This past weekend I was blessed to speak to a Bible study group hosted by Hopkins United Methodist Church, located in a beautiful farming community south of Grand Rapids, Michigan. My dear friend, publicist, co-author, and partner-in-crime Wanda Sanchez accompanied me, and we somehow managed to meander to the wrong address and arrive at the lovely home of our host on Gun Lake.
Our miscalculation, I’m sure, was due to our distraction by the beautiful countryside and our loud singing to radio tunes.
When we finally arrived at the church (on time, since we’d left early), we sensed within the first five minutes that we were not fulfilling a speaking commitment that day. We would be fellowshipping with new friends from the Hopkins community.
But what makes the difference? What is the essence of true fellowship? How does it differ from sharing culture, values, opinions, location, time, or common ground with someone?
1. One quality of fellowship is partnership. Philemon 6:6
“I pray that your partnership with us in the faith may be effective in deepening your understanding of every good thing we share for the sake of Christ” (NIV).
The word for “fellowship” in the Greek is koinonia, which means communion, partnership, or togetherness. It means having things in common or to share a partnership. The moment Wanda and I met the women and men from the group we met on Saturday, we felt a shared bond. I’ve had this experience with Facebook friends–an immediate bond of love and commonality of spirit, even though we’ve never met and don’t necessarily know a lot of personal details about one another.
Unfortunately, you may attend a church for years and never feel fellowship. Or you may step onto a plane and feel the bond immediately with a seat mate. Fellowship is a manifestation of the work of the Holy Spirit. It springs up apart from denomination, race, gender, class, culture, or diversity in age. Some of my sweetesst fellowship is with a dear friend named Gladys, who is a 93 year-old missionary who was a close friend of my deceased parents.
2. A second quality of fellowship is unity. John 17:23
” I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me” (ESV).
Unfortunately, one of the things churches, Christian organizations and Christian groups are least known for is unity. Churches split, organizations unethically fire and dismiss leaders and employees, and groups factionalize, fragment, and fracture like shattering glass. The Bible study group that I spoke to on Saturday had been together for decades. The membership was represented by women and men from the age of ninety-three down to their early thirties. It was refreshing to see men and women laughing and serving together. During our brunch, the room was so filled with laughter that at times it was hard for me to concentrate.
Jesus would have loved it! I know I did. I know that I’ve been disheartened enough to leave several Christian groups because of criticism tests toward husbands, in-laws, pastors (of any kind), parents, mothers, fathers, the elderly, the pierced the tattooed, the addicted, the wrongly attired, the musically conservative, the musically liberal, and on and on. And, sadly, I know I’ve taken part in far too many of those conversations myself to put myself above others.
But the truth is, we’re called to unity. God doesn’t just suggest it. For a great resource on this topic, read Real Love: Where Bible and Life Meet by Thaddeus Barnum.
3. A third quality of fellowship is service. Heb. 6:10
” God is not unjust; he will not forget your work and the love you have shown him as you have helped his people and continue to help them (NIV).
It’s no secret that I haven’t been well for the past few years. I have to be careful about the speaking commitments that I accept. I’m fairly unable to speak any later than 5:00 in the evening, so I typically ask churches and organizations if they can accommodate me for a brunch or luncheon. My health also forces me to make other requests–for seating, limited walking, assistance with books, etc. I’ve had to adjust to asking for special accommodations, but I’ve also been blessed to discover that God’s people delight to serve.
When we’re united in a bond of Christ, we’re delighted to have the opportunity to serve and accommodate the needs of others. We don’t find it necessary to evaluate the judge those needs according to a personal set of criteria. The Spirit of God moves and we respond.
4. A fourth quality of fellowship is transparency. 2 Cor 1:12
“For our boast is this, the testimony of our conscience, that we behaved in the world with simplicity[a] and godly sincerity, not by earthly wisdom but by the grace of God, and supremely so toward you.Fellowship requires that we be honest about who we are and how we struggle” (ESV). We don’t worry about pretense or putting on a facade of perfection in front of others. This can be a struggle. And popular culture makes it even more difficult.
For instance, social media can make it possible for people to hide their worst and feel that it’s necessary to keep up with what they falsely perceive to be the “best.” Many young moms state that they struggle with pressure to keep up other young moms:
But social media is not our measuring stick of performance. Our boast is who we are in God, who He has made us to be in Him, and who He promises to make us become. We can be transparent because we are forgiven and flawless in His sight.
Fellowship takes work. It comes at a price. It’s not a passive act of showing up and expecting to enjoy the company of others. It’s making ourselves available to serve and to commit to active partnership with those in the family of God. Fellowship requires transparence and a commitment to unity–things that require sacrifice and work on our part.
How has fellowship affected your life? How are you involved in fellowship?