I remember, as a young Christian, attending a newcomers meeting for a church I had begun to attend. I listened with interest as the pastor talked about the church’s priorities. I nodded in agreement as he talked about worship, evangelism, discipleship and prayer. But when he got to the word fellowship, I felt a disconnect. For me, fellowship was Christians eating donuts and drinking coffee and I just couldn’t understand how it could be important to God. It took many years for me to figure out what fellowship really is, but again and again it has been the means that God has used to sustain my faith, keep me grounded and help me thrive in my relationship with Jesus. I wonder whether you really understand what fellowship is and why you need it.
The early church was big on fellowship. Acts 2:42 says, “And they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” Fellowship here is a word that means sharing something in a partnership or a small community. When it says that the early believers devoted themselves to “the fellowship,” what it’s saying is that they were committed to sharing their life in Christ together. They had a conviction that their faith was something that would grow only as they grew in relationship with one another and supported and encouraged one another in it. The problem today is that people can “attend church” for years and think that because they show up for an event seated with other Christians, they’ve participated in fellowship. The reality is that there often has been no sharing of the spiritual life and growth is stunted as a result. The extreme 21st c. version of this occurs where people don’t even attend church at all but instead listen to a preacher on television. The greater the isolation, the greater the danger.
At Grace, as in many churches, our appeal to Christians is to get out of rows and into circles. Our life groups provide a structured opportunity for fellowship and it’s our hope that the fellowship that begins in the group will spill over into the rest of life. Let me share four reasons why I feel small groups should be an essential part of even the busiest Christian’s week:
Small group meetings were the pattern of the early church. In describing the church in Jerusalem, Acts 2:46 speaks of believers “attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes.” Gathering in homes made it possible for Christians to get to know each other on a deeper, more personal, level.
A lot of the Christian life is impossible to live out on Sunday morning. The Bible is filled with “one another” verses commanding believers to “bear one another’s burdens” (Galatians 6:2), “build one another up” (1 Thessalonians 5:11), “confess your sins to one another” (James 5:16), and “love one another” (John 15:12). It’s only as a small group of believers commit face time to each other that any of these commands become feasible. And yet this fellowship is at the heart of God’s plan for us to grow.
Seeing God through other people impacts our lives. Studying the Bible for yourself is crucial. And corporate worship is vital. But time and again people have told me that it was the timely word of another Christian, or the faith of another believer, that gave them the courage they needed to trust God in a difficult situation. God uses other people to make His Word more real to us but if we’re not developing meaningful relationships with other believers, we miss out on the impact He seeks to make through them.
Small groups are how we support one another as a church. People will sometimes talk in the abstract about what “the church” should be doing. But WE are the church – all of us! In Scripture, fellowship is God’s primary means of supporting believers and so we’ve made small groups the centre of our church’s plan to care for its members. Until we all get out of rows and into circles it’s difficult for us to get and give the support we need.
If you’re not in a life group, let me encourage you to make time for one this fall. We have groups meeting almost every night of the week now in locations that are convenient to most of the congregation. If you’re not sure where to start, send me an e-mail and I’ll get some information into your hands. Just don’t miss out on this vital means for your growth and support.
In awe of Him,