In a recent conversation with my son, who is away at college, he shared that he felt that he was not deeply connecting with other Christians on campus. This is his second semester, and while I heard the same story last semester, I kinda just blew it off, saying “These things take time…” and other platitudes hoping that the situation would correct itself.
This time, my son expressed some self doubt, asking me, “Is it something that I am doing wrong?”, so I took it perhaps a little more seriously. This is somewhat like the conversation we had:
Tell me about a time when you experienced “fellowship” in the past. Was that in your high school youth group?
Was it the whole time you were in the group?
No. It was after I started expressing more commitment to my faith, in my Junior year.
Were you involved in serving or helping?
Yes. I was on the worship team, doing “tech”, and in SLT (student leadership training).
So you experienced the deepest fellowship when you were expressing commitment to your faith by serving alongside other believers?
Are you serving alongside other believers now?
Not really, it is hard to get plugged in, my schedule always seems to interfere.
You are part of Intervarsity, right? Are there ways you can serve in that group, that don’t require lots of time commitment or on flexible schedules?
I don’t know. I suppose. I have wanted to get into the leadership team, and on the worship team, but the schedule doesn’t seem to be working out.
Have you thought about just finding other ways to “help out”?
In our conversation, I asked what he thought fellowship was, and what it was for; why God gave that deep connectedness to members of his body?
The Greek word Koinonia is the word usually translated as fellowship in the Bible, but I suspect you already know this. This word is also sometimes translated communion, or association. It is the sharing of common goals and purposes, and working together to see them become reality.
Fellowship implies mission, interdependence, shared concerns. Fellowship is a bond between team members working toward a common goal. Fellowship is the unique bond between members of the body of Christ, when they are expressing their “memberness” above their “individualness”.
The phrase I think first of when I think of fellowship is “coworkers in Christ”. Which is the in the NIV translation of 1 Corinthians 3:9. Paul used this co-worker word several times, to indicate both financial and temporal participation in the gospel mission. If I were a lawyer, I would use the phrase “material participants together in the work of Christ”. In the shortened version, I would call them “Missional Co-workers”.
I did a search of Google Images for this post using search phrases “fellowship” and “co-workers in christ” and none of the images returned really gave the sense I was looking for. That in and of itself is a problem, Google images doesn’t understand fellowship.
For fellowship to develop, we must be invested in the work of Christ, but not the work of Christ at large, but the work Christ is doing right here where we are in this community. To have that kind of fellowship we must have a stake in the mission, actively encouraging our brothers and sisters to continue on with the mission, through both our words and our actions.
As leaders in churches or para-church ministry organizations, we need to continually find ways to encourage others to get involved in “the work”. @GaryRohrmayer, President of Converge MidAmerica recently preached at our church. He shared a brilliant sermon out of Luke 10:1-20 – 9 things we can learn from the mission of the seventy two. The point of his message was to enlighten about Jesus own method for mission. I was encouraged by what I learned about personal witness.
I want to add a few things to his list but on the topic of fellowship:
1) He appointed them (v1) – We don’t know the criteria that Jesus used to select the 72. The verse says He appointed them. I imagine that one of two things happened. Either he asked for volunteers and got more than he needed, or he went around individually to these brothers and said “I have a job that I need you to consider doing”. What he did not do was say, “Anyone who wants to serve meet me at the river on Monday morning.” Appointment creates accountability.
2) He sent them out in pairs (v1) – they were co-workers. Jesus does not send us out alone – we are to go into the world as co-workers in Christ.
3) He gave detailed instructions (v2-12) – Most of Gary’s sermon was from this section. He highlighted points that explained what the instructions meant and how we can apply them to our mission today. I am highlighting the fact that Jesus did not assume that the seventy two already knew what the mission was, or how to go about doing it. He gave them detailed instructions, although he may not have provided rationale. Jesus did not tell the 72 to “go out and do stuff”, he have them specific instructions and guidelines.
4) They returned with joy (v17) – The result of their participation was joy. Whatever they anticipated when they were appointed, the result was joy. Whatever they experienced along the way, on the mission – they returned with joy.
So there are two applications of this:
As individuals: if we are not experiencing deep fellowship, we should evaluate our participation in Gods mission:
2) Do we realize how our participation contributes to the larger mission?
3) Are we co-workers or more like “lone soldiers”?
4) When we participate, do we “return with joy”?
As ministry leaders: if our congregation is not experiencing deep fellowship, we should evaluate the opportunities we provide to be co-workers:
2) Do we frequently and routinely engage our congregation with opportunities to get involved as missional co-workers? (is there a rhythm to our opportunities that people can discern?)
3) Do we as leaders evaluate and appoint people to missional roles? (do we personally encourage them to participate? do they feel accountable to a leader?)
4) Do we have easy ways that new believers or attenders can become missional co-workers in without a significant time commitment? (how do people get their feet wet as co-workers?)