When three thousand were converted and baptized on the day of Pentecost, following the Lord’s death and resurrection, “they continued stedfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship” (Acts 2:42).
Obviously, doctrine–what is taught and believed by us–is something we are very intentional about. We rely on ordained ministers to study, prepare, and teach the Bible. These are men who have been previously tried and tested by other ministers (1 Timothy 5:22). Ideally, they study and meditate while devoting themselves completely to God’s Word (1 Timothy 4:13-15). In fact, they should be so committed to the task that they have very little time to worry over the material needs of the church (Acts 6:1-7).
Why are we so careful and intentional with the “apostles’ doctrine” but not so much with our fellowship?
What is fellowship?
As I wrote the other day, fellowship means “to share, participate, have intimacy, and jointly contribute”. Throughout the New Testament, the same word is translated into communion, communication, distribution, contribution, and communicate.
The writer of Hebrews reminded us that praise and worship is to be offered to God continually, but we should never forget to fellowship and offer ourselves to one another (Hebrews 13:15-16).
Fellowship between believers is to be so personal and intimate that it’s like light meeting light (2 Corinthians 6:14). If you were to shine two lights together, it would be impossible to see where one ends and the other begins.
Furthermore, our fellowship with Christ is a model and example for our fellowship with one another (1 John 1:3).
The way we think of fellowship
Typically, fellowship is a term we use to describe simply being together. Perhaps we think of it as those few minutes of small talk and visitation before and after the worship service or Bible study. But real fellowship goes a bit deeper.
Fellowship is meant to be a process of discovery and encouragement. When we are told to not forsake the assembling of ourselves together, we are also told to “consider” and “exhort” one another (Hebrews 10:19-25).
Times of sincere fellowship are times to share ourselves, offer support and encouragement, share wisdom we’ve gleaned through the teaching of the Bible and personal experience, and, ultimately, realize and use our God-given spiritual gifts.
Someone in the church needs us
The word, encourage–or some form of it–is used at least 39 times* in the Bible. That figure does not even include the multiple instructions where we are told to edify, lift up, or simply love one another. It’s an important topic not to be missed.
As a church pastor, I’ve learned from experience the need everyone has in the church for love and support. Even though my own church is relatively small, hardly a week goes by when someone or some family is not struggling in one way or another.
We typically think of “counseling” as a job for the pastor. However, a pastor’s predominant role is to lead through teaching the Bible (1 Timothy 3:2, Acts 20:28). He’s not a super-member blessed with every gift possible (1 Corinthians 12, Ephesians 4, Romans 12). He is one member among many which make up the body of the local church–Christ being the only head.
Getting intentional with our fellowship
Real fellowship often emerges in a very organic way. It usually happens when one brother/sister visits another for a mere social call. Before they know it, they are bearing their souls to one another and providing each other encouragement and strength.
Unfortunately, this doesn’t always happen like it should. First, we don’t always make time to visit with one another. After all, we tend to stay very busy. Second, we don’t go into our visits with the intention of having Christ-centered fellowship as the Bible prescibes. Instead, we chat about the weather and the grand kids and whatnot.
Get small and go home
Every time the church meets together there will be fellowship. But if we are going to truly open ourselves up and share our lives, we need to foster an environment which minimizes our fears and discomforts in doing so.
For most people, smaller is better. If anyone is having any kind of deeper fellowship in the corporate setting, you’ll notice them standing in the corner with one or two more–not speaking before the entire assembly.
We need smaller groups and a more intimate setting like the home. We also need to be clear on the purpose of the meeting. It needs to be well established that we are together for the kind of fellowship I’ve described.
There is a beautiful picture of this woven all throughout the Bible. Christ often met with one or two at a time. In those meetings, his focus was not on teaching the Bible, per se, but on the particular struggle or issue involving those he was with.
Whether our churches set aside nights and organize schedules for this or not, I believe it’s in our best interest to be intentional when it comes to our fellowship in the same way we are intentional with our doctrine.
“Wherefore comfort yourselves together, and edify one another, even as also ye do.” – 1 Thessalonians 5:11
*Encourage appears 4 times, encouraged 5 times, exhort 16 times, exhorteth 1 time, exhorted 3 times, and exhortation 10 times in the KJV Bible.