Church or ekklesia–do words really matter?

The words we choose matter because they put pictures into people’s minds. Every time I hear and or read the word church, I see a business-like organization and/or a programmed religious meeting centered around a one-man sermon and/or a building for Christian worship. But that’s not what the New Testament writers were picturing when they used the Greek word ekklesia.

Many people understand this difference, but we have trouble communicating it. We try to modify the modern meaning of the word church by adding other words to it, such as: “the church Jesus is building” or “primitive church” or “early church.” However, when I hear those phrases, I still picture an organization, a building, and/or a programmed and sermon-based meeting.

To help people understand what the New Testament writers meant by the Greek word ekklesia, we need to go beyond the word church. The things that the word church bring to people’s minds block them from the meaning of ekklesia. We don’t need to reform church. We need to make church ekklesia again!

Maybe the 5 Ms of church history will help. This is the change from ekklesia to church that happens in every move of God. 1) Man–a person encounters the living Jesus and is set on fire for God. 2) Men–other people catch the passion and zeal as they also encounter the risen Jesus. 3) Movement–there is a spontaneous, Spirit-led spread of encounters with the resurrected Jesus as more and more people are transformed by His presence and reality.

The first 3 Ms look nothing like what the word church brings to people’s minds today. There is no religious building, no religious organization, and no human-controlled and programmed meeting that puts one man on a platform and makes everybody else the audience. (See 1 Corinthians 14:26.) The first 3 Ms describe ekklesia.

M #3 and M #4 describe the transition from ekklesia to church. M #4 is Method. As the movement grows, people start to be uncomfortable with the spontaneity and with the leading of the Holy Spirit and they begin to organize and structure things. They appoint managers instead of Spirit-led leaders. They focus on control instead of freedom–ritual and tradition instead of the contagion of the Spirit. They build buildings and begin to program their worship meetings and turn them over to the control of one man. After a few decades of building their own organizational structure (rather than letting Jesus build His ekklesia), the movement people who had personally and dynamically experienced the living Jesus begin to die. Their children take over the organization that is now called church. Many of the children don’t have the same experience with Jesus that their parents had.

In each succeeding generation, fewer and fewer people have the same Jesus experience and relationship that the people had in the movement stage, but the organization they set up keeps on going until it becomes M #5–Monument. And that’s church–a religious monument to the glory days of ekklesia.

I lived through the 5 Ms in the Jesus Movement. I saw individuals encounter the living Jesus and get on fire for God (M #1). I saw those individuals’ excitement about Jesus spread to their friends (M #2). I saw a movement spreading all over America and around the world (M#3).

Then I saw (M #4) dominating people began to organize things and set up structures. Churches began to pull people out of the spontaneity of the Jesus Movement and into their organizations. Jesus Freaks began to set up their own nondenominational religious organizations (and even a few cults).

Now, as I look back from 5 decades, I see religious organizations–(M #5) monuments to that mighty move of God. Those churches and denominations that came out of the Jesus Movement are nothing like the way it was when God initiated it. They are toned-down and formalized. They left ekklesia and embraced church. They make me sad. It’s time to begin the 5 Ms again!

I’m so blessed that Jesus is real in my life. He continually works within me and keeps me going every day.

Photo by Thibault Trillet on

About Steve Simms

I like to look and think outside the box. In college I encountered Jesus Christ and I have been passionate about trying to get to know Him better ever since. My wife and I long to see the power and passion of the first Christ-followers come to life in our time. I have written a book about our experiences in non-traditional church, called, "Beyond Church: An Invitation To Experience The Lost Word Of The Bible--Ekklesia." If you need encouragement, search for: Elephants Encouraging The Room and/or check out my Amazon author page. Thank you!
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