Last night, Letty and I went out on a double date with two of our young friends, Michael and Krista. They are both on staff at our church (Krista is my associate in the Worship Ministry, Michael oversees the Young Adult Ministry) and we’ve been in relationship with them since they were married several years ago. We went out to dinner, then got some frozen yogurt, and then coffee at our house. That’s what we did, but that’s not what happened. The reason why I’m mentioning this date in my blog is not because of the activity, but because of the fellowship.
In between courses of dinner, dessert, and coffee was some of the most meaningful and empowering conversation that the four of us have had in recent memory. It wasn’t even so much the “topic” of conversation, but the depth and transparency of it. Most of all, we sensed the Spirit guiding us, giving us a sense of safety to go deeper and to shed off “social pretensions.” God was very much the center of our conversation – not that it was “overly” spiritual, but authentically spiritual. We felt the freedom to speak honestly into each others’ lives, to listen to each others’ stories intently and attentively, to reflect and not judge, to receive love and encouragement.
It came as a surprise that we were together for over 5 hours! It seemed like minutes. We could have gone on for several more hours.
“Fellowship” is a word associated with the church, but often conjures up images of coffee pots and stale cookies in the Narthex or potlucks with way too many casseroles. Fellowship in many churches has more to do with events, activities, and “what we’re going to eat” than building up relationships, becoming more transparent, and listening to one another in love. I believe authentic fellowship is something we all long for, but we experience all too rare – even in churches.
When the early Church experienced “fellowship,” it was powerful and transforming. Spiritual gifts were in operation. A deep sense of gladness was sensed by all. Masks were removed. Love was deepened. Needs were met. The presence of God was felt. Luke describes “fellowship” in this way:
All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the Temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved. (Acts 2:44-47)
The four of us experienced some of this type of fellowship tonight. While we didn’t sell any property and we didn’t meet in the Temple courts, we did break bread and we did praise God. And we definitely felt the sincerity and gladness of heart. Most of all, we felt empowered and encouraged to move forward in the faith. I think that’s what true fellowship does: we are spurred on to love and good deeds (Hebrews 10:24).
Here are just a few observations and thoughts about how our fellowship with one another can go deeper:
– Time. Fellowship requires time to be together; both in length and in breadth. Our time tonight was for several hours (I had planned in my head for three, but it ended up five – which was great). We knew it would take some space to have good conversation. But as well, our relationship has been growing over the past five years – there was some breadth to it.
– Safety. The depth of our conversation increased when we knew we were “safe” with each other. We gradually became more transparent when we knew that we weren’t going to be judged by what we said. It was evident that the love and grace of Christ was being pursued and expressed by each of us to one another.
– Listening. We listened to each other’s stories. We didn’t interrupt. We didn’t try to change the conversation to topics that we preferred to talk about. As a prolific “talker” it was a little bit harder for me to listen intently, but I discovered that the more I listened the more I learned about that person. And the more I learned, the more I could love.
– Intention, but not programming. We entered tonight with the intent for fellowship. We are spiritual friends and we knew we were going to talk about our life with God; not to come off as super-spiritual, but as fellow pilgrims on a difficult and challenging journey of faith. But it wasn’t programmed. We didn’t go around and share one at a time. We didn’t do a Bible Study and then pronounce, “It is now fellowship time.” I’m not trying to knock structured community, but the type of conversation we had tonight could not be programmed. It came organically, but with the expectation that we were going to be intentional in our spiritual friendship.
Whole Life Worshipers need true fellowship. One of the main components of the Whole Life Worship paradigm is “Spiritual Friendship” (see blog on 2/14/13). We cannot truly be transformed without the help and presence of others through authentic fellowship. This is something we pursue with the same passion as we pursue God.
How do you experience “fellowship”?
What are some of the challenges in developing spiritual friendships?
How have spiritual friendships empowered you in the faith?