The rallying cry of the Christian small group philosophy is this: “Let’s do life together!”
It’s meant to be a callback to and a restoration of the New Testament church, to small groups of believers who worshiped, prayed, ate, and served together. Acts 2:42-46 describes this church in brief:
They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts…
Unfortunately, I suspect that much of our current definition of fellowship – and, if I dare say it, of “doing life together” – coincides little with the concept of fellowship (koinonia) that the ancient church shared.
Modern church fellowship, inasmuch as I have experienced, consists largely of what I can only describe as “Christians doing things together.” The thing varies – might be a dinner, might be a cornhole tournament, might be a golfing or a white-water rafting outing, might be a camping trip or a movie – but the principle remains the same. Believers get together to have a good time. Sometimes they open with a prayer or share a Bible study or devotional while having a good time.
And it’s not that it’s bad to have a good time. Nor is it wrong for believers to get together for the express purpose of having a good time. But it’s inaccurate, I think to always call that “fellowship.” It’s not. And in fact, calling it fellowship reduces what fellowship really is. The Babylon Bee, a Christian satirical website, skewers this pretty accurately with the following observation:
…the applications of ‘doing life together’ are essentially limitless.
“Basically, whatever you want to do becomes a church-endorsed evangelical activity – write-offs and all – as long as you use those magic words” (Source).
“Believers doing fun things together” or “believers having a good time together” isn’t what the ancient church considered fellowship to be – even though I am sure that they did have fun together quite frequently. Rather, the Greek word that translates to our “fellowship” is koinonia. Koinonia can imply, in various contexts, quite a lot of things: joint and intimate sharing in a community or venture, common partnership or interest, and the sort of unity and empowerment that comes of being part of a group. It’s even used in some cases to refer to marriage!
Regardless, the key concepts of koinonia are always intimacy, active contribution and participation, and a shared sense of goals and purpose in Christ. It’s not a passive concept. Koinonia does not just happen when you go and sit in a room with other believers, or go golfing or kayaking with them. Koinonia comes of working and serving together, of spending enough time together to know each other like family, and of sharing in abundance and in sacrifice.
In that light, how does your recent small fellowship outing stack up?
Again – there’s nothing wrong with believers wanting to get together and to have some fun. But calling that “fellowship” reduces what is actually expected of us as a community of believers. We’re called to a life of service together far beyond a shared meal or a once-a-week study. We’re called to serve alongside each other in the work of Christ, to be generous with and to sacrifice for each other, and to know and love each other in the way Christ knows and loves us.
Do you have an intimate knowledge of and love for the people you fellowship with, or are they church acquaintances whom you don’t really spend time with outside of the house of God? In your acts of fellowship, are you serving with intentional hearts and minds and keeping the purposes of God in mind, or is the act more indulgent and self-gratifying? Does your generosity and your sacrifice extend to those you fellowship with, all and equally, or is it something you retain for only a select and favored few? Do you serve others who fellowship with you? Are you there when they are hurting or in need?
All of these are questions worth considering. And from here on out, I intend to ask them of myself before I determine whether what I’m doing really falls under the umbrella of “fellowship” or “doing life together.” If not, I’m perfectly content to call the next book-club group or crafting social what it really is: a bunch of believers getting together to have a good time.
6 thoughts on “We Need To Rediscover The Meaning of Fellowship”
Great post. You already know I agree, due to some of our “chats” and one part in my book. : ) I really long for genuine fellowship and wonder if I will ever find it. I think as an introvert, I in particular need and crave deeper relationships, and I notice its lack and the presence of superficiality even more so than others. Donald Whitney has some good tips on creating genuine fellowship and moving conversations into the spiritual. Sadly, I have found that trying some of these little things makes people uncomfortable! A simple question about spiritual life creates awkwardness. How can this be? We are supposed to be Christians!!!!!
Here are 2 posts of mine. Just skip to the quotes…I’m sure you’ll appreciate them.
“Nowhere in the New Testament do any of the Greek words translated fellowship imply fun times…”
Thanks! Every now and then I do crack up at how similar our thoughts are on these topics. But you know, I just now read over your posts and what you mention about people drifting away (as a result of this emphasis on socialization v. fellowship) really hits home. That lack of fellowship really does result in people leaving a church and sometimes THE church. It’s so easy to lose people through the cracks that way. While my husband and I are fortunately pretty committed when we find a church regardless of the fellowship aspect, I’ve watched other people vanish because they just can’t handle what in the end amounts to not having any deep relationships. It’s really sad.
I crave genuine fellowship, too (with someone other than my mother and my husband!) and I read those Whitney questions and LOVED them. They are exactly the sorts of conversations and discussions I’d love to have – but you’re right, it would get some awkward stares around these parts. In the meantime, I often get discouraged by church socialization in general – the small talk and the activity-based nature of it, as well as the fact that none of the “friendship” ever seems to stem in a meaningful way beyond the activity, puts me off. Having some good God-centered conversations and sharing would go such a long way, but it seems to be in short supply these days.
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Reblogged this on Talmidimblogging.
For me, this type of fellowship only happens in really small groups – like with a few close friends that come over for dinner or just to hang out and talk. The church gatherings and church events and even many church “small” groups” are too large and too structured to really get to know the other people (at least in my opinion). But it is pretty hard to find other people who have the time to just be together and talk and share.
You know, that’s a great point, and I agree.
The “fellowship” time in a lot of small groups is…what? Half an hour? Maybe a little over? And full of a lot of people talking together, which prohibits the kind of discussions/sharing you’re talking about. And you’re right about size, too – the “smallest” small group I’ve been in was about 8-10 people, which is still a lot in terms of conversation, discussion, etc. The environment just isn’t conducive to true fellowship.
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