One thing that I’ve learned about churches is that just about every one of them considers themselves to be a loving church and they have good fellowship. Odds are that if you attended a church that you didn’t feel loved, you would stop attending that church. But when specific questions about fellowship are asked, many churches fail. When was the last time you got together with someone from church who wasn’t a family member? Do you call or send cards when you know a church member is sick? Are you connected to other people in the church in some sort of small group?
When we get specific about fellowship the church often falls flat. We consider ourselves to be loving people and I believe that for the most part people in the church are loving and want to see other people in the church. But in basically every church there are factions. It may be as simple as a dominant family in the church, you’re either related to a lot of people in the church or you’re of the group that isn’t related. It might be a matter of church politics – one group of people wanted to install air conditioning in the church while another group thought that it was a poor financial investment.
The point is that quite often our fellowship is not where we think it is. And if it’s not where we think it is, it’s not where it needs to be. You may have never thought in such terms but Christianity all comes down to relationships. You’re probably familiar with the greatest commandment in Matthew 22:34-40:
Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”
Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
Look at those words closely. Love the Lord your God. That’s a relationship. If you love somebody you have a relationship with that person. The second greatest commandment is the same thing, love your neighbor as yourself. Once again a relationship is required in order to love somebody.
Even though the pastor isn’t happy about the idea, you can be a Christian and not go to church. You can certainly pray on your own. You can study on your own. You can evangelize without the aid of a church. You can worship on your own. But you can’t fellowship alone. This is one of the most important aspects of the church because it can’t be replicated online, through the radio or tv, or in any other kind of group. Nothing can replace the fellowship of a church.
Now, we’re all wired differently. Some people are social butterflies who would wither up and die without constant human contact. They have a hundred friends and they know basically everybody in town because they are always out. Other people prefer the solitude of home and have only a couple of close friends. Regardless of how you are wired, everybody needs fellowship whether it’s with a couple of friends or a big social gathering.
Hebrews 10:25 tells us: Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.
Why is it important for Christians to meet together? Part of the reason is for mutual encouragement. We should be lifting each other up in prayer and encouraging each other when we meet. We need positive feedback from people we have a relationship with and trust. You don’t get that from a preacher on tv or by reading a book.
There’s kind of a funny two way street with how this works. Not only do you need to regularly meet together with other Christians for fellowship but you also need to meet with other Christians so they know how to encourage you and lift you up in prayer.
I had a guy who was mad at me and accused me of only working an hour a week. What happened was that his mother was sick and I never called to check how his mother was doing. But the absolute truth was that this was a guy who only showed up at church once or twice a month. If I didn’t see him three weeks in a row it wasn’t unusual and he’d be back in a week or two. Once you don’t see somebody you don’t think about them that often. That’s not even human nature, that’s just a fact. It wasn’t that I didn’t care, I didn’t see him to think to ask about his mother and since I hadn’t received an update I assumed that everything was fine.
If you’re not fellowshipping with other Christians they don’t know how to pray for you and encourage you. Certainly we can do better as Christians to reach out and follow up with people who we are missing from church but fellowship is a two way street as well.
Aside from the need for encouragement, Hebrews 10 gives us another good reason for fellowship. In the previous verse, verse 24 it says: And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds.
What does it mean to spur one another on toward love and good deeds? It means that we act to help one another’s consciences. We are all responsible for our own actions. Right or wrong, no matter what the situation, we have to choose and nobody else can ultimately be blamed. However, the Christian community has a responsibility to one another. When a child is dedicated in the church the parents commit to bringing them up properly following God’s commands. But the congregation also agrees to support the parents in that. This doesn’t mean that we’re to be tattletales and alerting the parents that we saw their teenager speeding at one in the morning. We should be there to provide support when that parent looks for help on how to raise their child.
It’s not just about eliminating negative behavior however. It is about encouraging proper behavior. When someone does something good we should thank them for that as well and let them know that they are appreciated.
Fellowship is important in a church first and foremost because we should be loving one another anyway. But it is essential to an effective church because it is something that can’t be replicated outside of the church. It is necessary for the strengthening of believers. And it is needed for a strong and effective church that is going to be blessed by God.