A Definition of “Church”

Last week I threw down a few posts discussing the wide variance between a more biblical definition of success, and the version of “success” we’ve been formed by in North American Christianity. I think it’s also good to think about the wide variance in our definitions of church. What comes into your mind when you say the word “church”? Please feel free to post your comments of the interesting things that pop into your head.

I’ll start the comments by confessing that when I think of church I think of buildings, official God-activity, and important meetings. When I think of church I think of the old children’s rhyme, “Here is the church / Here is the steeple / Open the doors / And see all the people.” Just the rhyme itself says that the church is the building – the building that sits dormant six days out of the week, with a steeple named after someone who died a long time ago, and a huge bank loan that’s still being paid off. When I think of church I also think of a lot of official God-activity, as if the only true good activity in this world occurs inside the building with the steeple. Finally, when I think of church I think of important meetings for God; worship meetings, committee meetings, board (bored?) meetings, leadership meetings. That’s my stream-of-consciousness confession of what I’ve been taught to think when I hear the word church. It’s sad, but it’s what’s imbedded into my brain.

It’s even more sad when I stop to consider what the word church actually means in scripture. The word church is the Greek word ekklesia which simply means “a group of people called out and rallied around a person or a cause.” That means the core essence of church has little to do with the great emphasis I’ve been taught to put on buildings, activities, and meetings. It means that any group of people rallied around someone, or some cause is, by definition, a church – whether God’s involved or not. For instance, the first Macintosh computer team was an ekklesia rallied around Steve Jobs and the cause of making the first ever mass market, user-friendly graphical user interface computer. Any professional sports team trying to win a championship under the leadership of a coach is by definition an ekklesia.

So what does that mean for the way we currently do church in North America? Do our local churches fit the pure definition of an ekklesia? Are we truly no more and no less than a group of people rallied around Jesus and His kingdom cause? How do our buildings, activities, and important meetings siphon away the vitality of truly being an ekklesia of Jesus Christ? In Jesus mind, to be His church is to simply be His people who love him, who follow Him, and who act on whatever He leads us to do because we’re convinced it is the most important cause of our lives. I want to be a part of that kind of ekklesia – a church filled with people who constantly revise their lives to carry through on their decision to follow Jesus.

About Andy Lewis

Andy is an author, pastor, and musician who lives in Santa Cruz California. Currently he serves as lead pastor at Faith Community Church in Santa Cruz
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3 Responses to A Definition of “Church”

  1. Steve Ernst says:

    Andy it has been a while since we have had the opportunity to connect but you are right on with the definition of church in our culture vs Gods Word. Another phrase that the Holy Spirit has convicted me on recently is; “lets go to church.” If I can go to church then I can not go to church. In the New Testament we are as the children of God are the church no matter where we are located Just another log for the fire. Thanks Bro for your insights Steve

    • Andy Lewis says:

      It’s great to hear from you Steve. Please say hi to Ginger. You are so right that “church” is wherever the people of God are living out the kingdom life. Great observation.

  2. Hi Andy, first of all I just watched your video on “Church” and found it very refreshing. I have been in discussion with long-time believers on the issue of church, many of us former pastors with a great deal of concerns, sadness and even weariness over the whole issue and its many “side-bars”. You seems to have a fine grasp on all the issues, which is no small thing. I suppose it was in light of this morning’s discussions, and feeling once again that I just cannot seem to find a SIMPLE congregation which will relax and stick fairly (we are not talking hyper-vigilance here, or losing our sense of humor) close to an organic biblical model that made me fire up the Google map for local churches and have a look.

    I have moved down from Aptos. Anyway. The video did communicate well to me about Church. I am not interested in a mini-franchised mega-church, but rather just being a part of a community of believers who love Christ and want to grow. I know you may not be there as you may still be on sabbatical but we will enjoy meeting those who are (Molly my girlfriend and myself).


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