Three Critical Elements of Fellowship

freely-10106-preview-973x973The unfortunate reality of the world we live in is that fellowship is no longer prioritized in the church. This marginalization of a key mark of the New Testament church only makes sense though. In a cultural milieu that places an inordinate amount of emphasis on expressing one’s self, being one’s self, and promoting one’s self it only makes sense that fellowship, dependent as it is on denying one’s self, submitting one’s self, and reforming one’s self, has fallen out of favor.

If we have any hope of regaining fellowship as a celebrated and integral part of church life, we have to figure out how to overcome the overwhelming cultural influences of the day. Though I know that there are more, I would suggest three (helpfully alliterated) components for rebuilding fellowship.

Gaining the right historical perspective

My mom just gave us a cutting from a plant that my grandmother has that she might have got from a plant that her grandmother had. Now, I can go to Home Depot and buy a new plant anytime. They’re cheap, they’re usually healthy, and when I inevitably kill it I can go buy another one. But it doesn’t mean anything. A plant with a family heritage behind it is much better, even if it’s visually the same. The history makes it so much better. I look at the plant differently.

Too often we have too short a history to have true fellowship. We have the wrong perspective. We settle for Home Depot fellowship. Cheap, fast, and disposable. We have fellowship with someone until they make us mad. Then we dump them and move on. It’s a perspective problem. The kind of perspective that fellowship grows best in isn’t what that so and so said last week, what he did last year, what she posted last month. You’ll never have fellowship if your relationships are defined by past offenses, anger, and accusations. That’s too short-sighted.

Instead, we need to recognize that true fellowship is based on the history of Jesus Christ, God’s Son, coming to earth, being a man, walking, talking, eating with us. Dying, bleeding, buried. Raised, exalted, and glorious. Fellowship with other people is grounded in the fact that God sought fellowship with you at the expense of His Son. With the right perspective, fellowship stops being about you and what you want and how you were wronged and becomes a desire for God to be glorified and for there to be unity between brothers and sisters in Christ. For the Christian, joy is not possible if he or she is out of fellowship with God OR with a fellow believer. Jesus really came to earth and that historical reality changes everything!

Emphasizing holiness

Contrary to most people’s expectations, fellowship is not best gained by deemphasizing holiness. Rather, fellowship is not possible without strongly emphasizing it! There has to be a standard, there has to be expectations for fellowship to work. Everyone in church life talks about fellowship, but we have to understand that our words don’t mean a thing if our life contradicts them.

Fellowship is not based on words; it’s based on lived truth. I’m not saying that salvation is dependent on your works. Scripture’s pretty clear that that’s not the case. But I am saying that salvation is revealed by works and fellowship is dependent on them. If you are constantly walking in darkness and professing faith, you’re a liar and aren’t going to be able to fellowship with God or with anyone else. If you are occasionally falling into darkness, repenting, and seeking restoration with God and others, you’re practicing the truth.

Another reason to emphasize holiness is the simple fact that a life that is in fellowship with God will be in fellowship with others. It is natural. If we are in good relational standing with the Creator, we will line up with His creatures, particularly His image bearers. There is a one to one correlation between your relationship with God and your relationship with others. If you are walking in the light of God’s holiness, you have fellowship with others.

Ultimately, though, all of our efforts at holiness will fall short. And that’s good news! Because self-sufficiency does not lead to fellowship, with God or with our brothers and sisters. Scripture calls us to a godly struggle for holiness while also revealing that we will never be good enough. It’s at that point that we must recognize that Jesus’ blood is the only avenue to fellowship with God and with others. Left to our own devices, we won’t make it. But God makes a way through his grace. That’s hard for us to accept. We all want the boast of self-sufficiency. We all want to be master of our fate, captain of our own ship. But we can’t. We need Jesus. We need Him for salvation and we need Him for fellowship. That’s why this last point is so important.

Recovering humility

Pride makes us want to pretend we are sinless. Pride kills fellowship. To pretend that we don’t have sin to repent of is effectively declaring that Jesus died for nothing. That’s a lie. God won’t let us get away with it. The antidote for our pride, the potion for restored fellowship, is humility. The recognition that the world is not waiting breathlessly for my next social media update is a good step towards humility. Confessing sin to one another is a great step to building in ourselves the mind of Christ.

Fellowship is ultimately just mutually acted out humility. If the modern church is going to demonstrate appealing fellowship to the world, we have to be humble. This means individual humility, where no one believer thinks more highly of himself than he ought, but it also means corporate humility. Whites and blacks, old immigrants and new immigrants, Calvinists and Arminians: none of these are better than any of the others. But until we all recognize it and live it, fellowship will remain marginalized and disposable.

Let’s do it.

Outreach and Evangelism Strategy

This PowerPoint presentation has the outline of an evangelism initiative that we launched at my previous church. We simply asked for Sunday School class members to commit to various levels of evangelistic engagement: praying for the lost, inviting them to church, and sharing the gospel with them. Outreach and Evangelism Vision

Discipleship Process

The perennial problem for almost every church is the revolving back door. This problem stems in large part from a failure to establish a clear discipleship process. The goal of the church ought to be not only to share the gospel and see conversions but also to make disciples of those whose lives are impacted by the ministry of the church.  Only by keeping the people involved and committed will true Christian discipleship be accomplished.  Continue reading “Discipleship Process”

Discipleship: Encounter

The initial stage of this process is a personal ENCOUNTER with Jesus and a salvation decision. This step is essential for not just the eternal security of the individual, but also for the long-term health of the church. We need people who have submitted themselves to Jesus as Lord as a part of the local church. Continue reading “Discipleship: Encounter”

Discipleship: Engage

After a person has joined the church, the next step in the process is for them to ENGAGE through small groups and discipleship. Small groups are an important element in disciple-making and need to be a central element to the assimilation of new members.  The new member in a church can feel lost in the crowd, but a small group setting like Sunday School affords them the opportunity to build close relationships with and to be ministered to in a more personal manner.  Continue reading “Discipleship: Engage”

Discipleship: Encourage

This step, ENCOURAGE, is the make or break moment for the maturity of the member.  Many members are content to sit back and let the professionals, i.e. paid staff, do the work of ministry.  However, that is not a biblical understanding of the Christian’s responsibility to the church.  A member who engages through a small group is much less likely to leave, but that is not the end goal for the Christian.  A member who begins encouraging others through service in the body is much more productive for the kingdom.  Continue reading “Discipleship: Encourage”

Discipleship: Expand

After a member begins serving at the church, there is still one step they need to take.  We want and desire service to the body of the church, but we want and desire for the kingdom to EXPAND.  Members need to understand their responsibility to take the gospel in both verbal and active forms to the community, country, and world.  Again, the church will need to provide venues for members to take the gospel out, but at this point in the development, it is also logical to assume that members will begin taking initiative in outreach and evangelism.  Continue reading “Discipleship: Expand”