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The heart of Jesus and His ekklesia

People often say they don’t like church or organized religion or denominations and, as a pastor, my heart hurts when I hear these criticisms.

They are criticisms; criticisms about how the church does or doesn’t work. Whether the judgments are right or not, those in the church must certainly pay attention.

When Jesus stood in Caesarea Philippi with his disciples (Matthew 16:13-20), they watched as worshippers of the god Pan threw people off the cliffs into the springs below in order to sacrifice them to their god. It was in this moment that Jesus asked his disciples “Who do you say that I am?” Peter responded by saying, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”

Jesus explained to his disciples that on the truth of this statement he would build his church and that the gates of Hell would not prevail against it.

However, he did not use the word church in this moment. Instead, he used the Greek word “ekklesia.” It is the first time the word is used in the Bible. And, it does not refer to a building or a place of worship, rather, the ekklesia was the ruling body of a city or state.

In Greek towns and cities, the elders of the city would gather together and discuss the welfare of the city and decide how they could help the city. Their entire purpose was to meet for the benefit of the city.

With the use of the word ekklesia, Jesus chose to create a different religious group. Instead, of focusing on the temple or building or place, Jesus declares that his ekklesia will focus on fighting against the evil around it and bringing Heaven to earth.

In Heaven, there is no one who is thirsty, so His ekklesia is to work so that no one is thirsty on earth. In Heaven, there is no one who is hungry, so His ekklesia is to work so that no one is hungry on earth. In Heaven, there is no one who is lonely, so His ekklesia is to work so that no one is lonely on earth. Jesus’ passion and heart is for his ekklesia to overcome the gates of Hell in every life, home and community.

So, those of us who gather each week to place God in his rightful place in our lives and celebrate what he is doing in our lives, must know that what follows during the week is the work of the ekklesia. In the Greek cities the ekklesia strategized about how to bring blessing and prosperity to the city. In Jesus’ ekklesia we must be intentional in our strategy and planning in order to bring Heaven to earth.

But our work isn’t inside a specific building, but throughout the city in every home, business, organization and community space. We must seek out the thirsty, the hungry and the lonely and bring relief to them.

As the ekklesia, we must pray for and seek peace and blessing for our community through our jobs, recreation and families. We must go to places and volunteer in places where we are not comfortable. While we should never force ourselves on others, we should be an advocate for those who are hurting and are oppressed around us.

If the ekklesia worked on behalf of the community in this way, there would be few who would say that they didn’t like the church or organized religion or denominations. And the ekklesia would not allow these criticisms to define or divide them. Rather, they would march on the gates of Hell and overcome them everywhere in the city.

Aaron Chester is the minister of Gortner Memorial Church of the Nazarene. He wrote this article as a member of the Fayette County Ministerial Association.