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¶730 CHRISTIAN FELLOWSHIP

¶730 CHRISTIAN FELLOWSHIP

Life in Christ is a shared life. The term “fellowship” comes from a word meaning “common.” It can also mean to “share”, “to have a share,” “to give a share” (see Philippians 3:10: “I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection, and share ‘fellowship in’ his sufferings.” See Hebrews 13:16, “Do good and share ‘fellowship’ what you have….”)

It can also mean “taking part,” or “participating”. Paul uses it in this way in I Corinthians 10:16.
“The cup of blessing (referring to the Lord’s Supper) which we bless, is it not a participation
‘fellowship’ in the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not a participation ‘fellowship’ in the body of Christ?”

Fellowship involves giving a part of oneself to such an extent that Bible writers can actually use the word for the offering. In Romans 15:16 Paul refers to “…. an offering ‘fellowship’ for the poor Christians in Jerusalem . . . .” And in II Corinthians 9:13 he writes that “…. your contribution
‘fellowship’ was generous . . . .”

The word is also used for partnership (see Philippians 1:5, “I am thankful for your partnership
‘fellowship’ in the Gospel.”)

This call to a deeply shared life together comes to us from the New Testament (see the many “one another” and “each other” commands), and was stressed afresh in early Methodism. It is in the context of this life together that Christians worship God, share his love with the lost, build each other up toward maturity, and serve the needy and broken.

There is likely no clearer description of the church in Christian Fellowship than that given in Acts chapter two:

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved. (Acts 2:42-47 NRSV)

In spite of nearly 2000 years of cultural change the image of the church is clearly that of a living, growing, organism rather than an organization, fulfilling in community the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20) and the Great Commandment (Matthew 22:37-39) of Christ. Two facets of this picture of particular note are the church in community, and the church in evangelism. In the truest sense, they should not be separate since they function fully intertwined; however, in order to provide resources to our church each is described separately.

1. The Church In Community – Small Groups

Biblical Principles

The example of the early church clearly highlights the centrality of community in the life of the church. It is in the context of community that we are drawn to Christ, we hear the gospel proclaimed, we are built up and grow in maturity, and we take up lives of service and ministry to others. It is in Christian community where all the “one another” (Hebrews 10:24-25) exhortations can be fulfilled.

A second, equally vivid description of Christian community is that presented in Paul’s description of the “Body of Christ” (I Corinthians 12, Ephesians 4:15-16). As we live in community we are not just “like” the body of Christ, we are the Body of Christ. It is within the context of the body and for the edification of the body that the Gifts of the Spirit are provided. It is as “living stones” that we are called to be built up as a temple spiritual house, a holy priesthood. (1 Peter 2:5).

Finally, we have the example of Christ and the disciples. In the context of a community we see a rather rag-tag group of mismatched individuals grow up into spiritual leaders.

‘Small groups’ are not simply a program within the church. They are the church as the Body of Christ. Their key purpose is not simply teaching or support. There key purpose is ‘building one another up’ (Romans 15:2; 1 Corinthians 14:12; Ephesians 4:11-16; 1 Thessalonians 5:11; Jude 20) as the Body of Christ.

Organizational Principles

Numerous resources for providing an organization structure for small groups are available and some of these are cited below. The clearest biblical direction for the organization of small groups is the guidance of Jethro to Moses (Exodus 18:1-27). The ‘Meta’ model of ministry is one example of a system of organization built upon the ‘Jethro Model’. Principles of organization that can be derived from this model include:

1. Organize a systematic approach to leadership.
2. Enlist qualified and trustworthy peoples.
3. Create a clear chain of communication so everyone has access to a leader for authority and
support.
4. Train your leaders.
5. Delegate the work so that it is more evenly distributed.
[Adapted from the Ginghamsburg United Methodist Church Leaders’ Training Manual.]

In such a model the lay leader or coordinating pastor would develop a strategy to discover, and nurture a group of leaders, often referred to as coaches. These leaders in turn are responsible to give care and guidance to 5 to 10 small group leaders they are developing. They also assist the small group leaders in training new leaders (often called apprentices) that will then be available to provide leadership to new groups that form as each small group reproduces itself. The small group leaders facilitate and nurture a group of generally 6 to 15 persons, as they grow together towards spiritual maturity. These communities are the church at the most intimate and caring level.

The structuring the church in this type of model serves two primary purposes:

  • Leadership development happens continuously and systematically.
  • Everyone is cared for and no one cares for more than 10.

Resources

  • Carl George’s Prepare Your Church for the Future (Fleming H. Revell Publishing, 1992) is a very practical guide to developing the cell/small group church.
  • Cell group resources developed by Ralph W. Neighbour, Jr. and associates are available from World Team Canada (1-800-610-9788).
  • Small group resources by Carl George, Dale Galloway, Michael Slaughter and others, as well as Serendipity House resources developed by Lyman Coleman are available from The International Centre for Leadership Development and Evangelism (1-800-804-0777)

Other resources exist in books, magazines, journals and elsewhere for developing full-orbed theology and practice for fellowship and life together in small groups. Denominational leaders and others who demonstrate discernment and understanding regarding fellowship theology and practice can guide people to these resources.

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