Renewed Meanings and Practices in Places of "Ecclesia"

In some sense of the meaning I think as a people we are still exploring this idea of “What is the church?” Maybe not so much as to the collective interpretations of its Biblical roots in the Koine Greek context of “ecclesia” (“gathering of people”) but perhaps in the ways context, culture, and community dynamics shape and express its significance and purpose as they encounter the living gospel. In some ways I think this becomes a transcendent question which we must always ask just as we must always be willing to listen to the transcendent question of Jesus who asked Peter, “Who do you say that I am?” (Matthew 16:13-20) . The church becomes a physical expression of both individual and communal belonging to the Lordship of Jesus, by the guidance of the Holy Spirit, and embedded into the DNA of Communal projection and incarnation! Some of you might recognize this statement as it is one of my favorite quotes however; even within the early forth century the church and Gregory of Nyssa recognized that, “Concepts create idols. Only wonder grasps anything.” (1 Cor. 13:9-12) It is these thoughts, these passions which tend to trigger my imagination in the wonderment of the ways the early Christians of the first and second century found church in the catacombs and market places; church in the synagogues and temples; church in the “living rooms” and “kitchens” of peoples homes! (Just some passages to ponder when reflecting on the “gathering of ecclesia” – Matt.13:2; 18:20; Mark 1:29-34; 2:2; John 10:22-24; Acts 10:23-27; 12:12)

Yes, ecclesia is a gathering of believers but it is also far more richer and deeper then that. It is an intermingling of believers engaging with non-believers with the intent of incarnationally being “little” Jesus’ in their community; and it is diverse in giftings, talents, spiritual and physical expressionisms. Ecclesia is the wonderment and amazement of seeing the story of God’s people living out his presence among us through our discipleship and relational following of Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior. To be a church in the midst of our community is to commit to the acknowledgement that, “They will know we are Christians by our ____________.” (Gal. 5:16-25) And not by our buildings, size, numbers, programs, and/or organizational/denominational/governmental status!

In answering the call to be a disciple of Jesus, I personally find the greatest meaning, purpose, and significance to “ecclesia” through the ways in which we enact as a community of believers the central core values which we find within our relationship’s to the “missio dei” (“character and essence of God”). Within MTC it is our five G’s and respectively in Bonnie’s and my heart as individual disciples; it is the five concentric values of Expressions.

As a church we become fully committed disciples to Jesus and our community through the embodiment of the 5 G’s. Yes, Expressions model has taken those values into a new context (a coffee shop) but in many ways I wanted you to see the relationship Expressions values has with MTC’s. As such I illustrated the 5 G’s below with the intent of crossing over there meanings and significance with that of the Expressions model.

Grace -------> Authentic Community Generosity ---> Radical Stewardship Groups ------> Transformational Mission Growth ------> Holistic Living/Discipleship Gifts --------> Passionate Spirituality

When we met Tuesday, May 6th I briefly shared with you three identified areas to which Michael Frost describes the practices of “ecclesia” taking place. In brief they were the Home Place, the Work or Corporate Place, and the Third Place. All are valid and all find equal standing as quantifiable church gathering communities. In a diagram Frost articulates these areas using a pie chart which is divided into thirds. Hold on to this vision for a moment.

To also describe in brief, Alan Hirsch articulates the patterns of church being shaped through three distinctly different ideological perceptions. They are Bonded Set, Fuzzy Set, and Center Set Church dynamics. Most favorably he refers to the Centered Set church as one which remains missionally centered on its core values (i.e. – the 5 G’s and there relationship to mission) while extending outwards in all directions to reach all people within the community (both considered “in” the church and “outside” relationally). In appearance it seems chaotic however; with an anchored core God’s mission becomes gravitationally centripetal and is then always drawing people back to the central core value as an enactment of Lordship (i.e. – mission – to be disciples of Jesus). Illustratively he uses the picture of herding cats! You can’t tell them where to go but you can show them where the food is!

Personally, I noticed a distinct connection between both Frost’s and Hirsch’s ideas if you overlapped the two models. Frost’s Three Place settings became the chaotic landscape to which Hirsch’s Centered Set dynamics could be enacted and relationally connected. We can and should find/develop ecclesia in all three settings as it is defined through gathering and the core values and intention of being disciples of Jesus (i.e. – mission and the 5 G’s).

I realize this is a lot of “deep thinking” and I would love the opportunity to unpack it further with you personally if you would like. What I do want to try and address is the similarities Expressions model has with MTC as a church and perhaps, the different ways in which Bonnie and I dream of expressing them (pardon the pun). Is the Expressions model just a business? How can a Coffee shop be a church?

In the practical sense Expressions is hoped to be a non-profit organization shaped by a church board and centered on enacting its core values for the practices of ecclesia through Worship, Discipleship, and Mission. My hope is to find accountability and authority through starting its roots within our home here at MTC and sharing this vision with our friends and church family while we grow together.

With regards to its “charity” status; I have spoken at length with a number of government representatives about these ideas who have assured me that this is entirely possible provided the accounting and books are in accordance with such non-profit structures. Admittingly this is not my strong suite. As a side note I will refer you to the previously mentioned “non-profit” coffee shops I have already spoke about which are 'FRWY' (pronounced Free Way) in Hamilton, Ontario and ‘The Talkin’ Donkey’ in Vernon, B.C. In some sense, I implore you to check out FRWY’s website. If you really want to see how a coffee shop can be a church, I think they are an incredible example!

As for worship; the answer is yes! This is something which can be shaped by Expressions board as it grows however using FRWY’s example; they close the shop every Saturday and Sunday as they either hold functions, rent out to groups (non-profit or otherwise), and hold Worship services Sunday evenings! Creatively thinking I imagine we would do much the same things we do and can do in MTC such as Bible Study’s, Weddings, Baptism’s, missional out reach to the surrounding community through groups, and special events/holiday activities. Limitations to this creative thought patterns in expressions of discipleship both in MTC and Expressions becomes endless considering the nature of each individual’s personal encounter with the gospel and their relational bridges to those in the community. The challenge is in trying to stimulate those independent creative natures and develop their passions around them.

Differentially it becomes more difficult to answer. Yes, we will be supporting our ministry and facilitating our community through an environment which “sells” specialized coffee and possibly food throughout the week. We may be spatially smaller but when looking at FRWY that does not mean we must be especially small. FRWY used an old CIBC building and can facilitate probably up to 60-80 people. I’m not so sure this is necessarily different as I believe MTC can do this too however, it is hoped Expressions can reach out to the artistic crowds and as such be a host environment for those communities whether musical, poetic, or otherwise.

Can Expressions be a church? In short, my hope, my dream is YES IT CAN!!!