Saturday, July 07, 2007


Our small groups this summer are working through CJ Mahoney's book "Why Small Groups". (You can download a pdf version here.) In this second week, Chapter Two, the topic is on fellowship, and is called Fellowship Rediscovered. John Loftness, the author of this particular chapter, points out that today's church has redefined and simplified fellowship to mean any warm human interaction. But, this is NOT biblical fellowship.

SaLT MeetingThis study is requiring those of us in small groups, or in any Christian community, to examine what we are doing to foster real, biblical fellowship. Fellowship is not a small group bible study where we meet together to discuss theology and learn about Biblical truths while we sit in a room together. It is not attending a Women of Faith, or a Promise Keepers gathering where emotional stimulation is high and we are surrounded by hundreds of others in the faith. It is not friendly conversations with other sisters in Christ who share the same interests like blogging, gardening or movies, nor is it a men's social gathering to watch the Super Bowl or go whitewater rafting.

At our church we have FWF, First Wednesday Fellowship. This is a meal we share together the First Wednesday of every month, and it is usually a potluck type deal. We eat together and mingle with one another sharing stories of our week, laughing about various experiences and simply sharing what's going on. I believe the purpose behind this is noble because the intent is for believers to "break bread" together and work to build relationships. Unfortunately, building relationships, even with other believers, requires effort, and too many of us aren't willing to commit to relationship building in the way God intended.

Truthfully, I don't much enjoy FWF and rarely attend. One reason is it's all surface stuff, it's all "small talk", and introverts like me don't ever really enjoy that kind of stuff anyway. I don't think anyone over the years has ever asked "So, what is God doing in your life these days Sue?" Although there are exceptions, because I know for a fact there are good, sound, and biblical relationships being fostered at my church, the word fellowship, in general has come to mean food and small talk. The many SaLT Groups (small groups) in our church that meet weekly will have a good half hour to an hour of "fellowship" before the study begins, and that means we share a light meal together before bible study. Christians toss the term fellowship around like it is some sort of an event, when it is much more than that.

So what is fellowship? What does God intend it to be?
"Fellowship is a uniquely Christian relational experience. No one but those born of the Spirit of God can have fellowship"... "participating together in the life and truth made possible by the Holy Spirit through our union with Christ. Fellowship is sharing something in common on the deepest possible level of human relationship -- our experience with God himself."
In order to have fellowship with each other, Christians must first have fellowship with God. God is the source of fellowship, and fellowship is manifested through the Holy Spirit directly in our hearts, and the work of the Holy Spirit through other believers. God is the source and He designed us to work together in His love and mercy, to grow in knowledge of Him. He designed us to use the spiritual gifts he gave us to encourage one another in the faith, lift one another up in prayer, work to restore one another to fellowship when one strays from the faith, carry one another's burdens, and worship Him.

Fellowship isn't all roses. It's dirty work. It's sacrificial work. Sometimes it hurts.
John 15:12-13

"My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends."
If we are commanded to love each enough to lay down our lives for each other, then, as the leader of last weeks group said, "changing diapers shouldn't be anything". When a couple you know is struggling through a difficult time in their marriage, maybe it is time you took their kids for a weekend so that they might have some alone time to work things through. Maybe it is time you volunteered to pick up the "shut ins" from your church and get them to a worship service, and really get to know them on the way. Maybe it is time to listen to your friend without offering your words of wisdom. Maybe it is time to go to your friend who you suspect is involved in some type of sin, and talk to them about it, and be willing to carry that burden as well. Go to that AA meeting with them, hold them when they cry, and not think about yourself.

Fellowship is an investment in each other. Love God first, then love others. This is what Jesus taught, this is what Jesus did. When we do this, we are most like Christ.

Justin PraysHave you listened to a list of prayer requests in your community of believers recently? It strikes me that many of the requests are for physical healing of self, family and/or friends. I can also recall a number of times people have requested prayer for a non-believer they know, that they may come to know Christ. But, how often do you hear a fellow Christian ask for prayer about a spiritual need that they themselves have? Are we sharing each other's burdens like we are supposed to? Why?

We can't share each other's burdens unless we reveal that we have any! Fellowship, true Godly fellowship, would foster an atmosphere that would allow freedom to worship and freedom to confess! Freedom to confess without fear of judgment or condescension! If we can't fellowship as God intended, how will we ever be successful at discipleship?

What can the church do to be proactive about fellowship? Be careful to understand that doing any of these things will not automatically produce fellowship, these, instead are "means of fellowship". This is a list from Chapter Two:
  1. Share about our spiritual experiences.
  2. Confess our sins to one another.
  3. Correct one another.
  4. Serve on another in practical ways.
These are some of the discussion questions, and some of my own, that conclude the chapter and really gave me some things to consider. Maybe they will for you too.
  • Can you name an activity you once believed to be fellowship, but which actually is not?
  • Which spiritual gifts do you think you possess? How might these promote fellowship in your small group?
  • Do you know the spiritual gifts of the members of your small group? Are those gifts being utilized in your group?
  • Do you know about the major spiritual experiences of the members in your group?
  • Self-sufficiency, formality, bitterness, elitism; Do these categories suggest any sin you may need to confess?
  • Do you know how God is currently working in the lives of the members of your group?

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