You start considering what encourages healthy growth in the life of a Christian and a few things immediately come to mind. Or at least they should come to mind: Reading and studying the Bible. Prayer. Sitting under the teaching and preaching of a doctrinally sound church.
But what about Christian fellowship? Why does that never come to mind? Why is it we rarely look at the communion and companionship of other believers as an essential part of our growth and development as believers?
Maybe it’s because Christian fellowship is usually just lumped in with church attendance, as if the two are somehow inexorably linked, though it is very possible to attend church services on a regular basis and never actually take part in fellowship with other believers.
Don’t believe me? I don’t think you have to be part of most churches for very long before you see some of those who always manage to slip into church services late and slip out again early, making any kind of fellowship with them within the church virtually impossible. And while companionship with other believers does not have to take place within the four walls of a church, a person who has no time for fellowship inside the church will likely find little time for it outside of it. And, interestingly enough, I’ve never known an individual or family who did the “pop-in-and-out-of-a-church-but-never-really-be-a-part-of-the-church” thing who continued long-term with any congregation of believers or who developed into a solid, mature Christian.
Because Christian fellowship matters. Time and conversation and companionship with other believers contributes to our Christian walk in ways we often do not recognize and appreciate as we should.
So why is fellowship important? For these three reasons, if not for many, many more.
1. God created us to be social creatures.
Yes, we usually apply this scripture to the man/woman relationship, and well we should, since certainly that’s what God was addressing here specifically. But doesn’t it also speak to the nature of human beings? We were not designed to be hermits…recluses…Lone Rangers. We were created for social interaction. And isn’t it interesting that, in spite of the fact Adam had God Himself with whom to commune, the Creator still said the man was ALONE? Obviously, (and even modern psychology bears this out,) we were pieced together with an inborn need for social contact with those of our own kind.
Yet for the believer, not all social interaction is created equal. The Apostle Paul cautioned the church at Corinth about being “unequally yoked” or bound together, with unbelievers and then questioned,
But let me add a note here if I may: Social needs can vary a lot from person to person. Some people want almost constant fellowship; others crave more time alone. (Like me!) Some people flourish in a large social setting while others, don’t always enjoy crowds or bustling social interaction. Those are personality differences and one preference and approach to fellowship is not right and the other wrong. My parents were always more reserved and avoided crowds, but I remember them sharing coffee and conversation with other Christian couples often. The important thing is making time for fellowship, no matter the exact form it takes.
2. Fellowship can provide comfort in times of trial.
If ever there is a time when those in the body of Christ can benefit from the fellowship and communion of their brothers and sisters in the faith, it is in times of grief and pain. When a fellow-believer is suffering, they usually aren’t looking for eloquent words of wisdom or great acts of kindness, though the latter can certainly be a blessing. Usually people just want someone there, and the mere presence of a fellow Christian can be a tremendous source of strength and reassurance, and a reminder that God Himself is near at hand with grace enough for every situation.
We should never underestimate the power of two hands clasped in even the briefest prayer. We should never doubt the value of a few minutes’ visit to a funeral home or the impact of a call at a hospital room where an awful report has been received.
It’s a way to say simply, “You are family and I love you. I’m behind you. I’m so sorry for what you’re going through, but remember that our Father cares, and that I do, too.”
Who doesn’t need to hear that from time to time? Sadly, we say things like it far too seldom. We’re hurt when we’re not hearing it in our own times of crises, yet we’re often pretty lousy at saying it to others when the tables are turned.
3. Fellowship encourages and challenges us in our faith.
When my husband and I sit down with our Christian friends and family, it usually is not to discuss theology and biblical doctrine. That happens sometimes, more by accident than by anything else, and it’s fine when it does, but it isn’t the norm when we’re in fellowship together. Usually we’re talking and laughing about other things; things that aren’t really spiritual per se.
And yet they are. As followers of Christ and believers of His word, everything in our lives inevitably leads back to Him, and our faith can be encouraged and strengthened whether we’re discussing the infallibility of scripture or the funny thing that happened on the way to the doctor’s office yesterday. It’s our mutual faith, the common bond that cements us together as believers. Our conversation, whether it seems particularly spiritual or not, circles back to Him, even if only in subtle ways, again and again and again.
I love what Paul says to the church at Rome:
Now it’s important to remember our faith is NOT encouraged in gossip, verbal razing of the pastor, or in discussion of every ill of the local church. But it can be under-girded and strengthened in both profound doctrinal discussions and in casual conversation between believers.