A fellowship to build.
What is fellowship and how does the dictionary define it? It’s companionship, brotherhood, sisterhood, sociability, belonging; being a member of a club gives you a feeling of fellowship.
Various people stress different things on which they feel the church is needing to concentrate more on getting more people in the pews, encouraging greater commitment from members, developing more effective communication, changing out-worn traditions, conducting livelier worship, finding more ministers, raising more money, having better buildings, showing more social concern and so it goes on.
These are all vitally important issues, but there is a need to be tackled, one which underlines all these other needs, and that is to develop our congregations as caring fellowships.
Care or love is the mark of the church rather than what we believe and profess.
Love is the real witness to our faith because it emboldens what Christian faith is about. The word of God becomes flesh in our loving. In a caring congregation its members will be offered the opportunity to care and be cared for.
Its members will be helped to feel that they belong, are valued, and have a real part to play in the shared ministry of the congregation.
If these needs are not met, people may not feel greatly committed to the church and are likely to view it as a place to which they go frequently or infrequently, rather than as a family or community to which they belong.
The support of the fellowship of a caring congregation is necessary for each individual Christian this surely was part of the reason Jesus brought the Christian community into being, promising his living presence in the midst of those who gathered together in his name.
It is in the laboratory conditions of the church in its local congregations that we can learn and grow, mature and become people God would have us be, people we have within us to be, with the help of God and each other.
In Corinthians 12 Paul speaks about gifts of the spirit saying, “the spirits presence is shown in some way in each person for the good of all”.
He goes on to use the analogy of the human body to talk about the nature of the church, especially with regards to the local congregations. He points out that the strength of the body lies in its different parts, each with a different function, working together. He points out the need for the acceptance of those who differ from us, and of those who are weaker and less attractive. He talks about the inter-relatedness of its members.
There is no division in the body, but all its different parts have the same concern for one another. If one part of the body suffers, all the other parts suffer with it. If one part is praised all the other parts share its happiness.
Paul also says:
“All of you are Christ’s body, and each one is part of it.
Fellowship is an over-used and under-valued word in the church vocabulary. It is often offered at a very superficial level in the life of a congregation. Opportunities to experience it at deeper levels need to be offered; sharing at the heart level as well as at the head level, needs to develop and grow until we discover how it is that we can begin to relate to each other openly, honestly and caringly, learning to drop our masks, barriers and inhibitions.
Good communications need to be applied to the fellowship life of the congregation as openly and lovingly we communicate with people on the level where they are, while being ready to move levels, we begin to model God’s kingdom.
One of the difficulties for some congregations is that they are in many respects too big. We need to meet in smaller groups like the Guild if we are to get know and care for one another. The Sunday worship, which we think of as being a large group gathering, does not as a rule provide the best opportunity for caring for one another, although it can happen to some degree before and after the service.
However I remind you of the young lad I mentioned a few weeks ago who wanted to become a Christian and went to a church for the first time and was shown into a pew where he sat on his own and then at the end of the service was totally ignored by all the other people there. Not good on fellowship.
If caring is basic to life of the congregation, it must dictate the kind of structure s we would have and what goes on within them.
By small group gatherings I mean the opportunity to meet in groups small enough to permit getting to know each other by name, in a way that we cannot in large groups. Having said that I don’t think we have that problem here on Arran.
These small group opportunities, can, and could be held in the homes of members, when there can be generated a real caring for, and sharing with, each other, where they can not only talk about the church, but be the church to each other. As fellowship grows, so openness to learning together will also grow.
As someone once said: ”you don’t need to feel stupid when you know that the people around you love you. Through this you gain confidence.”
In small groups a congregation can bridge the generation gaps which it sadly often reinforces in its organisations. Through these groups the lapsed members can be helped to find a point of re-entry.
As satellites out from the main church building they can be of real value in reaching out to those outside.
Some people who would not dream of coming into a recognised church building would be more willing and prepared to come to the home of a Christian friend, to share in a Christian group. There is great value in offering the experience of belonging to a small group; it lays at the heart of the life of the early church. It has been at the heart of most church revivals. It is natural for Christians to gather in small groups.
It can be offered in a wide variety of ways and different emphases, worship, fellowship, learning and outreach.
Let me leave you with a quote by Jess Moody;
“We will win the world when we realise that fellowship and not evangelism, must be our primary emphasis; when we demonstrate the big miracle of love, it will not be necessary for us to go out to them. They will come in.