What Is Church?
Is L24 Collective a church?
We hear it all the time. It's actually become our #1 FAQ! It isn't an easy question to answer, only because people's definition of "Church" varies so widely. It shouldn't be complicated; but between associations with buildings, denominations, and rituals, it's become confusing. The question behind the question begging to be answered is "What is the church?"
Defining the Word
Our English word "church" derives from the Greek word kyriakon, meaning "belonging to the Lord." This is pretty accurate! However, this graduated from "the Lord's people" or "community" to "the Lord's house." Our Westernized association with "house" is with a building and, thus, we arrive at the most common association with "church" today — "God's 'house' equals 'sacred building'."
But the word "church" in the New Testament's Greek comes from ekklēsía, literally translating "to call out from and to." The contextual association would have meant to its hearers "an assembly" or "gathering." Thus, when Jesus made the statement "I will build my church.", the listeners would have understood that Jesus was referring to a group of people called out from the world to Him.
From this point forward, throughout the rest of the New Testament, "church" (Gk. ekklēsía) refers to communities of Christ-followers united as "one body" with supporting imagery like "a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God's own people" (1 Pt 2:9). God's chosen people (Gk. eklektoi) are intended to be a unified community.
The Kingdom & The Church
Jesus directly mentions "church" only 3 times in scripture (once in Mt 16:18 when He promised to build the church and twice in Mt 18:17 in reference to spiritual correction). But there's an indirect reference Jesus made to "the church" in Jn 17:21. Here He's praying for all those who would come to believe that they would be united as one so that the world would see and also believe. It's obvious — the Church has a big part to play in God's plan!
From the beginning to the end of Jesus' ministry, it was the "Kingdom of God" (mentioned over 100 times) that was his central message. Kingdom (Gk. basileia) literally translates as "kingship." The "Kingdom of God is thus the "rule" and "authority" of God. So when we pray things like "Your kingdom come and will be done", we are essentially asking Jesus to come and be the King.
Jesus' authority and agenda can be seen clearly in Colossians 1 where he is depicted as both King (v. 15-18) and Reconciler (v.20). Jesus' message was "the kingdom is available to you" and His mission was the restoration of relationships through His established rule. (Observe how Isaiah 9:6 describes Jesus' leadership style as "Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace." Jesus is a good king!)
A Common Misconception
The Kingdom of God and the Church are interrelated, yes, but they are not the same thing. There is a common misconception within the church that "The Kingdom of God and the Church are synonymous." In all of the New Testament's references to either, there is not one instance where these terms are used interchangeably.
A Critical Distinction
When we confuse the Church as the Kingdom of God, we begin to believe that we are the point — that we are the end that justifies all means. This is an open door to much of the spiritual abuse experienced in church institutions today. We end up with large organizations that use people to serve their own ends under the guise of doing "the Lord's work." So, one great way to test a local church's kingdom alignment is to look at the people within its immediate community. Are they thriving?
Another revealing checkpoint is to go past a local church's weekend production and look at their surrounding community. Kingdom come is evidenced through restored relationships — through thriving homes and communities. So... How are their neighbors doing?
Plainly said, the local church sells its message short when an institution succeeds but its neighbors don't. When our focus goes inward, we lose our Kingdom impact. We become like a wire no longer transferring the current that creates light.
Our Place In The Kingdom
Any kingdom includes a ruler, a territory, and the people within it. The Church then is within the Kingdom, but it is not "the Kingdom" in and of itself. We are the people of God under His Lordship with a mission to expand His territory, bringing others "out of darkness into his marvelous light." The church is the conduit for Kingdom come! We are the delivery system.
Demonstration + Imitation
Jesus didn't simply preach a message then leave those who believed to figure things out on their own. He didn't rent a building and impersonally transfer information on a weekly basis. No. Jesus method involved personal proximity where He demonstrated how to accomplish the mission then asked His followers to imitate what they saw. He created a space wherein His followers would be deeply challenged while also completely accepted. Jesus' missional method was discipleship ("Disciple" Gk. mathetes meaning "Learner") through relationship.
Behind the Madness
Why did Jesus choose discipleship through relationship as His vehicle for world transformation? Couldn't He have accomplished more through focusing on large public ministry? Just watch this....
In Jesus' ministry-launch sermon, He made the declaration that the Kingdom of God was at hand (Mk 1). His very next move was to call His first disciples to come and follow Him — to have a relationship in which they'd learn His ways and grow to be like Him.
"Grow to be like Him" is an enormous statement! You see, we're created in God's own image. (This is key!) Jesus' call to discipleship is actually a call to recover our original identity through a restored relationship with God! In growing to be like Jesus, we discover what it means to be the image bearers we were created to be. (See Colossians 3:10.) To respond to this call is to welcome the Kingdom of God in our lives. Thus, the follower of Jesus brings the Kingdom of God with them wherever they go! Can you see what Jesus did there?!
We can clearly see in the New Testament that God's plan for "Kingdom Come" didn't stop with a few. His strategy was global! Jesus' final charge to those disciples He had relationship with was to "Go" and make more disciples (Mt 28: 16-20). It was an invitation to be a collaborator in Jesus' method for establishing the Kingdom of God in every corner of the world!
Here is the key — when you embrace the Lordship of Jesus, you inherit the mission of Jesus. The empowerment to engage this mission is found through reconciled relationship with God and each other. (This is where the Church comes into play.)
"So what is the Church and how does it fit in with all this Kingdom and discipleship stuff?"
The answer's very simple now. Watch the progression:
- The Church is the byproduct of discipleship.
- True discipleship always happens through relationship.
- These relationships with Jesus and each other form a spiritual family.
- This spiritual family is called "The Church."
The Church is God's people, as a family, on God's mission.
So is L24 Collective a church?
Bluntly put, that's not the focus of our mission. We're just people following Jesus and wanting nothing less than for "Kingdom Come" in our families, neighborhoods, and our cities. We're going to love people well and we're going to openly share Jesus' good news through more than just our words. And... I suspect out of all this, a spiritual family called "Church" will emerge.