One of my most trafficked blog posts is Spiritual Abuse: 10 Ways to Spot it. While I’m not an expert on spiritually abusive churches or ministries, I’ve had my share of negative experiences, some bordering on abuse. As I read through the comments, I saw a lot of hurting people, some of whom have left church because of the pain. Couple that more and more people emigrating away from traditional church, and we find we’re in a bit of a conundrum about church.
What is it? Why is it necessary? Why bother? Isn’t everything church? Or nothing at all? Is attendance required for a Christ follower?
When we church planted in southern France a few years ago, we ran into an interesting obstacle. Some folks believed that any sort of gathering was “church.” If we hung out, we were having church. If we went to a concert, church. If we walked down the street and ran into another Christian, that was church too. If that is true, why bother with a consistent local congregation?
Bill Hybels has said, “The local church is the hope of the world, and its future rests primarily in the hands of its leaders.” The best way to see converts, missiologist C. Peter Wagner tells us, is to plant a church. He wrote, “Church planting is the best methodology of evangelism under the sun.”
Church erupted from a Holy Spirit-shaking prayer room in the second chapter of Acts, and it spread like the dickens to every remote corner of the earth. Jesus tells Peter He’ll build His church on the rock of his belief.
And yet I run into people who no longer attend any gathering (in whatever form), who mimic my friends in France, who believe hanging out once in awhile is enough. Or perhaps they’ve become so church-burned or church-abused that they’ve sworn off meeting altogether.
The New Testament uses the Greek word Ecclesia to describe our local congregation. Here’s a simple definition:
- A congregation
- The assembly of citizens of an ancient Greek state [from Medieval Latin, from Late Greek ekklēsia assembly, from ekklētos called, from ekkalein to call out, from kalein to call]
- we’re taught
- we give
- we meet each other’s needs
- we pray and encourage others
- we take communion
- we worship
- we administer baptism
- we marry and bury
Church is the center point where we love others, modeling Jesus to the world through our sacrifice and missional community.