’t a building, a business, or a organization. It was an assembly of people that included similar assemblies in other cities. It was both local and universal.
I see so much confusion the way pastors and Christians use the word ‘Church.’ I hear pastors use it in both ways, almost in the same breath. I hear people say this all the time: ‘the church has to be run like a business.’ Really? Is ‘church’ something that has to be ‘run’? Is corporate America really now the model for ‘church’ leadership?
The way we organize reflects what we really believe about Church. This guy said it better than me: that the “Church” is a gospel community on mission, but in order for communities to accomplish a mission, they need to be organized. How we organize says much about what we really believe about ‘the Church.’ In other words, the allocation of resources either supports or betrays our aspirational values and theology. What ‘the Church’ calls its officers or leaders reveals a theology behind what the Church is supposed to be in the first place. Where ‘the Church’ spends the most of its resources reflects an understanding of what it believes itself to be.
How we spend our money reflects what we believe about Church. What does the fact that the vast majority of local congregations spend MOST of their money on one hour worship ‘services’ every week? What does that reflect about what the “Church” believes itself to be?
The language we use reflects what we really believe about Church. What about the language that people use talking about pastors: they are ‘called to ministry’ as if a call to ministry isn’t a general call for all followers of Jesus? And the same thing with “feeling called to missions work,” as if it was a specialized calling for a select few? As Erwin McManus says “an honest evaluation of the dramatic number of callings that the church has created would reveal that we have found extraordinary ways of describing the overwhelming amount of Christless living in the church.”
Sometimes I wonder if the Church has abandoned devotion to the Savior who died for it and traded that for an institution. Do the solutions to our problems lie in business principles? Is the Church something I should get a paycheck from? Is that all the church is, at best, a ‘healthy organization’?
Have we chosen ‘organization’ over life?