Fellowship. It’s such a rich and meaningful word in the Bible, and yet a somewhat generic catch-all term in the vernacular of modern Christians. What is fellowship? In Scripture, fellowship is a word used to describe the common life that Christians enjoy with one another, as those who have been brought into a reconciled relationship with God through Christ by grace. Entire books have been written to flesh out this one word, given the depth and breadth of its use in the Bible.
If we were to do a study together of the concept (not just the word itself) of fellowship in the NT – at least as it concerns fellowship between Christians – we would see five major themes emerge from that study. To summarize, according to Scripture, Christian fellowship includes at least these five things:
- Sharing in the life and grace of God through our common union with Christ. (Acts 2:41ff; 1 Corinthians 1:9; 10:16; 2 Corinthians 13:14; Philippians 2:1; 3:10; 1 John 1:3, 7)
- Viewing and treating one another as genuine family members because of our common union with Christ. (Acts 2:42-47; Philemon 1:6; 1 John 1:3)
- Talking about and enjoying God and the Gospel with one another on frequent and regular basis. (Acts 2:42-47; Ephesians 4:11-16)
- Actively partnering with one another to minister to people and promote the Gospel. (Galatians 2:9; Philippians 1:5)
- Using our resources generously to bless one another in tangible ways. (Acts 2:44-45; Romans 15:26; 2 Corinthians 8:4; 9:13; Hebrews 13:16)
Is this what you are experiencing in your local church, Christian? I would suspect that for many of us, the biblical descriptions of fellowship simply do not resonate with much of our experience with our fellow Christians.
Why is that?
Surely some (or much?) of the blame falls on us, right? Often times, the phrase “you get out of it what you put into it” holds true when it comes to the level of true fellowship that we experience in our local churches. And if we’re honest, when it comes to fellowship, we often don’t put a whole lot into it.
So, let’s be honest. If we expect the depth of our fellowship in the body of Christ to increase, we need to make the most of the opportunities we are given for it in our local churches. If we wait around for everyone else to “get their act together,” we’ll never experience, enjoy, or profit from genuine Christian fellowship. Fellowship begins with us. And, with the turn of a New Year, we have a great opportunity to evaluate ourselves to see how we need to grow, and what we can do to make the most of the means God has given us to make us more like Christ; means, like fellowship.
So, do you want to make the most of fellowship in 2019? Here are ten words of counsel to help you do just that.
One: Resist the urge toward isolation and independence.
The urge toward isolation and independence lives in all of us. Truly, it has since the Fall. Sin separates us from God and from one another. This is true even for those more extroverted in nature (unlike me!). Those who may not take great pleasure in being alone are often prone to settle for (and even enjoy) more superficial relationships with others. This too is a form of isolation. Yet, fellowship by nature is relational. It requires being with people. And it requires going deep with people. Isolation from meaningful relationships with others does not make us better people. Our souls shrivel in isolation, whether we’re talking about the isolation of literal aloneness, or the isolation of superficiality. So, we need to actively resist the urge to go through life alone.
Two: View your fellow church members as the family God has given you to love.
You don’t get to pick your church family, just like you don’t get to pick your earthly family. By that I do not mean that you are not free to choose your local church freely and voluntarily. Rather, I mean that you don’t ultimately get to decide which Christians become a part of your local church and which ones don’t. God gets to decide those things. Because of this, you and I don’t get to cherry pick which fellow members we are going to love. If God has welcomed someone into his family, and placed that someone into my local church, that someone is my brother or my sister in Christ and someone I am called to love (Romans 14:1, 3). So, if out of nothing else than faith in God and his Word, we need to view them as our spiritual family members.
Three: Seek to know as many in the church as you can.
It’s very hard to love people you don’t know (though admittedly, it’s also hard to love people you do know, just for other reasons). So, one very basic step toward biblical fellowship is simply to get to know some people in your local church.
This is purely my opinion here, but I would say that you’ve been in your church for two years or more, you ought to be able to at least identify 100-200 people in it. In a church the size of my church (about 140 people), you should be able to identify every person in your church directory.
So, if you’ve been around your church for a while, and when reading through your church directory you come across a name that you aren’t familiar with – a name that you can’t match with a face, assuming that you have a church of 500 people or less (which is most of the readers of this blog, I assume), then go figure out who that person is and introduce yourself. Don’t be content with not at least knowing who people are and having some level of understanding of their general life situation. It may take some time; and that’s okay. No issue there. Just work on it.
Four: Make it easy for others to get to know you.
This is such basic stuff, right? Let people in! When they ask how you’re doing, let them know how you’re doing (even if you’re doing really crummy). If they ask to get together with you sometime, find an hour in your schedule to get together.
Likewise, when someone asks, How can I pray for you? Give them an honest answer with at least some specific detail. When you’re struggling, tell someone whether they ask or not. When God provides something good in your life, share that with someone. We’re called to “rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep” (Rom 12:15), but this implies some sort of transparency with one another. People have to know when we’re rejoicing and know when we’re weeping, and it’s usually best to hear it from the horse’s mouth.
Five: Go deep and get serious with at least a few.
It probably needs to be said that even if you are in a smaller sized church, you cannot know everyone at the same level, you are not expected to be close to everyone, and you are not required to be best friends with everyone. You simply cannot go deep with everyone (and not everyone is required to go deep with you!). But, you should be going deep with someone, somewhere in the church; whether in a small group, or in a close friendship, or in a Bible study, or with another person or two in your same life situation.
Don’t settle for surface relationships. Meet with someone or with a specific group regularly to talk about life, to share struggles and joys, to pray for one another, to share from God’s Word, and to meet one another’s physical needs. You aren’t called to do that for everyone (as Eph 4 says, you only need to do your part). But you are called to do that for someone, or for some specific group of people.
Six: Do ministry together.
Explore ways to fulfill the Great Commission (making disciples of Jesus) together. If you are a teacher, bounce your ideas off of other people. Ask for input. Think of a cool way to serve the community and then ask a few people to do it with you (remember, the whole church isn’t called to get behind everything you are personally interested in doing). When you see a need in the church that needs addressed, find others to partner with to meet that need. Do ministry with others.
Seven: Leverage your gifts and resources to glorify God and bless others.
This includes both spiritual gifts (i.e. abilities that God has given you in particular to glorify him and build up other Christians) and material resources. Remember that the abundance God has blessed you with, is not merely for you. It’s given to you as a gift to be leveraged for the good of others and the glory of God. It’s been entrusted to you to use for good.
We all have unique ways to do this. So, look at the ways God has blessed you and then prayerfully consider how you might maximize those blessings to do good to others with them.
Eight: Be transparent and honest about your needs.
Listen, we’re not all doing fine. Okay? We all know that, and yet almost everyone in the world says they’re doing fine.
How are you doing?
Oh, I’m fine. How are you?
I’m fine too.
Really? You’re fine? You’re not struggling with sin? You’ve not been hurt by anyone this week? Nothing has disappointed you in the recent past? You’re not struggling in any way to believe the Word; to trust God; to find assurance of his love and faithfulness? You have no physical needs? No money problems? No health problems? No people problems? You’re just fine.
Gag. We’re not fine! We live in a fallen world, in fallen bodies, with fallen desires, around fallen people, and we’re still waiting for our perfect Savior to come and rescue us from all of that. You’ve got problems and so do I. Let’s get over ourselves and be honest with one another.
Nine: Take seriously the responsibility to point one another to Christ.
I think we all know that church is not a social club. Far from it, actually. The church is the “pillar and support of the truth” of the Gospel of Christ (1 Timothy 3:15), which has been given one over-arching task, and that is to hold high and keep safe the Gospel, in which we stand and by which we are being saved, insofar as we hold fast to it (1 Corinthians 15:2). And it is the task of every member, to be massaging that message, in various ways, in all kinds of relationships, and in different contexts – into everything the church. Ephesians 4:15 says that it is by speaking the truth (the truth of God and the Gospel) in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ. We don’t grow apart from the truth. The Gospel makes us grow.
And honestly, this gets us very close to the real nature of biblical ministry. Ministry in many ways is just speaking the truth in love to one another. It’s passing on the Word, from one person to another, helping one another trust and believe the Word, over time and many conversations and many gatherings and in many settings. Regardless of your gifts, this is one of your primary responsibilities as a church member, and when taken seriously, supernaturally deepens the fellowship of the body of Christ.
Ten: Keep it up until you die or until Jesus returns.
It’s so easy to criticize the church. It’s easy to walk away from the church. But Jesus is committed to his church. He’s committed to his people; to growing them and to changing them until the day he comes again.
And if Jesus isn’t going to bail on the church, neither should we.
None of this is easy. Absolutely none of it. And all of it poses some measure of risk. You are going to be hurt in the church. You are going to be disappointed by the church. You are going to be frustrated in the church. But this is where Christ by his Spirit is most active. This is where God is doing his redemptive work.
So let’s keep at it. Keep loving, Christian. Keep learning. Keep pouring into your brothers and sisters, so that we might all grow up together and enjoy the fellowship God intends for us to enjoy.