How’s your church going? How would you test it? What measurement would you use? Who would you ask? What about the individuals? How’s that person going; with godliness, prayerfulness, living out of grace not law, being generous?
But, what happens as you test for those things? What happens when you ask people how they’re going with bible reading? What happens when you ask people about their gospel motivations?
It affects them… it brings an area of their relationship with God to the fore and causes them to dwell on it. And you can never really know where they were at… in fact, they can’t really tell you where they were at with those things – because they weren’t thinking about them.
This is why good churches try to build a culture of people asking each other how they’re going. Those very questions change the results.
*Yes, you might call it “The Observer Effect Church” – but “Heisenberg’s Church” sounds so much cooler… We’ve just got to work out what the complementary properties of a church are… any ideas?
We came across this idea a few years ago… that most churches (ours included) were generally pretty good at communicating two sorts of things… Abstract Theology, and Concrete Details about Church. (Abstract means concepts and ideas, whereas Concrete means times, dates, locations, what to bring, etc.)
So we were good at explaining ideas like Justification, and at the same time, telling people when the next event would be on and where it would be.
But that left two areas of communication largely vacant; Concrete Theology (Behaviours, Habits, Actions) and Abstract Details about Church (Why church exists, what type of church we want to be, How we think about our programs and why we do some things and not others).
How do you see your ministry going at communicating in all 4 of these areas?
There’s one usage of the word “ἐκκλησία” that people have used to argue it simply means “a gathering”. Its in Acts 19, where the people of Ephesus riot because Paul’s preaching has affected the idol-maker’s income.
When they heard this […that Paul says that gods made by human hands are no gods at all], they were furious and began shouting: “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!” Soon the whole city was in an uproar…
Paul wanted to appear before the crowd (δῆμον), but the disciples would not let him…
The assembly (ἐκκλησία) was in confusion: Some were shouting one thing, some another. Most of the people did not even know why they were there…
The city clerk quieted the crowd and said: “Fellow Ephesians,… you ought to calm down and not do anything rash… If, then, Demetrius and his fellow craftsmen have a grievance against anybody, the courts are open and there are proconsuls. They can press charges. If there is anything further you want to bring up, it must be settled in a legal assembly (ἐκκλησίᾳ). As it is, we are in danger of being charged with rioting because of what happened today. In that case we would not be able to account for this commotion, since there is no reason for it.”
After he had said this, he dismissed the assembly (ἐκκλησίαν).
Does ἐκκλησία here mean “crowd”? Luke uses the normal word for crowd earlier, so why start using the word ἐκκλησία?
It’s because the word isn’t a Christian word… nor is it a religious word… its a secular word. “In classical Greek, the term was used almost exclusively for political gatherings. In particular, in Athens the word signified the assembling of the citizens for the purpose of conducting the affairs of the polis” (“Church”, BEDBT).
The whole issue in Acts 19 is that an army of people appear, people with a purpose and an ideology, but they’re not a legal one. They’re acting like a ἐκκλησίαν, but they’re doing it wrong.
Acts 19 doesn’t prove ἐκκλησία means “crowd” or “generic gathering”, it just proves that Demetrius the silversmith was an idiot who almost got arrested for calling an ἐκκλησία (town meeting) without authority to do so.
I was told for years that the Greek word for “church” (ἐκκλησία) simply meant a “gathering”… that all a church is, is a bunch of (pretty) random Christians getting together; Whether you know them or not, as long as they’re christians and you’re reading the bible, its a “church gathering”.
But look at Acts 14:26-27 (or Acts 15:30)
“From Attalia they [Paul and Barnabas] sailed back to Antioch, where they had been committed to the grace of God for the work they had now completed. On arriving there, they gathered the church together and reported all that God had done through them and how he had opened a door of faith to the Gentiles.”
Notice what they did; they “gathered (συναγαγόντες)” people. This is the normal word in Greek for gathering or a crowd. But… whom did they gather?
They gathered the church (ἐκκλησίαν). So ἐκκλησία can’t simply mean “a gathering” of people; the word identifies a group of people, a party, a family… who can be gathered.
Certainly, one of the signs of being a member of an ἐκκλησία is that you do gather. But being one of those who gather does not make you part of the ἐκκλησία, any more than coming over to my place for dinner makes you part of my family.
Take away message: 1. If you’ve been told that your “local church” doesn’t exist when it’s not gathering (as I was told at College), don’t worry – it does. (See also Elwell, Walter A. “Church” in “Evangelical Dictionary of Theology” 1997).
2. Who do you gather (συναγαγὴ) with? Are they your church (ἐκκλησία)? Or are you just attending their gathering?
So, following on from yesterday’s post about inter-church involvement, there’s a practical aspect to consider when it comes to church size (which I’ve alluded to earlier, but it’s worth exploring).
See, if you’ve got a quite small church, chances are you don’t need to run your own church conference – everyone already knows each other. Going away for 3 days isn’t really going to make that much of a difference. In fact, if your flock has been part of a small church for years, it would be a valuable reminder that Jesus’ church is massive by going along to a inter-church conference, and meeting all these other Christians and being encouraged that they’re not the only ones. Those conferences are usually smaller (50-500 people). If you’re organising a smallish inter-church conferences, that should be one of your goals… facilitating people meeting new people and having to chat.
But, if you’ve got a bigger church, chances are that many of the people DON’T know each other very well. Going to an inter-church conference is one of the last things they need – they already feel like they don’t know people! They don’t need to meet and chat with Christians from other churches, rather they need to get to people from their own church better. So you’ve got two options. 1) Run your own church-conference so they spend the time with each other, or 2) Take your church community to a very large inter-church conference AS A GROUP that sticks together (and while enjoying the larger group, doesn’t aim to build relationships with people from other churches) – this is how we’ve viewed things like Katoomba Men’s Convention.
This highlights a potential issue with any conference or inter-church event… people have many different reasons and expectations as they head into it. That means… if you’re not clear on the purpose, almost everyone will feel let down in some way, because they think everyone else should have the same inter-church goals that they do. You’ll hear things like, “I didn’t get to know anyone from my church – I may as well have not gone!” and things like, “I only spoke to people I already knew – I may as well have not gone!”. So be clear on the purpose and be cool if churches opt-out if that’s not what they’re flock needs at the moment.
Inter-church involvement is great – but it doesn’t make Christians united (because Christians are, by nature of our union with Jesus, ALREADY united) – but it is one (of many good ways) we can express the unity Christians have. Let me stress that it is only ONE possible way and that there are many other ways of expressing this, not the least through prayer… Some will say, “But people can’t see and experience the unity expressed through prayer! Our unity should be visible.” I agree, however, I disagree on to whom it should be visible. Our expressions of unity should be visible first to God, and second to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms (who I assume see what we do in secret):
This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus… this mystery was for ages past kept hidden in God, who created all things. His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms (Eph 3).
So, care less about showing the world that the church on this street corner and the church on that street corner can “do things” together, and instead, live for the glory of the God who is showing you off in the court-room of heaven. Love Jesus, love people, love each other. Be united in eternal purpose and hope and faith. Don’t get caught up in some felt need to “look” united in the eyes of the world – they really don’t care.
Recently we had our AGM which gave us another opportunity to try and help our church see itself. That might seem like a strange idea, but for most people, they only see (or even hear) about the aspects of their church they’re involved in. This can lead to misunderstandings about why the staff are never around, or a feeling that God’s not at work in your church, when there might be things to be very excited about.
We want our church family to see itself well… see how God is at work in it, and how God is at work through it.
So, we came up with this infographic that tries to display something of the messiness of church. A growing church family is organic and interrelated. It’s interdependent. This info graphic isn’t meant to make church “understandable”, but rather it’s meant to make the messiness of church understandable. (See it large here).