Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Biblical Fellowship is Not Coffee and Donuts

A while back, my blog-friend Zoanna wrote a tribute to a friend who had died, recalling one of the most important lessons he taught her. I delayed posting about it until now because I wanted it to spark discussion, and I wasn't reading blog comments at the time. Now that I am...I'm bringing it to your attention:

'Biblical fellowship is not coffee and donuts,' Roger explained one night. Oh, maaaan, you just ruined my day by telling me that! No, it can include coffee and donuts, but it MUST include Jesus. Christians standing around talking about sports, family, finances, or even about the church--is not biblical fellowship. We often call it that, but that's simply Christians socializing. Talking scripture, sharing a testimony, relating how God has answered prayer--such things as these constitute biblical fellowship.

Oh, how this resonates with me. I long for (but rarely experience) this kind of fellowship! Yet if I'm honest, I'll also admit that for some crazy reason I struggle to pursue it. I complain that I am SO tired of sitting around talking about babies or recipes or weekend plans...but do I take the initiative in asking good questions to help the conversation move into this kind of biblical fellowship?

So here's where I want to open it up to the audience: Do you experience biblical fellowship often? Ever? With whom? When? Do you think that everyone is wanting it, but isn't sure how to take the steps to get there? Or do you think that some people just aren't willing to take the conversation to this level? What do you think prevents us from actively pursuing this? What could we (I) do to grow in this?

14 comments:

Anna said...

This is a great subject for discussion. These are just my thoughts off the cuff; I need to give it more time too.

I think that biblical fellowship can include the sort of friendly socializing we mean by "coffee and donuts." But true biblical fellowship also needs to include talking about the things of the Lord.

It's easy to jump to the conclusion that biblical fellowship means instant intimacy. But I don't think we have to be sharing our most personal stories in order to experience biblical fellowship. Even simple testimonies of the Lord's goodness, and discussions about His Word or other related topics, can "count."

And there is a place for the most personal sharing and closer biblical fellowship, too, I think - just not with everyone.

Hmm... I will definitely have to think more about this!

Burkhalter Ministry said...

Hi Amy,
I've been pretty blessed to get good biblical fellowship in my life lately, on Sat nights at house church- hours of good talking about Jesus, testimonies, encouragement, reading of the word etc... Sunday mornings I have 3 ladies over for our LTG- it takes a while to get caught up on the week, then things turn to Christ... usually the confessing of sin is what takes us back to Christ and our need for him. We pray once a week with other believers for our outreach etc... lots of good BFellowhip there too. I just started meeting with another mom on Wed... good stuff.
I read a great secular book- called Fierce Conversations... it is a great way to use questions to get to the heart of the matter... one of my friends often asks, "Beth, how's your heart" It moves past the "fluff" into deeper things.

It is sometimes easier to just stay in the fluff zone, and some people are really hard to get them to be real or "authentic". I love spending time with authentic people that glorify Jesus and not themselves... Humility and grace is key in true biblical fellowship- you feel safe to share and be encouraged and pointed to Christ and his healing power. When we become less- Christ can become more...

Beth

Mari said...

Breath of fresh air! Koinonia, true fellowship - oh, how I long for it. I too need more time to digest this. Although, when I read my husband the title of your post, he asked if I wrote it.

I've been contemplating writing a fellowship post myself...thanks for the encouragement and inspiriation. I'll be back to share my thoughts on this.

K said...

I don't often share my thoughts on your blog, although I will confess that your posts often minister to me and challenge me. I think that we as Christians struggle with Biblical fellowship sometimes because a lot of us view things differently and getting into the deep stuff might reveal areas where we disagree. It's hard to come by really good close friends that we see often, and we don't want to open up a gap in the friendship. But, thankfully, we do have moments where we can discuss how God is working in our lives, answered prayers and chit chat about a recent sermons or Bible Studies and encourage each other from God's truths that we've recently heard or read. It's just a shame that "most" of the time, biblical fellowship is revolved around those times when we are feeling highs and not lows because we don't like to talk about lows, and we don't always know what to say to those havings lows. But really, that's when we need it the most!

dancebythelight said...

I'm involved in a women's small group and we definitely have biblical fellowship. We meet once a month. Actually, we just met last night. It's an organized and planned time.

Outside of that, I feel like I do have biblical fellowship pretty easy when I talk to my friends, as well via email with my friends. We share ways we need prayer, what God's teaching us in our life, etc. I hope to grow in the area even more though, in the future.

Amy said...

Thanks for jumping in, everyone! Some great thoughts here.

Anna said: "I don't think we have to be sharing our most personal stories in order to experience biblical fellowship. Even simple testimonies of the Lord's goodness, and discussions about His Word or other related topics, can 'count.'"

Yes, I agree. It doesn't have to be super-deep or profound. But in my experience, it usually doesn't even get to this level. I think you're right that "instant intimacy" isn't necessary, or isn't necessarily a good thing. There's a place for building trust. But are we even wading in the shallow end of the biblical fellowship pool, or are we staying safely dry?

Beth: I like the "how's your heart?" question. Here's a spinoff, though: Is there ever the awkwardness of feeling like you're "grilling" someone (or that they're "grilling" you?)?

I think sometimes part of my hesitation in asking questions like this is not wanting to put someone on the spot or make them feel interrogated/uncomfortable. Is this a legitimate concern, or is it fear of man, and if they feel that way, it's their problem?

Kayla wrote: "I think that we as Christians struggle with Biblical fellowship sometimes because a lot of us view things differently and getting into the deep stuff might reveal areas where we disagree."

Interesting, I never thought of this. I think you've hit on something here (and your point about not wanting to--because of pride, usually--talk about the lows, as well as not knowing how to respond to the lows, is another good one). As far as the conflict thing, the question becomes: Is it really a meaningful friendship if there's no deeper biblical fellowship because of fear of conflict/disagreement??

Danielle: Do you think the fact that your women's group is "organized and planned" promotes the biblical fellowship--in other words, does the intentional planning cause the deeper fellowship? How/by whom is it organized and planned?

Please, keep thinking and weighing in! :)

dancebythelight said...

Amy, you asked:

Do you think the fact that your women's group is "organized and planned" promotes the biblical fellowship--in other words, does the intentional planning cause the deeper fellowship?

Yes it does, although I admit that I think we all long for more friendship along with the fellowship. I can't say we're all friends. Being in a group requires you to be transparent about your struggles. I think our group is pretty good at doing that. But I think we all want to actually get to know each other outside of the group more, you know what I mean? We were actually just talking about this last night.

Our group consists of singles to married with kids to women with adult children caring for elderly parents. I like that because it adds perspective and you're not just stuck with women in your "season." But because of our crazy lives, some of work, some are at home, etc. we have to be more purposeful about developing relationships within that group.


How/by whom is it organized and planned?

It's part of our church's small group structure. We have small groups (men and women included) and then that's broken down into women's and men's groups.

K said...

Amy, in response to this question "Is it really a meaningful friendship if there's no deeper biblical fellowship because of fear of conflict/disagreement??" here is my answer. We have just started a small group with some GREAT friends. We are growing in our relationship with them and we are friends that really encourage during the highs and lows... yet we struggle GREATLY with biblical fellowship at the same time. For example... one of the men in the group does not tithe. When we discuss it, he feels like he's being singled out, ganged up on, and forced to do something he doesn't see necessary in his life right now. Yet another guy in the group, in order to help the first guys feelings out, will say, it also says in the bible that God only wants what you want to give (or however the scripture says it) it just turns into a debate instead of a motivation and growing opportunity. The friendships are still entact and are getting stronger... but some biblical issues just tend to be hard to delve into because everyone is at different stages in their relationship with Christ and their convictions vary. I still think the friendships are strong enough to handle the disagreements but it's hard to really exerience biblical fellowship with everyone in the way that would appease your appetite for it.

Zoanna said...

Great discussion here, Amy. Looks like you've hit a good nerve, judging from the plethora of comments from ppl I've not read here before.

Since Danielle and I go to the same church, I can concur with her .The women's groups are much more intimate than the care groups. Hardly anyone shares with the whole group unless given the direct opportunity from the leader. I find that when I go out on a limb and risk embarrassment by telling how I am REALLY doing, it promotes others to do likewise. For example, last week the question was "when is the last time your heart was set ablaze by the the Holy Spirit?" I said it had been so long I couldn't remember. That's when others felt free to say, "Me, too." And that, I think, sparks prayer for one another on a level that isn't jsut "organ rehearsal" (praying for Uncle Fred's kidneys, Grandma's gall bladder, etc). I wish I weren't so transparent sometimes, because it ends up meaning I have to confess sin the next time we meet, but it's better than shallowness any day, right?

Burkhalter Ministry said...

In my experience, the uncomfortable feeling is usually just what we need. Of course it is a bit uncomfortable, to ask how a person really is doing-we are not used to it... for example when they are struggling with depression or just lost someone due to suicide.... you know, the big elephants in the room. It is also uncomfortable sometimes to share the gospel with the lost, it is very easy to talk comfortably about prayer and God, but saying the name of Jesus or sharing the hope we have in Christ, there is immediate shift in the conversation. But that doesn't mean we shouldn't press through... Usually when i press through, and ask the questions that the Lord has put on my heart, something spectacular happens. Like last week when Travis and I were counseling a guy who lost his mom of Cancer, his dad of Suicide, and the week before his wife asked for a divorce.
Many people go years or months without having meaningful conversations with people, as we are the light in the world- it at times will be awkward... because the light will expose some darkness, but that is exactly what needs to take place for others to find freedom...ignoring the big elephant in the room will not. I pray for boldness, gentleness, and grace as I converse with Christians and the lost- letting my conversation always be seasoned with salt. Pressing through the awkwardness is a sign of love- that we care enough to actually get involved and take a risk for another person, instead of just being socially polite with our Christian lingo or vulnerability.

People shouldn't feel grilled, they should feel loved- but it all depends on our hearts and motives that should be sincere.

Just my thoughts.
Beth

Amy said...

Danielle, you said:
I think we all long for more friendship along with the fellowship.

This is a really interesting distinction...it kind of brings up a whole other topic which I might need to spin off into a new post. It reminds me of a dear friend of mine from college. I was mentoring her, so our relationship was very intentional. When we met for lunch once a week, we usually went pretty quickly to the deeper stuff. She told me years later, when I asked for constructive criticism about that mentoring experience, that she wished I had been more open about day-to-day stuff--that she felt like she didn't "know" me on a ordinary, small-talk sort of level.

That had never even occurred to me...I love the deep stuff but really struggle with the small talk sometimes! Does that approach what you're referring to or am I way off base?

Kayla: Thanks so much for coming back and filling in more detail about your experience. I would say if your friends "encourage through the highs and lows" then to me, that by definition says there is at least some degree of biblical fellowship happening. When I say "biblical fellowship" I don't mean it has to be profound theological debates. I can definitely see how that can get sticky.

You also said: "it just turns into a debate instead of a motivation and growing opportunity." ...This makes me wonder...what makes the difference? Biblical fellowship doesn't have to mean the kinds of doctrinal issues that Christians disagree on, the things that are matters of personal conviction...but when it does go there, how can it be an edifying opportunity for growth rather than a heated argument? Thoughts, anyone? Maybe that's another tangent that would get us too off track here.

This comment is getting too long, so I'll start another one to respond to you, Beth :)

Amy said...

Zoanna, you said: "I find that when I go out on a limb and risk embarrassment by telling how I am REALLY doing, it promotes others to do likewise."

Great point. I think sometimes, though, that becomes harder to do when the conversation hasn't even begun to go to the deeper level, you know? Your small group is already a step ahead of where I'm talking about when the leader asks that probing spiritually-focused question. When there's no "leader" asking those types of questions and directing the discussion there, how do you take it there? I can't imagine being in a conversation about recipes or pregnancy or weekend plans and saying, "So, you know, it's been so long since the Holy Spirit set my heart ablaze that I can't even remember when."

*awkward silence* ? or do you think that's totally appropriate and necessary? Brings me to Beth's comment...

Beth: Great wisdom, as usual. I think on some level, there is definitely some fear of man in my hesitation to step out there and take the conversation toward biblical fellowship when the other person(s) won't. Yuck. Sin I need to work through.

I loved this line in your comment:
Pressing through the awkwardness is a sign of love- that we care enough to actually get involved and take a risk for another person, instead of just being socially polite with our Christian lingo or vulnerability.

Yes, yes, yes. I also liked what you said about it depending on our hearts/our motives. I think that's true. If my heart is genuine, and I ask a sincere question meant to edify and point someone toward Christ, and they feel awkward/uncomfortable/whatever...that's between them and the Lord. Maybe the discomfort is even His Spirit's way of convicting them and drawing them back to Himself if they're dry. ?

Jules said...

It is just so much EASIER to talk about babies and recipes, don’t you think? It isn't that I don't necessarily WANT to go deeper, it just isn't as natural. Even in the relationships I currently have where biblical fellowship *should* be easy, I find myself hanging up after the conversation thinking "shoot, we were so wrapped up in talking about the kids that I didn't even ask how her time with the Lord was going." It really needs to be a deliberate choice for me or I never seem to get around to bringing it up.

In new relationships, it is a big step to put yourself out there like that, but that's how meaningful friendships are formed. They end up being the most satisfying conversations and relationships, which are worth the risk.

Sarah said...

I know this is an older post, but I wanted to comment anyway.

I can find myself relating to much of what was said.

- There are some people I'm really close with and can talk about spiritual stuff really easily, but feel I don't know the basics about them. I love having friends I can dive into deep stuff with, but I think there is definitely a need for knowing the basics.

- I have the small group for ladies and so far enjoy it. I've only been to two, but already see myself benefiting greatly from it. I am a young single and the only single in the ladies group, so it's great having women who are older and have been in my season to encourage me. It's easy to feel like a "taker" all the time though, and hard to feel like I can give much advice being steps behind everyone else. I am so blessed that my caregroup leader's wife takes time to initiate talking to me about the everyday stuff like school and family, but also gives me opportunities to open up about deeper issues.

- I find it much easier to talk about deep stuff when I know the person and I share the same doctrine. It can be very tricky when you aren't sure where someone stands on a certain issue. I also find that fear of man is the main issue for me when it comes to staying in the shallow end. I have really strong Christian friends that make it easier to open up with, but the ones that seem spiritually immature (still Christians but not bearing much fruit) I'm afraid of sounding "too spiritual" or getting judged.

- AS for my personal fellowship, I have been very, very blessed to have it, especially being a 19 year old student at a secular college. I find that many of my times of biblical fellowship have started out the shallower end. Sure, there are times when it gets deep really soon into a conversation, but there are also times when I can be talking about school, and that leads to sharing about the need to trust God with a certain school related issue, or opens the door to pray for a friend who is feeling stressed out about finals. It even provides a context for humbly admitting to complaining about a certain assignment or gossiping about a certain classmate or professor. Other times I may be talking to a friend about work which will lead to talking about the struggle to reach out to the unsaved because of fear of man. Basically, all that to say, I don't think it's necessary to call up a friend and be like "Hey, let's go have some biblical fellowship."

I realize that it is rare for a 19 year old to have so many godly friends to fellowship with and I definitely don't take it for granted. I can't take much credit for the fellowship either because it is usually my friends that make it easy to open up-- they tend to provide the platform for deep, meaningful conversations. I have a lot of room to grow in this area, especially with people I feel would judge me or criticize me (which is my fault, not theirs!)

I know I didn't say much of anything new. Just sorta took what other people were saying and showed that it's present even in a young single's girl life.

I really enjoyed reading everyone's comments. Thanks for opening up the discussion! And sorry this was so long.