I have been wrestling lately with the idea of ekklesia. I understand the broad concept of ekklesia, but it is also often used to indicate the idea of real community.
Ron, at the Weary Pilgrim had a post the other day about real community. He asks, "What is an authentic faith community?"
In this fragmented world where every person is an island, a world of isolation, of deep empty spaces...where there is no connection, interaction. The church offers community...where God's stories and our stories come together. Real, authentic, transparent community is not easy.
Ron then quotes from Alan Creech about the struggle and commitment required to be in community. Here is the abbreviated version:
We, as a community, have to choose to be committed to one another constantly - to work things out with one another, for one another. Transformation happens in the context of community. Community is hard. Do it anyway!
Honestly, it sometimes still rips my heart out trying to get a grip on this. I was involved with a group of people, where the language was of commitment, community, and covenant. I poured my soul, time, and life into these committed relationships. I wasn't afraid of conflict, difficulties, or the messiness of shared life. This was my family.
But that changed in a day when we left.
Josh Brown describes the feelings of shunning and disillusionment that can happen from leaving a church in this post:
Understandably, after we left, there were some who were hurt because they felt like we our walking away was a critique of them. And they were hurt because they felt like we were turning our backs on the thing that we had been “building” together. But after we left, we have never felt more alone than at that time. Our phones quit ringing. Our doorbells were silent. And our email boxes empty. Hurtful things were said about us. Attacks were made on our characters. And rumors were spread. If there was any hope of us plugging back in with another community, it was lost after that. Again, if people who you spent 40+ hours a week with, people who you laughed and cried with, people who you loved gave you the cold shoulder after you explored other perspectives and orientations . . . how much worse do total strangers and people not a part of the family get treated?
Ekklesia, community, only when you attend the same club?
We didn't leave town. We weren't in grievous sin or error. We didn't tell off any of our friends. In fact, we did the opposite, purposefully expressing our commitment to our relationships with them. Didn't matter.
Scott B brings this up in his post discussing Ecclesiology for a Missional Church:
What I've found interesting is the number of people who have left that church who have not reconnected anywhere, who have not yet joined another community of faith or who have but remain relationally and spiritually disconnected. And I have to wonder at this, on some level, even as I understand quite intimately how difficult that process of reconnecting is. Is it that there are no communities of faith in our area where people can find a home? Or is it that there isn't enough of a sense of the significance of the ekklesia to push them to reconnect?
This describes me, but I don't think it is because I lack understanding of the significance of the ekklesia. You see, I know how to get connected at the church we attend. Sign up, volunteer, get involved. This will qualify me for relationship. No thanks.
At the risk of sounding bitter, been there, done that, got the t-shirt.
Ekklesia, literally the called out ones. All those who follow Christ fall into the category of the ekklesia. In the new testament, ekklesia is often translated church. Unfortunately, this definition is often narrowed to fit our traditional understanding of organizations rather than the broader picture of the entire ekklesia.
Therefore, when we look at scriptures and apply the one anothering scriptures, there is a tendency to only apply those principles to those we gather with. We save our love, commitment, and service for those within our borders. Then we pat ourselves on the back about the depth of our relationships and community, all the while oblivious to the bigger picture of the kingdom.
I don't believe that the concept of ekklesia must be confined to our buildings and organizations. If the places called "church" block the reality of ekklesia with their traditions and structures, people are going to leave. What of the exiles, those who are scattered? Maybe those who are leaving institutions are looking to find a more real ekklesia.
Just to be clear, I think that gathering and community is good, and I don't believe ekklesia is necessarily better in a small gathering. However I do believe that it is good to develop an idea of ekklesia that isn't exclusive to our particular group.
Perhaps rather than looking at our state of exile as a curse, we can find within it a new understanding of ekklesia. An understanding that won't limit our expression of community, but rather will bring the shalom of the kingdom into our place of exile to not only others in exile, but also to those not yet a part of the kingdom of God.
These are thoughts in process. Please feel free to share your ideas about this.
Update: I just wanted to clarify that I have included the quotes from Ron and Scott B because they describe the very issues I am wrestling with. Yes, I read about ekklesia and sometimes cry and struggle, but not because of what the author has written, but because I don't know what my expectations should be nor what an expression of real community will look like in my life. Ron's post expresses the longings in my heart, and Scott's post expresses so well the reality of those who have found themselves displaced. I consider them both friends and teachers that I've found in this conversation, and I appreciate the input their blogs have had in shaping my thoughts.