Glorious, Messy Reality

Danger, Danger, Danger: Are you someone who is adamant about Jesus and fellowship needing to reflect your own theories and sensibilities, yet are not yourself in functional ekklesia (the Greek word used in the New Testament for “church”)?

The wonderful, multifaceted Body of Christ

By ekklesia, I’m not talking about your traditional Sunday-go-to-meeting “church” with it’s hour of worship-band sing along, directed prayer and monologue sermon. Nor am I talking about posting on Facebook.

Rather, I mean authentic, flesh-and-blood community which finds expression as the multifaceted, multi-gifted Body of Christ – including dynamic, diverse and participatory fellowship gatherings.

Because I am very, very careful not to spout off pet theories divorced from reality, I try to keep my blog rooted in such fellowship. There’s enough naive, aspirational gibberish in the blogsphere these days, and practical reality seems to be sorely lacking.

Writing from the perspective of actual fellowship doesn’t necessarily make me right, however. But I nonetheless have learned to filter my views – and the writings and opinions of others – through the lens of actual fellowship, and that has served me well.

Outside my local fellowship, I also get to interact through my blog and other social media with lots of people – both publicly and privately – who don’t have that perspective. They profess Christ, but are not part of any real fellowship.

Sometimes they are isolated because there simply are no functional fellowships in their area – and there is no shame in that.

Often, however, such folks live as detached Christians – other than maybe causal social interactions – because they are unwilling to lay down their lives, their hurts, their theories, and their sensibilities to find real fellowship.

If that’s you, there is hope, but it means making some sacrifices. Time and again I have seen the Lord bring forth community and fellowship – meaning real ekklesia – once folks are ready to truly lay down and submit (now there’s a dirty word in the post-modern vocabulary!) their agendas, their theories, their hurts, and their sensibilities to one another. That certainly was true in my own life, and it was a painful transition.

Until that happens, however, realize there often is an unhealthy inverse correlation (sorry to put it so analytically) between how adamant you are on what the life of Christ and fellowship should or shouldn’t be, and the degree to which you are involved in actual, on-the-ground, nitty-gritty, functional ekklesia.

In other words, be on guard: The more removed you remain from healthy, multifaceted and multi-gifted ekklesia, the more adamant you can become on what ekklesia and the life of Christ in others should look like. And that’s a very dangerous place to be.

It is scary to watch folks become trapped in the glaring disconnect between their own subjective sensibilities and the balanced maturity that only comes from healthy ekklesia.

Again, healthy ekklesia is not the ultimate measure of truth, but it is an important, legitimate filter nonetheless.

If you insist on holding firm to your theories and sensibilities outside the context of healthy ekklesia (and social media like Facebook ain’t ekklesia – sorry!), be careful. Jesus is never about autonomous individualism, purely subjective revelation, or affirming your own attitudes.

Rather, He finds fullest expression in His functioning Body, where our theories and sensibilities are tempered by the maturing dynamic of wonderful but sometimes messy reality.

Find ekkelsia and figure out how to make it work in your life and with others – tempered by the experience of Christ truly living in you, among you, and through you in authentic community. Yes, it may be messy. Yes, you may need to change. Yes, your pet theories and sensibilities may not survive.

But there, and only there, will your life in Christ find the balance and maturity that comes from reality, and not just theory.

~ Jim

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14 responses

  1. According to the dictionary, “sensibilities” has different shades of meaning. Please give us your definition. Thanks.

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    • Good question, Janet. I mean it in the sense of emotional or moral feelings rooted in sentimentality or being overly sensitive.

      For example, if I believe everything is (or should be) about love, to the neglect of truth or justice, then that would be a sensibility – an primarily emotional or moral feeling rooted in sentimentality.

      If I believe everything is (or should be) about truth, to the neglect of love and mercy, then again that would be a sensibility – a primarily emotional or moral feeling rooted in sentimentality.

      I want to be clear that I am NOT arguing against feelings! We are created as integrated beings, and our feelings are just as much a legitimate part of who we are as any other aspect of ourselves. But, to use my examples, it often takes real fellowship to find the mature balance of love and mercy with truth and justice.

      Anyway, that is just an example and my point is not about love, mercy, truth or justice. It is about being out of balance in our views, and how the nitty-gritty of real community helps balance us out as we become mature in the Lord.

      There’s a good quote I found: “Sensitiveness is closely allied to egotism; and excessive sensibility is only another name for morbid self-consciousness. The cure for tender sensibilities is to make more of our objects and less of our selves.” ~ Christian Nestell Bovee (who I know nothing about, so I’m not endorsing him).

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  2. There is a lot of truth here, if we follow Jesus He will insure we find the Communitas He has planned for us, short time or long.

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  3. Good article Jim. I too am getting caught up a bit on “sensibilities”. My feeling is we find maturity in being Spirit led. Plugging into fellowship or community seems a bonus, but is it really a requirement for a balanced Christ like life? I say this because it’s been almost two years and all I see in my area is more of the same.Churches that have compromised truth for tradition and thus sorely lack the healthy flow of Agape love or discipleship. One of the main objectives seems to be to get people to come to church, invest in church and rely on church for their well being and/or protection and guidance. I never discourage people from going just because it is my conviction. I do however see a lot of dysfunction and abuse. What I see makes it very hard to ignore even the subtlest heresy done in my Father’s name. The grieving goes on and on as I observe. As Bruce inquired, what would you say the transition from solo to ekklesia ought to look like?

    Thanks & God bless!

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    • Bruce and Jeanette –

      You’re forcing me to do what I have tried to avoid – which is trying to tell people how to find “ekklesia”. The reason I’ve avoided it for as long as I have is because there is no formula or three-step program. For me, I backed into it after being a total failure at trying initially to create or find it. Now, however, it is natural and I can be with a group of folk who are seeking it and as they sense my own spirit – with just a little encouragement and foundation laying – they just “get it”. Life reproduces life.

      Nonetheless, I hear where you are coming from – because just a few years ago I was where you are now.

      As I say in the the blog: “Sometimes [you] are isolated because there simply are no functional fellowships in [your] area – and there is no shame in that.”

      Don’t feel condemned. There is a way forward.

      Let me consider this for a few days. I think it’s finally time for me to tell some of my own story – not as a blueprint, but as an object lesson (for good and for bad!) that may help others.

      Also, permit me to say that it is NORMAL to go through the wilderness after God brings us out of Egypt. For many of us, Egypt was the institutional church. As I also try to say in the blog, the IC is not ekklesia (sorry if that offends anyone). Some find ekklesia as an island of fellowship in the IC, but it is despite the IC and seldom because of the IC.

      Once we are taken out of Egypt, God uses the wilderness to take Egypt out of us. In a sense, we carry a whole bunch of “sensibilities” from Egypt. I know I did. I look back at some of my writings from years ago and I cringe, because I didn’t know anything other than Egypt was bondage and I was heading towards the Promised Land. I thought I knew what the Promised Land was, but not really. I was too consumed with my own hurts from the IC, and my views were more in reaction to the IC rather than coming from balanced health. What I thought was important for ekklesia turned out not to be. And some things that are vital for ekklesia, I had no clue about.

      Even now, I’m still learning – even though I think God has allowed me to finally cross the Jordan River from the wilderness into Canaan. As I learn and we actually apply some of it, I try to write about it here.

      So I am very, very understanding of your journey. (See my blog Crossing Jordan.)

      Anyway, I think you are right that I need to share some things about finding ekklesia. It may take me some time to figure out the best way to do so, without coming across as offering a formula, but I will focus on that.

      Thanks for the prompting.

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  4. Excellent response Jim. Two weeks ago I requested my wife resign her all volunteer positions at our old IC institutional church, the one I left four years and five months prior. She created a “happening” worship band out of musicians and worshipers in the high school youth group. She was also a Sunday school teacher, in the regular rotation. Plus she was one of the 20% of the members that actually take active roles no matter what. It was a lonesome four years believe me. The tears flowed, and I kept consoling my wife, stating I went through it as well only years ago. In just two weeks though, I sense a great awakening in our relationship, with each other and the Lord too. I too had a failed attempt at organic church that lasted about six months. I told Kay, it was as if I was incomplete without her. Next month we celebrate 40 years as newlyweds. Leaving any church where you were members for twenty years is tough. It’s as close as anyone can come to a divorce from what I’ve heard. Okay, we’re all ears bro. Thanks for your hard work on the blog. You make a lot of folks think, bd

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  5. Jim — I look forward to hearing of your journey in more detail. I’m 1 year into where Bruce is and have been once on the “island in the IC” you are describing previously. Thanks for sharing your heart in a loving way.

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  6. solid word thanks. god has been patient with me getting egypt out of me though thats a lifelong process. im definitely guilty of catering to my own sensibilities.. over time ive spent more time looking in the mirror as to lack of ekklesia as i desire. that said my understanding of church has expanded such that im now free to experience and acknowledge church in small and large settings. my view is some will join them cause they can beat them so to speak, others simply wont join anything and still others will join to new expressions… its a very personal thing.

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  7. Pingback: The Messy Reality of Fellowship | The Assembling of the Church

  8. Jim,
    I like your article and follow up comments. The IC is not Ekklesia is a truth, yet God somehow allows the IC to exist and go on for His purposes. When I hear of political unrest in the U.S. and how the church may be persecuted in the future for her stands, beliefs and even her speech, I think of how other Christians in other parts of the world have suffered and many have lost their lives because of just being practicing Christians. I visited China 8 years ago and I was awestruck by the genuineness of the Christians that I had the pleasure of meeting. I many times wonder if the U.S. Church will suffer in the future and how that could be the best thing that could happen to it. There’s another dimension of fellowship that I have heard of and wondering if you could comment on, and that is “Koinonia” fellowship. I believe it is a transliteration of the greek work fellowship. How does this type of fellowship that got some attention in the 70’s relate to ‘true ekklesia fellowship’ that you speak of today? This is all good and many ICs need to be talking about this very subject.
    Thanks again,
    Kirk Severs

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