Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Ekklesia for Exiles

Updated

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.

23 comments:

Cindy said...

It isn't in so many or such eloquent words as yours, but I've written it at the top of my blog:

"Re-discovering the community of faith."

I'll let you know when I get there.

grace said...

Cindy,
Yes, that's what I meant. :)

Missional Jerry said...

A couple weeks ago God hit me in the head with a phrase in Colossians which says "being knit together." So I've done alot of thinking about knitting and what that looks like.

Community I believe is the result of being knit together.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for making me cry, Grace.

;)

Need time to process this post. I will be back.

Lily.

ScottB said...

Hey grace -
Hope I didn't offend. I was reflecting more specifically on some folks that I know personally, and not generally speaking about anyone who feels disconnected. In fact, I've read a bit of your story and can relate to a great deal of it; it was your reflections that let me name what I experienced at a previous church for what it was - spiritual abuse. It's taken me a long time to begin to reconnect myself where we currently attend, and that's a healthy, wonderful community where there isn't an ethos of "work yourself into relationship" or something. But some of the folks I'm thinking of have just checked out - and they don't seem to believe they're missing anything by not being a part of a community, any community at all. So my thoughts are a bit more directed than perhaps I communicated.

I think that where I want to go with my thoughts actually might run parallel with some of what you've said here. I'd hope that we can have a vision of the ekklesia that's bigger than the stunted version that you're justifiably critiquing, while also recognizing that there's a connected-ness that is at the very heart of the Christian faith. Anyway - apologies again for any offense; it was certainly not my intent to do so.

Anonymous said...

I've read this post a few times, and I feel like it's helping illuminate something for me.

We left a church that we felt was unhealthy, and where we were burnt out, over thirteen years ago. Soon afterwards, we started attending the church that we are still at.

I still struggle with our sense of community and connectedness. After a while (a few years), I began to try to do "my share" in ministry (mostly with kids), as I recognize that it takes a community of participants to make everything function... but I still can not give myself to "church ministry" the way that I used to, and I am still incredibly sensitive to any thread of feeling like I am doing things for an unhealthy motivation.

Unfortunately, this often leaves me with very little motivation for much of the work that needs to be done to keep the institution functioning. I keep participating, but I really don't "get it" - what it's all really for, if it's all really necessary...

I keep going because the alternative - to not go anywhere - doesn't seem right to us, for us. Going somewhere else doesn't make any sense either - these people are my tribe and I like much of how our church does things.

Sorry for such a long comment - it just hit me that in many ways I am still an exile as well, even thirteen years on... and it kinda helps to see that, because sometimes my angst at being involved surprises and frustrates me.

Anonymous said...

Boy I didn't realize that stuff was still such a trigger for me. I can't believe how much I resonate (sorry cindy ;) with what you've said here. Sometime you are the voice I can't find, you know. That's why I love you. We've got the same t-shirt.

Here's my $.02.

I love what you've said about needing to have a broader picture of ekklesia. That's so much what I've been trying to find lately, a place where you don't have to "serve" yourself into being worthy of relationships, but still feel intensely motivated to serve out of love and not obligation. Haven't found it yet, but I know it's out there. Or maybe it's been there all along, and it's just all about the right changes in my perspective and attitude. Not sure, but trying to keep my eyes open.

But I'm tired of this pain - this bitterness against becoming involved.

"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. "

I, too had a "family", and I didn't realize that family was earned rather than grown until it became apparent when we left. It was a family built on the existance of common ground rather than love and loyalty. It was a family where I could be included as long as I played by the rules. It makes me sad.

"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."

This is what I hope for and seek. I never expected this season to last so long, and I'm forever afraid I've missed the cues God has given telling me to return.

But every time I begin to doubt where I am and look to make sure I'm still in step with God, I find His fingerprints all over the place. I see the reality of the ekklesia I am praticing out here in the world. Even tho it's not always a fun or respected place to be.

That's not to say I hope to stay here or even enjoy it. It feels strange because I expected this to be over by now.

I appreciate your thought about not looking at it as a curse. I think that will happen the day I stop recoiling when someone questions my unchurched status. I believe that is the day God will begin the next chapter.

I hope that day is soon, but until then, your words here have encouraged me.

Lily.

grace said...

jerry,
I think that is really true, and I'm not sure we were ever intended to become "unknit." I think what I'm really hoping for is knitting that goes beyond our church membership. I'm just not sure if that is a realistic hope.

scottb,
First, let me apologize for not framing your quote more adequately. The result of writing in the midst of homeschooling with too many interruptions is a feeling that the ideas are half-baked and the finished post is rushed.

I understood what you meant in your post, and I agree that to have no desire for connection is unhealthy. I regret that my thoughts came across as disagreeing when actually I agree fully and just intended to add another dimension to what you described.

I believe we would find ourselves in agreement about a vision for ekklesia. Maybe the answer is both/and. While we find the authentic connected-ness with our group, we also develop an understanding of our connectedness with those we don't gather with and a missional understanding of our calling.

No apologies necessary. I really do appreciate your input, both here and at your blog. Always reading, seldom commenting. :)

chris,
I can certainly relate to what you have described. I'm not sure what direction we'll go with the fellowship we attend. For now, I find myself feeling, "this isn't my family." It's like attending someone else's family reunion, every week.
Thanks for sharing your thoughts about this.

Lily,
Sorry I triggered you. What are we going to do with those damn t-shirts?! You can probably tell that this is also a tender subject for me.

I sometimes wonder if it is possible to have relationships beyond these limitations if they are based on attending the same gathering. Yet then I realize that much of community develops by mutual joining. But if it ends so easily, how authentic are those relationships? I know they seem real when you're in them, but once you know how quickly they can disappear in a moment, it's a little harder to trust the illusion of relationship based on mutual attendance.

"I see the reality of the ekklesia I am praticing out here in the world."
I love this line Lily. It expresses the idea of an ekklesia that is larger than our gatherings.

I'm glad you found this encouraging. I appreciate your friendship in this journey.

Pam Hogeweide said...

"Perhaps rather than looking at our state of exile as a curse, we can find within it a new understanding of ekklesia"

aren't you glad you're in a state of exile, a refugee from religion, and no longer in bondage to an illusion?
This is of course disorienting and bewildering, yet you and I and Lily and Cindy and so many others have been bucked out of a facade we were living. In no way am I implying that this means everybody else in traditional church is living a lie. But apparently we were. I was. And I didn't even know it.

I thank God with loud words that he drove me into the wilderness. It is becoming home. It might be dusty and there's no running water but at least I'm discovering the beauty of transparency and honest living. I'm learning to trust in the insane grace of Jesus to back me up no matter what. But the hardest thing of all is that I'm trying to be honest with the men and women of that raging, dysfunctional woman also known as the bride of Christ. This is where I believe I'll discover true intimacy, true community. For so many years I worked hard to conceal my frailties and minimize my weaknesses. Maybe it's because I'm in my forties, or maybe it's because Jesus is setting me free, but there is a growing sense of reckless joy inside of me to just be... it goes against my grain. Every religious bone in my body is getting rattled and then the Holy Spirit breaks it. And usually that breaking comes from the relationships in my life.

Grace, you're such a provocative writer. You rattle me. People like you are breaking my bones. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

More on Real Community.

Pastor Astor said...

-Hi Grace! It takes a lot of honesty to write what you wrote. Thank you.
My advice: Don´t do anything, don´t hit yourself for not getting involved, and dont pressure yourself. Value this time as a time of healing, and as the healing is happening you will see ekklesia happen - in the process you are in you will find people to connect to who are on a similar trajectory. It will not be about bying into a set of awkward allegiences to get the fellowship you seek. That time is over.

Kim said...

I have to be honest and say it appears to me you haven't even considered how it feels when you're in a church family, albeit dysfunctional to some degree, and then someone of your dedication walks away from the table and moves out leaving you behind. Where's the family in that? Also I think you're confusing the kingdom of God with the church. They are not the same thing.

grace said...

Pam,
Thanks for your comments. I don't really have a problem with traditional church, but I do find myself wanting to see changes in the things that produce the illusion. I guess I'm idealistic enough to think we can change things, whether it's from within or without, if we just understand what the problem is. But, like you said, it isn't without pain and brokenness.

ron,
Thanks for the link. I especially liked the explanation of how compartmentalized our lives are and how that affects our experience of community.

pastor astor,
Thanks for stopping by from Sweden! I visited your site and read what I could understand. :) It looks like you have good things going on. Your words are encouraging to me. It is exactly what I hope for.

kim,
Thank you for commenting. I know it is more difficult when you don't agree with a post.

I have thought alot about how it feels to those you leave. In our case, the people left were told that we had abandoned them and that we didn't care about our relationships with them.

These were people we had taught, counseled, and fellowshipped with for years. I heard that a few of them cried, but most believed the story of our supposed falling into deception without question.

I have thought a lot about what it would mean to fill them in on the things that really happened, about the turmoil that knowing the truth could bring to their situation, and I've kept quiet.

There is a long, unwritten story between "being in committed relationships" and "then we left." I didn't include that in the post, but if you are interested, there is more about it in my spiritual abuse articles.

Here is a quote from the second spiritual abuse article that might better explain leaving a toxic situation:

"The reason it is impossible to find reconciliation in this situation is because it was false from the start. If the real motivation were reconciliation, these twisted methods would not have been used. When the leader uses his position to exert control, restoration is not the intended outcome. It is different than simply a disagreement between brothers because the weight of position and authority is brought into the picture to wield power in order to achieve a desired result."

Leaving wasn't a decision we made lightly. A line was drawn in the sand, it wasn't our line, it wasn't even our sand, and we were left with no choice but to leave or submit to a lie.

I have considered, probably more than you can imagine, how it feels to those who are left. I have also wondered why so many would go along with disfellowshipping us without a second thought. Real family should extend beyond our church membership.

That was the point of this post. What is it about the way we view church that allows us to simply abandon relationships based on membership? That isn't what ekklesia should be.

The kingdom of God is God's rule and reign, in the hearts of His people and in the world. The ekklesia are the people of God. We are a part of His kingdom, but not the entirety of it.

We are the church, the ekklesia, everywhere we go, hopefully advancing the kingdom of God in all that we do by bringing His rule into our lives, relationships, and circumstances.

While I'm struggling with what a local expression of ekklesia should look like, I believe I have a pretty good grasp on the kingdom of god and the church. Perhaps we have differing ideas about this.

The length of my answer is not to argue, but to let you know that I took your comment seriously and hopefully explained myself more thoroughly about the things you addressed.

Again, thanks for taking the time to share your honest thoughts. I appreciate the opportunity to clarify my writing.

fr'nklin said...

Grace, wow, another good one. I've been wrestling with this very issue as we begin to talk about what "community" (living life together) means for the church I'm helping to start. What I'm finding is that we default to "community" meaning close, deep friendships with one another - it's all about our group feeling "tight". I have a "been there done that" attitude when it comes to that kind of community.

Of course, it may be that the meaning of that word ("community") is different for all of us...cirucumstances dictate so much. For me, it will not mean being "tight" and "intimate" w/ all the folks in my "church". If "community" isn't "missional", I wonder if it's the kind of community Jesus came to give us.

You konw, I love your posts on all this stuff. I resonate 100% with you. Maybe that's why I'm the worst person in the world to help start a church, because I'm still so sick of "church" the way I see it practiced aroudn me. I know that all sounded really bad...

I've got the damn t-shirt too...;)

Peace friend.

David Cho said...

Grace, thanks for the post.

As a person who has not gotten the t-shirt, your words are both assuring and sobering at the same time.

I used to think...only if I became a member of the inner circle, would I become more spiritual and closer to God, since you must be at the top of the spiritual pyramid in order to become one.

But having read stories of been there, and done that, I guess the "inner circle" is way overrated. But there are those who continue to buy the propaganda, and labor endlessly on the treadmill for recognition and the t-shirt.

Been there and done that.

I am actually working on a similar post from an different angle, and this gives me lots to think about.

ron said...

Grace, I relate to everything your saying here. I was involved in with a leadership team at the previous church.The community was wandering in circles in the desert, no direction, no vision.They gathered in the camp they had built, around their precious fire of memories. We spent almost a year talking about vision, transition and mission...of moving into a new land. Relationships deepened in the process of the conversation around transition...so we thought.
We moved in a new direction, and I was killed jsut across the border...attacked, rumours, gossip...depression. I had lived, I had eaten, prayed...bared my soul in this community. It's been almost 4 years...not a phone call, a letter, a e-mail, not a voice.
Until we can get past the mindset of church/community being " building ", and when I say that, I mean literally everything " we've " built. Be it the structural building, our programs, our ministries, the music we like...we will never have real community. I love this quote from a friend...
"church people think about how to get people into church, Kingdom people think about how to get the church into the world."
I think that completely changes the focus of community. I encourage people to read Alan Creech's quote...it's not a real pretty picture. It's raw, its real, there is tension, there is friction...and work. There is an element of holiness that happens in that kind of community. After a year of depression, and healing...I'm back at it. Call me crazy. Thanks Grace for stretching the conversation...digging below the surface of a word we like to use...bt don't live. Pax...Ron+

Bruce said...

I really like what you write about Grace. We still a member of the same church we joined 18 years ago, and things have changed to the point we are now looking around. The vision of the "church" isn't one of growing closer together but of becoming a mega-church, with a bigger auditorium and all the things that go with a mega-church. We seem hell-bent to be the largest church in the county. Our close friends (he grew up in the church) have been gone for 5 months and the pastor still doesn't realize it. I'm always suggesting that we do things with the other churches in town and all I ever get are blank stares. I mean, why would we want to do anything with other churches - they are who we are competing against for new members (and holding on for dear life our own members). Hang in there grace, and keep persuing what ekklesia means for you - I'm interested in your journey.

B~

Anonymous said...

At times I've described my family as being "between churches". We have attended a large local Baptist church (to my son's horror, after all the things I've said about fundie Baptists). And God can and does speak to me through their worship service. But I feel no desire to attach myself to their machine. I've been heavily involved in church leadership from calling new pastors to coming into leadership and helping a church in the final closing of its doors after years of denial and dysfunction. I've seen the church at its best and at its worst.

I think that not being part of a church right now is a healthy thing for me. I never would have suspected that. But in the past couple months I have felt God guiding me to once again examine who I am, who He is, and what His body is. As a result God is totally rearranging the furniture, and even throwing some of it out.

You might enjoy visiting: http://www.thegodjourney.com/ which the hosts describe as an ever expanding conversation of those thinking outside the box of organized religion.

Last night I started reading: How (Not) to Speak of God - Marks of the Emerging Church by Peter Rollins. I really love the way he starts by balancing the inexplicable mystical experience of God, which focuses on awe and embraces His mystery, with the approachability of Christ, and the very practical expression of His Gospel.

Though I am not affiliated with any specific local gathering of His body, I believe that God is growing in me a greater appreciation for what it means to BE His body. As I work once again toward the possibility of being involved in starting a group of disciples, these learnings are essential in the shaping of a fresh, meaningful perspective on what it means to be authentic members of community, and what it means to live out the Jesus Creed. Sorry that this is so long, but you've touched on an area which brings out great passions in my soul.

Trailady said...

The church of God, the Body of Christ is not limited to fragmented denominations. It goes beyond churches that we set up. I know the pain you are feeling. I'm there with you.

Check out: www.ptm.org

It's an internet church. They are Christianity without the all the Religion.
I recently purchased a book from their website called, 'Bad News Religion'. I am really being blessed by this book!! Can SO relate to the author's journey.
Check it out and find rest for your soul.

ManNMotion said...

This is a dead of the night Batman blogger fly by

Interesting, I never heard that word but I'm also in a state of transition and experiencing that state of relational disconnection. But that state is also part of the reason for leaving the old community in the first place, grace.

Your mission is where you are moment by moment, day by day.

grace said...

I'm sorry I let this post go dormant when there was such great conversation going on here. I meant to follow up on the comments with another post, and I just didn't get to it.

fr'nklin,
I have really enjoyed your posts about this. I think what I have trouble with is trying to define community as "my tight group." There is something that becomes unhealthy once we circle the wagons and close the boundaries.

Personally, I think you are the perfect person to be planting a church with your eyes wide open to many of the pitfalls. You have the ability to plant something different because you have a vision for the church that is different than what the church has been. I wish there were more like you with the courage to dream about what church could be and to act on those dreams.

david,
Doesn't it strike you as odd that there is so much striving and performance in the church for acceptance, while in the kingdom of God, belonging is completely free.

ron,
I'm so glad you shared your thoughts here. They really meant a lot to me. There has to be something wrong with our structures when relationships can't survive a change in direction. I'm hopeful for our "back at it" days, but I don't yet see what they will look like.

bruce,
We left a smaller church that was intent on building an ideal model of community. The problem with that is that the leaders had poor relationship skills and were attempting to perfect their model through teaching on authority and submission.

Now we attend a large church and just moved into our big auditorium a couple of weeks ago. One could disappear there, but there is a common excitement among the people about reaching the lost and there are usually several salvations a week.

My point is that it isn't necessarily the size (although it might be in your situation if that has become the goal). I think the focus of the vision of the people is what forms the community.

I very much prefer my loose-knit "focused on the lost" community to the tight-knit inwardly focused group that we left.

gary,
Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I continue to follow your journey because we seem to be on similar paths of discovery and learning of what the church will be in our lives.

trailady,
I will check out your link. You know, I think we could still have denominations if we could just learn to appreciate the differences and remember to reach across the fences in order to know our brothers and sisters in Christ.

Batman,
Thanks, I needed to hear these words:

"That state is also part of the reason for leaving the old community in the first place, grace.

Your mission is where you are moment by moment, day by day."

Joy said...

Grace,

I am amazed at the similarity in our stories... I so appreciate what you are going through... I have the T-shirt also. My hubby and are aren't completely in agreement on what is next. He's ready to jump head first into a new situation. I, on the other hand, am 'gun shy'. I don't want to develop any more relationships right now! I am not a healthy person. I have little left to give. The pain is still fresh.

I look forward to seeing how your journey plays out. Let me know if y'all figure out what to do with the T-shirts!

grace said...

Hi joy,
I'm sorry I missed your comment earlier. It's great to meet you. Too bad that you've been through a similar experience. I understand "gun shy."