Spiritual Disciplines: Fellowship
If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin. ~ 1 John 1:6-7
If the first thing that comes to your mind when talking about gathering together for fellowship is “who is going to bring the food?” you probably aren’t thinking about the spiritual discipline of fellowship. I want to be fair and agree that gathering to share a meal, to casually connect and share about what is happening in one’s life, is a form of fellowship. After all, fellowship is defined as a “community of shared interest, activity, feeling or experience” as well as “a company of equals or friends.” But when we talk about the spiritual discipline of fellowship, a casual gathering is just very start, the very tip of the iceberg of what we are talking about.
To better understand what the spiritual discipline of fellowship looks like, J.R.R. Tolkien’s “Fellowship of the Ring” has been suggested as a better metaphor. Tolkien’s fellowship forms as a group of unlikely, rather diverse people with equally diverse gifts and skills embark on a common quest to bring a powerful ring to Mt. Doom, the only place where it can be destroyed and thus prevent it from falling into the wrong hands. If you are familiar with the story at all, you know they face various trials, challenges, and battles along the way. It isn’t an easy journey. But, by the end, they form a bond which, no matter where life takes them next, will never be broken.
While most of us will never be called upon to undertake a journey as fraught with danger as Frodo and his friends traveled, we do face the challenges of real life. We face cancer and car accidents. We face unexpected job loss and the unexpected loss of loved ones. We face heartbreak and seemingly hopeless situations. It is in these moments where the community that surrounds us, our personal fellowship groups, really matter.
The spiritual discipline of fellowship, by its very definition is one we can’t undertake alone. To be in fellowship requires us to be in the presence of other believers. The last 2 years, as COVID has introduced us to the concepts of social distancing and self-quarantines, we have had to figure out how to have fellowship in new and creative ways. How can we authentically gather and support one another without physically gathering close together? This conundrum has, at least for my family and friends, was one of the biggest challenges of navigating COVID.
And it wasn’t just because misery loves company, but it was also all the missed celebrations and milestones in the lives of others. Going to a wedding over ZOOM just isn’t the same. Not to mention the graduation celebrations, the first and fiftieth birthdays, or the holiday dinners. Gathering together for real, authentic fellowship was something most of us learned to deeply appreciate in the last couple of years.
So how does this apply to our faith? Remember Easter of 2020? Very few churches gathered in person, in their buildings for worship that Sunday. For a lot of us, that was a big part of why it just didn’t really FEEL like Easter. Our hearts understood that faith needs moments of gathering together for worship and prayer. As much as each of us might try, none of us is able to fully reflect who God is. Each person, through their gifts and personalities, reveal something about who God is and when we don’t gather and see that on a larger scale, we end up missing out on experiencing certain aspects of God.
Practicing the spiritual discipline of fellowship, gathering together with others to worship and do life together, reminds us that we are not alone when we facing trials and tribulations. It provides us with a community which has the permission to speak truth into our lives, even when that truth is hard to hear. Being part of fellowship gives us a place to learn, to grow, and to discover more about ourselves and who God has created us to be in this world.
It is easy, especially in our individualistic American culture, to ignore the discipline of fellowship. After all, there are no perfect churches to be found so, eventually, you will find something you disagree with at any church you attend. Church leaders are imperfect humans who will make mistakes. Just this past week the Southern Baptist Convention has found some of its biggest mistakes and sins on display in the national news spotlight. I completely get those who have “thrown in the towel” when it comes to church, opting to go it alone with it comes to matters of faith. I’ve been there myself for a season of life.
To that end, I want to wrap up this post with a challenge. First a two-part challenge to those who are in regular fellowship. Really evaluate your fellowship honestly. What are its strengths and weaknesses? Where does it do a good job in loving others, and where does it fall short? Does it allow those in it to grow, to change, to become more the person God has called them to be? Or does it get anxious and nervous when people start outgrowing the boxes a first impression put them in when they joined? After having done that honest assessment, use the support and safety net you have to reach out to someone who is without fellowship and offer the gift of gathering to them. This doesn’t mean you automatically invite them into your group. Perhaps it means you start something new or walk alongside them as they search for where they are called to find fellowship.
Next, a challenge for those who are not in regular fellowship with other believers. Start. You may have to try out several places, groups, and styles before you find a place where you feel called to be in regular fellowship. No place you find will be perfect, but if you persist you will find the place which is perfect for you. Look for a place which is willing to meet you where you are at. Search for people who will celebrate your gifts, talents, and triumphs but who you can trust enough to also show grace and forgiveness while holding you accountable when you mess up.
Where I have found places to be in fellowship with other believers has changed as I have grown up, matured, and physically moved to new locations throughout the years. But each time I find that right fit for me, it is such a sweet and wonderful blessing in my life. I pray you may find the same sweetness in your life if you haven’t already.
- Which challenge from above is yours to take on? What is the first step, no matter how small, towards taking on that challenge?
- Think about the different groups you are already part of in your life. Co-workers. Friend groups. Book clubs. Sports teams. Bible study groups. What about those groups cause to you find enjoyment and fulfillment in life? What about the groups leaves you feeling empty or lonely?
- What is the hardest part about being in fellowship with your fellow believers?