Series Theme: Looking for a Better Church: A Church Check
Title: 5. Fellowship
I said at the end of the main Introduction page that I have written in some detail on all these topics elsewhere and so these are very much summary or quick-to-use check pages. No more is this true than in this page. Much can be said about true fellowship (as I have said in the ‘Looking Afresh' series) and so I will limit this paragraph to a summary of what you may find in that main teaching series:
5.2 The Reality
The reality is that I have only ever known what is described above in one unique group, even though I have led many house groups etc. It was the last group before I retired! But it is possible! What is above IS possible, yet so often it is not the reality of experience that many believers know of as ‘church'.
Why is that? I have concluded that it is because in such house groups or cells, the place where it may occur corporately more often than anywhere else, we so often focus on other things:
Now as much as each of these are good and important and, I believe, essential to church experience, for the church to be built as a body, the issue of real fellowship must come first. People do not get built together in love until they have had opportunity to genuinely fellowship together and come into a place of security where honest sharing and loving acceptance are the norm – and that takes time and space.
To highlight the differences between real fellowship and surface encounters, may I share a silly thing that happened recently. I was part of a group that I have now known for several years and one person was doing something a bit odd, let's say, and I made a bantering comment about what had happened. My comment was simple and lacking any intent to hurt or wound but afterwards my wife chided me for the comment – and I felt really bad – or at least until I really thought about it.
In my previous group where we knew fellowship, where security and reality were there, where friendships involving openness and honesty prevailed, banter, making funny comments about and to one another, were the norm. Such things were not hurtful; they were simply the acknowledgement that we are all people with foibles – and I received as much ribbing as anyone else.
This present group has only surface encounter and there is little real sharing and no sense of security and so real friendships are rare. Without these things, encounter is formal, people are ‘nice', and unreal, and banter is inappropriate because it could be harmful and threatening.
Jesus puts it simply : “Love one another as I have loved you.” The apostle Paul wrote, “ Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.” (1 Cor 13:4-7)
When, as Christians, we truly love one another and we have opportunity to truly fellowship, then we can receive the loving input of others who we know will be there for us. That in turn builds us up and we do genuinely grow into that body that the apostle Paul spoke about: “From him (Jesus) the whole body … grows and builds itself up in love.” (Eph 4:16)
This is what this is all about, but it doesn't happen unless we understand the spiritual and psychological dynamics of it and work to bring it about. The evidence is that often in churches this hasn't happened. May it be changed.