In his book Habits of Grace, David Mathis describes three fundamental means through which Christians are to be in relationship with God: God’s word, prayer and fellowship—what he terms habits or means of grace. The first two of these habits can make immediate sense to the experienced Christian, but I have found that the third—fellowship—sometimes requires a little more explanation or cajoling.
Over my 30-plus years of life I have always preferred isolation and solitude to the noise and busyness of groups and crowds. I genuinely prefer to “go it alone” for no other reason than that it is easier for me to go it alone rather than be forced to accommodate the involvement of others.
However, as I have grown older and matured (the two are not as intrinsically linked as I would like) I have begun to understand the concept of fellowship and its vital role in our Christian lives. Fellowship, rather than being an imposition on my preferred surroundings, serves a vital role in experiencing not only God’s presence in our lives, but also in experiencing all of who God has made me to be. C.S. Lewis summed this up beautifully:
In each of my friends there is something that only some other friend can fully bring out. By myself I am not large enough to call the whole man into activity; I want other lights than my own to show all his facets … Hence true Friendship is the least jealous of loves. Two friends delight to be joined by a third, and three by a fourth, if only the newcomer is qualified to become a real friend. They can then say, as the blessed souls say in Dante, “Here comes one who will augment our loves.” For in this love “to divide is not to take away.”
– C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves
Fellowship is part of God’s intention for how we are to live our lives. The Bible is replete with examples urging the importance of community and fellowship. We are to live Christian lives in mimicry and honor of how the Holy Trinity lives—each in perfect harmony and fellowship with one another.
But speaking the truth in love, let us grow in every way into Him who is the head—Christ. From Him the whole body, fitted and knit together by every supporting ligament, promotes the growth of the body for building up itself in love by the proper working of each individual part. (Ephesians 4:15-16)
“It’s a shame the word “fellowship” has fallen on hard times in some circles and is dying the death of domestication and triviality,” Mathis explains in the opening words to his chapters on fellowship. “It is an electric reality in the New Testament, an indispensable ingredient in the Christian faith and one of God’s chief means of grace in our lives.”
Unfortunately, there are times in our lives when our link to God’s community is severed for some reason—whether by travel, death, moving churches or any of a number of reasons. But it is important that we seek to reacquire that fellowship, that link to God’s community, if we are to live wholly Christian lives in service to God. Here are four simple ways that we can all use to help us on this path back into community and fellowship.
Take it from me, as a 30-something introvert with anxiety and depression, and a penchant for hermitism, this is the least appealing suggestion anyone can make, which probably makes it the most important.
Whether we have made the decision to move to a new church, are church-hopping or have simply had our friendships and community sundered in some way, it is partly up to us to rectify the matter.
Which means stepping out of our comfort zone (for many of us) and working up the courage to say hello to people we haven’t ever met before.
Sure, it’d be nice if all churches had a knack for welcoming new faces, but we all know that simply isn’t the case. So sometimes it will be up to us to say hello to someone, get involved in a church outing or head along to a church small group.
Prayer could theoretically have been the first on this list, for in prayer we can pray for the courage to say hello, get involved, etc. But more than that, we need to pray that God will instill in us a desire for community and fellowship in the first place. Know for certain that Satan will attempt to isolate you from any and every Christian possible, for he knows that a lack of fellowship will stunt your spiritual growth. We must therefore use our foremost spiritual weapon to combat Satan’s efforts, and pray that God will grant us the desire and willingness to once again be involved in community.
This could likely be the hardest step, for it can affect each of us regardless of our temperament. When we find ourselves cut off from community and fellowship it is often because we have lost friends, had to move away from friends or our previous friendship groups have splintered. This can leave us feeling sad and lonely.
We must move on. We don’t need to cast away all our memories and attachments as if we are the Russian army leaving a scorched earth behind us to starve the Germans. Rather, we simply need to be willing to let go of what was and seek out something new.
Maybe, in time, what was and what now is might combine to form a new normal but regardless, if we are to fully develop Christ-like fellowship that helps us to grow in Christ, we must be willing to seek out that which is ahead of us, rather than dwelling in what we once had.
Be Honest With Yourself
All of these steps are difficult, and being honest with ourselves is never a human’s best trait. Yet, in seeking to regain Christ-like fellowship, we must be willing to be honest with ourselves. Who are we? How do we prefer things? Am I being too particular? How can I be a friend to others?
We can only really begin to form new friendships and integrate into new community and fellowship if we are willing to bend according to those around us. Note, not break, but bend; we do not become someone different just to please others so we can be a part of their clique or community.
But if we are to be Christ-like members of God’s Church, then we must be willing to serve others, just as Christ served His Church.
Community is vital to a healthy and vital Christian faith, for only in the presence of others do we learn, grow, change and bloom.