In a time when our faith is constantly questioned, we can feel alone. We can wonder why we believe what we believe. We can wonder if we even should.
The early Hebrew Christians faced the same battle and worse, including persecution from by the Romans and rejections by Jews. They were still working out their belief and in need of some serious encouragement. The writer of the Book of Hebrews came to their rescue. For nine and a half chapters, the author lays out the theology for them, reminds them why Christ is better than the law, and tells them the importance of faith.
Then in the middle of Chapter 10 is this little nugget: vv. 23-25 (MSG) “Let’s keep a firm grip on the promises that keep us going. He always keeps His word. Let’s see how inventive we can be in encouraging love and helping out, not avoiding worshiping together as some do, but spurring each other on, especially as we see the big Day approaching.”
Growing up, I always heard these verses as the command to be at church every time the doors were open. Sunday morning, Sunday night, Wednesday night, vespers, revival meetings … And while that’s all well and good, I really think these verses mean much more than that.
Sure, we can be at church when we’re supposed to be. We can punch in — sing the songs, give the offering, hear the sermon, benediction, amen — punch out. Head home and turn on the football game. We may come away encouraged or convicted, or both, and that is fine. But I don’t think that is the complete experience. If that’s all we do, I would say we have missed the point of congregation. We might as well stay home and watch a service on tv or the internet. We are missing the best thing about church: the love.
In John 13:34-35, Jesus said, “So I am giving you a new commandment: love each other. Your love for each other will prove to the world that you are my disciples.” I don’t think we can share or experience this kind of world-changing love if we arrive at our seat just as the music begins, then dash out after the last amen. Love is relationship. And relationship needs time and attention.
If you think that socializing outside of church is frivolous, you’re not alone. Many of us have been taught that any activity must include a Bible study in order to be worthwhile. I no longer think that is true. After all, if we do as Paul told the Corinthians and “do all to the glory of God” (including eating and drinking!), then everything we do is worthwhile.
Rick Warren takes this idea further. In his book The Purpose Driven Life, he says that Father God created us for five equally important purposes: worship, outreach, discipleship, ministry, and fellowship. In Chapter 17, he declares:
You are called to belong, not just believe.
Even in the perfect, sinless environment of Eden, God said, “It is not good for man to be alone.” We are created for community, fashioned for fellowship and formed for a family, and none of us can fulfill God’s purposes by ourselves.
The Bible knows nothing of solitary saints or spiritual hermits isolated from other believers and deprived of fellowship. The Bible says we are put together, joined together, built together, members together, heirs together, fitted together, and held together …
Fellowship reminds us that we are not alone. I Peter 5:8-9 tells us, “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world.” A lion doesn’t charge into a herd of gazelles. It stalks them from the edges, looking for the weak one, the sick one, the loner — the easy one to pick off. So it is with the Enemy. But he does one more in that he purposely makes us think we are alone. He tells us to keep to ourselves, that needing others is a sign of weakness, that we can do just fine without others.
Being the head of Fellowship in a purpose-driven church, I was able to see how the five purpose areas played off of and blended into each other.
Fellowship can spark worship and ministry. A church retreat is a great place of ministry, often because people have the opportunity to hang out and even play together before settling in to some deep worship time. I may (barely) survive a high ropes course with a woman I just met, only to wind up praying with her later and sharing an encouraging word. And she is more willing to receive that word from me because we have built some trust.
Fellowship can spark outreach and discipleship. I know several people who today would not come to church with me, but will gladly come to my home for a meal and nice conversation. I can show them the love of Jesus without opening a Bible or attempting to preach to them.
Fellowship can allow us to be real in a way that we may not be even in the welcoming and shame-free environment of this community group. I may be more candid with you while shopping. You men might let your guard down while fishing. No pressure. Just fun. And relationship grows. So that when a trying time comes or help is needed, we have someone we trust that we can go to for prayer or wise counsel or encouragement.
It’s important for us to love each other. We are the family we have chosen, and this family is eternal. Might as well get to know one another and love each other well. That kind of love can change the world.