Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Defining Fellowship

“And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” (Acts 2:42, ESV)

This is one of my favorite verses, in the midst of one of my favorite paragraphs in all of the New Testament. This is what it takes to build a fellowship of believers where Christ is present in person and power. Here are the ingredients for the recipe of church growth.

You can throw out George Barna, Rick Warren and the Purpose Driven formula, the false premise of the emerging church, and any and all church growth programs. Since that is just what they are – programs. And not just programs, but man made programs.

John MacArthur in 1969 when he accepted the pastorate of the Grace Community Church of Sun Valley began a traditional response. This traditional response is now repeated by every honest and authentic shepherd charged with the responsibility of tending the flock of Jesus Christ. When asked what was his plan for church growth, Pastor MacArthur stated that he didn’t have one. Jesus Christ promised to build His church and MacArthur stated he wasn’t God and it wasn’t his church so he was going to stay out of the way and let Christ build His church.

If you were to call me today to a church pastorate and if I were asked this question my answer would be the same. I would direct the pastoral search committee to Acts 2: 42-47 – again, my favorite paragraph in the New Testament. Here you have Christ’s plan for building His church. Not very impressive is it? No worship teams, no light shows, no couches, no gimmicks, no “ministries”,  no indoor rodeos, and no glitz. This may not have anything to do with my post today but I have to slip it in. A commenter on part three of my series, Wolves in Sheep’s Clothing made this comment – “how offensive to God it is to promise glitter and glamour instead of grace!” This is what the majority of our man-made church programs consist.

Of the four items mentioned in verse 42, fellowship is probably the hardest to come by. Churches do not fellowship, they socialize. You say what a minute, just hold your horses! We have fellowship halls, we schedule fellowships, it is in our bulletin, and we encourage our people to come early to fellowship. OK, what normally happens? Conversations that revolve around children, jobs, vacations, trips, health, trials, tragedies, and grandma are what happens. (Now, settle down, I love grandma and I am not picking on her)

Here is why fellowship rarely happens. Fellowship is a spiritual activity not a social activity. Let me share with you five (5) elements of biblical and spiritual fellowship:

Intimacy - we must come to know one another in the body and develop a bond beyond casual friendship. We must bear one another's burdens. We are brothers and sisters. We must trust one another and develop intimate relationships governed by the Scripture.

Vulnerability - we must trust one another and be willing to honestly open ourselves up and share with one another our sins and our struggles. At some point we must "take a chance." We must use discretion and discernment but at some point we must become vulnerable. If not, we squelch honesty. We live behind masks and robes. How different are we when we do this than the Pharisees Christ condemned?

Humility - we must get past our own ego-centric pride and self preservation and open ourselves up to those who are mature in Christ. We have so many admonishments to become and be humble. A proud man will not learn nor will he grow. Only in humility can we confess our sins to one another or ask for help or prayer.

Accountability - we must realize that we are accountable to each other and for each other and will give an account to God. We can't look the other way and ignore our brothers and sisters who have fallen in this race of faith. We cannot be like the priest and the Levite who ignored the man who had been beaten, robbed, and left for dead. Yet, in many "churches" week after week we have our own brothers and sisters who have been robbed by Satan, beaten by his minions, and left for dead and we cross to the other side of the aisle.

Ministry - we must minister God's grace to one another. God mediates much of His grace toward us through the gifts of the other believers in our body. Paul said in Galatians that we who are spiritual must restore and bear burdens. Each one is gifted with at least one (1) spiritual gift to serve one another in humility, empathy, sacrificially, and in Christlike love.


welcome to my world of poetry said...

A great post Gregg which covered many issues, all important to life.
I was very impressed by it.

Have a good day,


Pilgrim Mommy said...

Great post! I appreciate it when pastors would rather trust God than to use gimmicks to build the church.

True fellowship is costly. It requires our time, our commitment. We have to sacrifice our independence and pride and be willing to "submit to one another" in Christ. But it's worth it.

Brad said...

Gregg, this is such a good post.

"When asked what was his plan for church growth, Pastor MacArthur stated that he didn’t have one."

That is a Gospel saturated response. We plant. We water. But God makes it grow - i.e. 1 Cor. 3:6.

Kansas Bob said...

Has to be one of your best posts Gregg. I could not have said it better.

I love that passage too and always wonder why it doesn't say the apostle's (note the placement of the apostrophe) teaching.. everyone knows that each church only has one teacher (MacArthur for example) that is qualified to teach. :)

Of course that is not true but almost every.. and I mean every.. evangelical church currently operates in this one-teacher paradigm of ministry. IMO it is the reason that we have so many celebrity teachers/pastors. Many of these guys have simply been seduced by public ministry.. and in a sense congregants feed this kind of paradigm with idolatrous expectations.

The other thing about that passage and what you have said is how little the one-teacher uses transparency and vulnerability when they teach. Most that I have heard speak down to the flock. Of course some do not.. and I am thankful for that.

Thanks for the opportunity to rant. :)

Gregg said...

Yvonne - Thanks again for your kind words. I am humbled you were impressed; if I can ever be of help, please let me know.

PM - Thank you also. True fellowship is very hard to come by - people are afraid. It does take committment, time, and can be costly.

Brad - thanks! God does give the increase! It is His church and He will build it.

KB - Wow! You think this might be my best post? I am flattered, I know you have a great blog with a great following and you are very articulate and savy. I am humbled brother, thank you. You are right, I am very transparent and real when I preach. I am just like those in the pew. I hate it also when men speak down to the crowd. The preacher must be vulnerable also. I have argued wiht men over that. So many preachers think that they can't let themselves show or the people will loose confidence. Well, first what are you doing? Secondly, we are all sinners cut from the same cloth.


I would caution people to use extreme discretion and discernment before they open up to others in the name of fellowship. A person who has been hurt by others and has become reluctant to allow their self to be put in a vulnerable situation again being compared to a Pharisee might be a little over the top. For sure the Pharisees hid behind their religious fasad, but their reasons were far different from a person who will not allow their self to become vulnerable for one reason or another. Even a fool won't stick his hand down a rattlesnake hole after he's been bit once or twice.

Gregg said...

OG - Your comment was what I was thinking when I used the words discretion and discernment. We cannot be open and vulnerable with just anybody. We must come to know the person we are thinking of confiding in that they are first, Christ like in keeping confidences, second, non-gossipers, and thirdly are spiritually able to help.

I do not advocate someone holding sin or problems inside. We can’t hide behind masks or facades. I agree we can't share with just anybody. People do get hurt. I certainly don’t want them to be hurt by being vulnerable.

Sometimes I do think that it is the person's fault who got hurt. If one does not use discretion and discernment and then shared with someone who proved to be a gossip, liar, confidence breaker, nor spiritually unable to help and was hurt. I believe prayerfully and patiently seeking out someone in the body will always prove to be fruitful, whether in a local body or the universal body of Christ at large.

As always, thanks for your comments brother!

Truth lover said...

Dear Gregg,
God bless! Love the heart of the supremacy of God that is evident throughout your site. This is a great post!