When we hear the word church most of us think of a place of worship, and our thinking wouldn’t be wrong. Something significant and eventually heartbreaking happened as the writings of scripture were being translated from original Hebrew and Greek into Latin and eventually into German and English. As the Bible was being translated into German they substituted the word Kirche for ekklesia. Kirche and ekklesia refer to two very different ideas. A kirche (church) is a location while an ekklesia is a purposeful, often powerful gathering of people united by identity and purpose. Tragically it didn’t take long for the Germanic notion to so thoroughly unseat the Greek idea of “Christ followers as a movement” that when one talks about church today the immediate and nearly universal response is to associate it with a building, a structure, a location, an address.
Jesus is recorded by Matthew 16:18 to state, “…on this rock I will build my ekklesia.” Jesus didn’t say, “…on this rock I will build my Kirche (Church).” The rock Jesus was referring to was the declaration of faith Peter stated as he declared “Jesus was the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” Matthew 16:16. Jesus is clearly stating that an individual’s belief in Him unites them by common identity and purpose. As Jesus went about teaching and healing he often called people to follow Him. He was calling them to join Him in purpose and mission. He was calling people to follow Him to be good news in a sad news world. He was calling people to bring healing to a hurting world.
Christ followers need to look around their kirches and ask some unsettling questions.
Are we moving or simply meeting?
Are we making a measurable difference in our local communities or simply conducting services?
Are we organized around a mission or are we organized around an antiquated ministry model inherited from a previous generation?
Are we allocating resources as if Jesus is the hope of the world or are the squeaky wheels of church culture driving our budgeting decisions?
Are we ekklesia or have we settled for kirche?”
The questions are sobering and penetrating. Here is one more question: If you are a Christ follower are you more ekklesia or kirche? Is your life more about mission or meeting? Does your faith lead you to help a hurting world and be good news for those who have lost hope, or does it lead you to a location that gives you identity?
There are many benefits of Christ followers gathering to worship, pray, encourage one another, support and help one another. However, when our faith only leads us to “gatherings” to be encouraged then we are not the ekklesia Jesus spoke about.