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Christian “socialization” seems easy to find, but Christian “fellowship” rather difficult. Part of the problem is that these two things have been confused! They are not one and the same.  The following quote clarifies:

There is a Christian failure to distinguish between socializing and fellowship. Although socializing is often both a part of and the context of fellowship, it is possible to socialize without having fellowship. Socializing involves the sharing of human and earthly life. Christian fellowship, New Testament koinonia, involves the sharing of spiritual life. Don’t misunderstand- socializing is a valuable asset to the church and necessary for a balanced life. But we have gone beyond giving socializing the place it deserves. We have become willing to accept it as a substitute for fellowship, almost cheating ourselves of the Christian birthright of true fellowship altogether. – Donald Whitney

A pot-luck dinner, a game night, hanging out…this is socializing. Fellowship is much more…it’s praying for and with each other, encouraging each other spiritually, lovingly holding each other accountable, discussing biblical concerns, etc.

My spouse and I have always had a burden for drawing people into the life of the church. For years we were involved in small group and hospitality ministry. The Christian life can not be lived in isolation. We have seen too many new believers (and established believers) drift away from the faith in the absence of genuine fellowship with other believers.

Yet…I am increasingly understanding of why people can drift in this way. Genuine Christian fellowship (not socialization) can be so hard to find. Investing in each other spiritually takes time, effort, and dedication. But…some Christians seem too busy and caught up in the rat race of life. They can’t “do life together” because their life is already packed full! Too many Christians seem to put on masks and hide their struggles. They just want to smile, and share superficial things. Why?? I don’t get it.

We, as believers, should have a better understanding than anyone else about the broken world we live in, and thus be more realistic about the struggles of life. As a song lyric goes “I’m growing fond of broken people as I realize I am one of them.”  As believers, we should easily grasp why we need deep and genuine relationships with each other in order to make it. The New Testament contains about 50 “one another” verses. Here is a sampling:

By this all men will know that you are my disciples,if you love one another….Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves….Therefore encourage one another and build each other up…Let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds….Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling…. Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you.

I know a number of Christians who have left the church…Years ago I would have judged these people, but now I have nothing but sympathetic understanding. They did not experience anything even remotely close to Christian fellowship. The church and God’s people deeply failed them. Someone I know who was raised in the church, but has long since abandoned not only the church, but the faith….Told me that it was how fake Christians were that most turned them off.

I don’t want to sound cynical, nor church bashing, but just expressing my honest frustrations. Despite this…I can not give up on the church. The church is described as Christ’s body and the bride of Christ. For a Christian to abandon the church, is the equivalent of abandoning your spouse.

We all need to be more introspective. Like the story of the essay contest years ago in England where people had to write essays on “What is wrong with the world?”. The winning essay simply said this: “I  am.” We all need to re-examine our priorities: Are we so caught up in the rat race of life that we have no time for people? Are we modeling authenticity? Are we living “one another” lives? These are hard questions but ones we must ask ourselves. Perhaps the change needs to begin with us.

Here are some challenging thoughts on taking off the masks and being authentic:

It goes against the grain to give an image of oneself that is anything less than perfect, and many Christians imagine that they will be rejected by others if they admit to any faults. But nothing could be more destructive to Christian koinonia (fellowship) than the common practice today of pretending not to have any problems. – Ray Stedman

Love will flow from one to another, when each is prepared to be known as the repentant sinner he is at the Cross of Jesus. When the barriers are down and the masks are off, God has a chance of making us really one. But there is also the added joy of knowing that in such a fellowship we are “safe.” No fear now that others may be thinking thoughts about us or having reactions toward us which they are hiding from us. In a fellowship which is committed to walk in the light beneath the Cross, we know that if there is any thought about us it will quickly be brought into the light, either in brokenness and confession (where there has been wrong and unlove), or else as a loving challenge, as something that we ought to know about ourselves. – Roy Hession

I also appreciated these practical ideas on turning conversations in a more spiritual direction:

One simple way to cultivate koinonia (fellowship) is to ask questions designed to turn a conversation in a more spiritual direction. Here’s a list to work from:

How is your (teaching, hospitality, outreach, deacon, or whatever) ministry going? What do you enjoy most about it? Where have you seen the Lord at work lately? What’s the Lord been teaching you recently? Have you had any evangelistic opportunities lately? Have you had any obvious answers to prayer recently? Where in the Bible have you been reading lately? What impact has it had on you? How can I pray for you? What’s the growth point in your spiritual life right now? What are you passionate about right now?  – Don Whitney

May the Lord show each of us how we can better live “one another” lives. Let’s step out and be the change we want to see in the church. Yes, it may be challenging. We may will make some people uncomfortable. But is that such a bad thing? I dare say that if we are not making some people uncomfortable, we may not actually be living an authentic Christian life.