What's the Big Deal about Fellowship?
As a pastor, I have run across many people who believe in what I call "Lone Ranger" Christianity. These are folks who don't attend a church, don't belong to a small group, and don't participate in life with other Christians, really. Here's the rub. There is no such thing as a biblical, "Lone Ranger" Christian.
If you doubt this, consider first that God at the time of creation created us for companionship with other people (Gen. 2:18). We just aren't meant to be alone. But this is especially true for Christians, who God knows we need in order to help us walk this Christian life faithfully to the end. The big deal about fellowship is that we need people of faith to strengthen us and encourage us, to help us persevere in our faith, which is of utmost importance (James 1:12). Let's look at what Scripture says about the benefits of what is called "fellowship":
I have found that there are three types of Christian relationships that we need to help us keep our faith life active and sharpened. I have people in my life in all three of these areas. Because of them, my faith life is healthy, strong, and impactful.
Mentors. This is a person who knows more than you do about a certain area in life you are struggling with or is more spiritually mature than you. Someone you can learn from.
Colleagues. These are people who are at the same spiritual level you are, who are asking the same kinds of questions and going through similar life or faith struggles as you.
Followers. These are people who will want to learn from your spiritual life. They see in you things they know they need to walk with Christ faithfully and obediently.
How do we find these people to walk actively in your faith life with? It helps to pray for God to lead you to the people you need to know, but the first and best place I would begin is to find a local church to attend and engage in. It doesn't matter if it's a small church or a large church. That is a personal preference. But make sure it provides sound, biblical teaching with plenty of opportunities for fellowship through small groups, Bible study, service projects, or social events. Engaging with others and getting to know them is vital to making church all it can be. These days you can listen to endless amounts of sermons online, but you can't develop deep, face-to-face relationships with other Christians just by watching a screen.
Once you have found some people to connect with, now what? The goal is to connect in deep and impactful ways, to use the time you have together to push deeper into relationship. There are four main strategies I practice to do this:
Ask penetrating questions. To go deeper, you have to break through the surface. This is done by asking probing, penetrating questions that draw out the other person in order to get them talking and thinking about deeper issues. They may be like, "What can I pray for you about?", "If God answered that prayer, how would it change you?", "If you could live anywhere in the world where would you live and why?", and "What would you do for God if you could?" The questions are all about promoting depth in the relationship.
Active listening. This occurs when a listener focuses so intently that it communicates "I'm listening. I care. I hear you. Keep talking." The key is to focus on what the person is actually saying, not on how you will respond. It involves body language, verbal cues, and facial expressions that give every signal to keep talking. Leaning in, nodding your head, saying things like "Wonderful!", "Uh-huh", and "That's interesting. Tell me about that!" are all involved.
Give assignments to do together or separately. These could be things like taking a verse and memorizing it or seeing how you can live out the verse that week. It could be practicing your active listening skills on your child or spouse and observing what happens! When you get back together, there should be time set aside to discuss what happened when you did the assignment. What happened? What did you learn? How did God work in it?
Build in a God component into your meeting. This could be praying together, sharing how you came to the Lord, discussing a hard theological concept, talking about favorite Scriptures and how God use it in your life, or what you would like to do for God someday.
Having Christians in your life in the three areas above, along with practicing these four strategies, really do work to deepen your faith and fellowship. It is remarkable how they draw people out so that they can open up to you and others. Then you can have a deeper connection in which mutual encouragement and actual mental, emotional, physical, and relational help can grow in the relationship. I think that you'll find your relationship and connection with God deepens, too.
I encourage you to try this. It is life-changing and extremely rewarding. I look forward to interacting with you during your spiritual journey. Please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org to let me know how God is working in your life.
In His service, Gil Stieglitz
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