December 28, 2011 / David Fitch


It happens on facebook when I give the slightest indication the church is God’s instrument in the world. It happens frequently when I am speaking and assert that God has empowered the church to extend Christ’s presence in the world. It happens when I coach church planters that are missionally oriented and ask them when they gather for worship. It happens when I engage my missional friends on one of the variants of the formula “missiology precedes ecclesiology.” It happens each time I meet someone who has been abused by the traditional church. Each time there is a out-sized reaction against organizing people into practices traditionally associated with being the church (this is especially true of the public worship gathering, or the ordination of clergy).
OF COURSE IT IS TRUE that in many cases the local church has become stuck in paying for buildings, “hell-bent” on attracting people into worship services at all costs, authority structures that gum up the works via the hierarchical clergy. It is true that the Church has abused the eucharist, has tried to colonize whole people groups into a specific enculturated way of being the church, thereby making the gospel a piece of Western propaganda. It happens every time a mega church pastor exerts control over his behemoth enterprise for his/her own personal glory. It happens every time the church has used spiritual authority to abuse people so as to enrich its coffers and expand its enterprise. I think I’ve written enough on all these things to convince you all that I am well aware of these dangers. I’m no fan of what has become of the institutionalized church (especially its mega church consumerist varieties). If you don’t believe me, read The Great Giveaway for example.

But, unfortunately, this wise caution against organizing people into Christendom-tainted-functions of the church has turned into a phobia, an unhealthy fear. I call this ekklesaphobia. And I believe it is time to ask whether such an ekklesaphobia is hurting the furthering of fresh expressions of the gospel over N America as the missional movement matures into its third decade. I say yes.

This ekklesaphobia manifests itself in dysfunctional leadership that cannot recognize the Kingdom authority invested by Christ in the 5 fold gifting structure of  leadership (although hierarchy is still bad IMO). It manifests itself when we cannot understand the forming event of the Eucharist where the presence and authority of the Kingdom breaks out and forms a community of the King to spread reconciliation and renewal of all things. It manifests itself when we cannot see the formational effects of true worship (read chapter 15, p. 217 in NT Wright’s Simply Jesus to get a taste of what I am talking about). There are no missional people apart from the place in which these people are formed into His Mission. Anyone who thinks this can be done solely individually one to one does not get the nature of how sociality under the King shapes people into the Kingdom.  For all these reasons and more, I have a new phrase when I see signs of ekklesaphobia manifesting itself. I say “DON’T BE AN EKKLESAPHOBE.”

The sources of ekklesaphobia come from various places. I’ll just name 3 which I hope to expound upon in my next post. First, We’re afraid of repeating the colonialist mistake. Second we’re afraid of the protestant principle (a version of the ecclesial mistake of triumphalism in culture). Third, many of us have been abused by church authority and we’ll do anything to avoid that hell again 🙂 . These fears lead us to throw out the practices (like worship, ordination, discipleship/baptism) by which God forms His people as the means to extend the presence of Christ in the world.

Of course, I have a fourth fear, and that is that once people are given permission to not fear the church practices anymore they will revert back to the default ways they have grown up with doing church. They will then repeat all the things that have gone wrong in N American ecclesiology these past 40 years (I’ve seen this way too often). I think therefore we must learn from each of these historical problems. So I will post some thoughts on each of these three fears in the next few weeks. Til then I urge people: Don’t Be an Ekklesaphobe 🙂

What do you think? Is there an eklessiaphobia in the missional church? What drives it? In what ways is it healthy? Is it unhealthy?