The church was large and beautiful. Standing on the corner of a busy street, daring you not to notice. It’s beautiful stained glass windows and steeple making a statement, we are a church.
There’s a crowd of people gathered in a school gymnasium. Hard plastic chairs, half filled coffee cups. No special building, making a statement – we are the church.
There’s a difference between those statements. And it took me far too long to learn to understand, with lots of tears in between. But it’s an important lesson.
My family has attended various churches over the years. As a child I witnessed my own father preaching at many. Sitting in the pews, staring out at a sea of unfamiliar faces, I could see what it was like when a body of believers come together. Often, as a visiting pastor’s family, we would be invited into people’s homes for lunch. Or the whole church would put on a luncheon, and we’d all eat and share together. I’m not sure what those churches were like the rest of the week, but as an adult, I’ve discovered that sometimes appearances can be deceiving.
For several years we attended a church that was full. Every Sunday, there would be streams of people flowing in. Some would drop their children off for the Sunday school then drive off to the local coffee shop. Others would stay. They’d listen to the songs, but not sing. They’d sit through the sermon, many of them nodding off. Occasionally they’d have meals together, or host fellowship events for the adults. While I was attending the church, I didn’t see it. But something was very wrong. No one wanted to serve. The church wasn’t engaged with each other. And eventually, it died.
Fast forward several years, when my family started attending a different church. A church that was even more full – so full it couldn’t meet in its own building. Each Sunday, people filed in to the local school gymnasium. They brought their children, but they stayed too. They sang the songs from deep within their hearts. They eagerly listened to the sermons, they actively participated in the worship. They served each other. And not just on Sunday mornings – through the week, too. What a difference it makes when people love and serve each other.
And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. Hebrews 10:24-25
The main ingredients in fellowship are love and encouragement. Others are care, concern, correction and wisdom. At least, that’s what true fellowship is to me. And much of this comes from meeting together frequently, and investing in each other’s lives.
I spent several years in a church where I had many people I called friends. We would talk to each other on Sunday mornings, maybe meet together for a meal here and there, and came together weekly for a Bible study – where there was little interest for studying, and more chatting than amything. We didn’t really do life together, we just lived alongside each other. Whenever something happened, there would be quips of “I’ll pray for you” or “let me know if there’s anything I can do to help” but it seems somewhere it fell flat. There was a painful disconnect.
A few years ago, I suffered from pneumonia. It was my first time having it, and it took the wind right out of my sails. It likely didn’t help that I had a double ear infection at the same time! As a special needs Mom, it’s very difficult when you’re unwell because you really can’t take a day off, no matter how much you’d like to. And strangely enough, it was the middle of the summer and my children were home with me. But boy, did I ever need a rest! When my friends heard about me being under the weather, they suggested they bring meals for my family so it would be one less thing for me to have to worry about. I was so appreciative to not have to think about making dinner, to be able to rest. But those meals never came. It was forgotten the minute the phone call ended.
Eventually we left that church, called by God to seek a deeper connection with Him. After attending our new church for a short two months, my beloved grandmother passed away. I was heartbroken at her loss, for no other reason than I loved her so deeply. Unable to attend the funeral due to distance and life circumstances, I felt alone in my grief. And then the doorbell rang. The most beautiful bouquet of flowers was placed in my hands, delivered by a friend from my life group – because they understood my sadness and they wanted to show they cared. Such a small gesture spoke volumes to my heart. And it was a glimpse into the future that is now my present.
Friends who are family. Living in our own homes, but with connected hearts. When someone grieves, we grieve with them. When someone celebrates, we celebrate with them. If there’s an emergency, we rearrange plans so we can help. In our life group, we long to serve each other. And we have fun while doing it too.
Just last night we gathered together for a meal to say goodbye to some friends who are moving away. Now, as a special needs Mom, let me just say taking your children out in public after 4 p.m. is difficult. I’ve learned that the hard way over the years. But I’m never afraid to go to life group events with them, because they genuinely love all of us – my kids included. We need loads of grace, and they continually give it. And oftentimes my husband and I can sit and chat and eat without looking over our shoulders because our kids are safe and loved and someone will let us know when something’s amiss, or they’ll just deal with it themselves. And that in itself, is a beautiful gift.
But it’s the gathering together weekly that makes all the difference. Every Wednesday evening we meet to chat, worship, discuss the Sunday sermon, and pray. Our life group is a mixture of laughter and hard stuff. As a group we have witnessed our brothers and sisters walk through a lot of fire. We have prayed them through many trials. Experienced a lot of heartbreak. And it’s the hard stuff that brings you closer together. It’s the hard stuff that makes the love shine through. Still, I don’t think a week goes by that we don’t have a great laugh over something. Because while we walk each other through the hard stuff, we also help each other find joy. We encourage and uplift each other. We point each other to Christ. We experience true fellowship.
Life group changed everything for me. Fellowship became alive, love became real. Friends became family. And God’s presence was felt like it never had for me before.
You are invited to hear what other sisters at Telling Hearts, have to say on this subject of FELLOWSHIP:
I hope that my other write-up encourages you to get to know each person’s story, their character, through fellowship:Stories
Maryann Lorts emphasizes the need to understand and admit the need for fellowship:Fellowship: Accepting The Need
Stacey Wells is an encouragement and consoles us as she shares humbly about her journey to find fellowship and keep her focus on God and family first:When Fellowship is a Journey, I Had to Lay My Isaac Down
Rosie Williams beautifully explains the logic and purpose of fellowship to help you realize its precious value:Life is a journey…don’t travel alone.
Tammy SD summarizes the definition and speaks to being persistent in the pursuit of GOOD and WONDERFUL fellowship:Good Fellowship vs. Mediocre or Bad, Introduction to Telling Hearts Fellowship Series, 6/2018