(By Travis Williams)
Why is it good to be in fellowship with other believers? We were originally designed to live in nature in a perfect creation, and to experience family-style relationship with each other, and most especially with God as our Father. One reason many Christian churches are full is because people desire to know God more and to be with others who feel the same way. God’s desire is that we have freedom, peace, and love in our lives. Unfortunately, the Enemy has been able to infiltrate the Church and add many systems that actually create bondage, hopelessness, and a lack of knowledge about God’s love for us.
As someone who has been around Spirit & Truth Fellowship (STF) a long time, I’ve had the blessing of hearing sound teachings that create an understanding of who God is and what love is. And yet, even with this knowledge of love, I still struggle with the question, “Where’s the balance of being supportive of other Christians in my life, and sharing the truths that orthodox Christianity is hiding?”
To date one of the most impactful books I’ve read regarding this topic is “So You Don’t Want to go to Church Anymore” by Wayne Jacobsen and Dave Coleman. I agree with many of the ideas presented, the main one being that a church, or “institution,” as he calls it, should exist to serve the people, not the people the institution. Although this may sound very obvious to some, the fact is that many churches start out serving people, but eventually in most there comes a point when the switch occurs. The church may do many wonderful things, but then eventually, as the authors state, “laced through the wonderful things you have a system of religious obligation [oftentimes to the institution itself] that distorts it all.”
For many this leads to negative thinking towards churches or organized Christianity as a whole, which is clearly not the correct response. Sure, sometimes evil things are done by people inside the church, but evil things are done everywhere outside the church, too. It’s our sin nature. Rather than attacking the institution or walking away from it, the correct response is to have compassion for the people, and determination to fight the enemy in his attempts to bring bad out of people’s good intentions.
So I return to my question, “What’s the balance between being lovingly supportive and still sharing the truth?” I do not yet know the answer to this question, but I am sensing I am getting closer to it through some personal experiences.
I have a long time friend who grew up as a Jehovah’s Witness but was not religious at all when we met 10 years ago. After my recent move I found out that he now lives in the same area and we re-connected. He plays praise and worship for a church in my town and is essentially a “new Christian.” My brother and I now hang out with him often and have shared some wonderful discussions about God’s love and grace, and I have even attended his church a couple of times. His church is nice but like most churches is not exempt from some of the systems that I believe to be damaging to the Body of Christ. Obviously as a staff member of his church, my friend is required to subscribe to their Statement of Beliefs, and so on. I continue to be open for discussion with him on any subject and will gladly share what I believe, but I struggle within myself because I want to be cautious, knowing that what I say may eventually jeopardize his new job at the church if he believes it.
I am really striving to share God’s love in my everyday life. Sometimes, this might mean sharing an encouraging word with a stranger at a store, or praying for them, etc. In the case that someone decides to give his or her life to Jesus during our conversation, what next steps can or should I give to him or her? I believe that it is good to be in fellowship with other believers but struggle with the thought of, “Can I in good conscience send someone into a church system that I know does some potentially damaging things?”
Of course a simple solution may be for me to participate in my own Simple Church, but, for me and many of my friends, the old format of a weekly living room fellowship just does not work as well as it used to. One reason may be that my generation is very connected to the advances in technology and social media, and life seems to move much faster than it did 30 or 40 years ago. My friends and I can’t even stay faithful with a weekly night to watch the new season of Jack Bauer and 24! For me, fellowship happens during my daily life, and my spiritual education comes from what I choose to read.
One thing that may work better for us is, instead of starting a weekly fellowship, what about a monthly dinner? It could take place at a home or a restaurant and would be a place where anyone is welcome to attend including friends, family, and even the new person from the gas station. We eat, fellowship, and remain open to discussion about God, love, or whatever we feel the Lord wants us to focus on. Rather than a weekly “meeting,” what if we focused on a family-style relationship with each other and coordinate a time every so often to bring us all together? Maybe we could just call it “Family Dinner” and it could increase in frequency as needed or desired. For me, this relieves the pressure I perceive in “running a fellowship” and creates an environment that can organically adapt to the needs of the group.
The key would be to pursue a family-style relationship with these people that would extend beyond merely being with each other at dinners. It also refrains from creating another “institution” that could potentially become the focus of the meeting instead of the people it was created to serve. It would focus on loving each other in family-style relationships in real life—with the kind of relationship God intended for His family.