Friday, May 27, 2011

Anonymous Fellowship

Over the weekend I was at a training class and I overheard a couple of the other guys talking about what Christians always talk about when they get together: “Where do you go to church”. The one guy mentioned the name of his church, a large evangelical church in our area. He said they had been there for almost four years and then he said something else. He said he and his wife still meet, outside of the church, people that they “go to church with” and never realized they went there. Imagine being in the same church body for years and having a sizeable population of people you hadn’t even met, much less gotten to know!

That is hardly a unique story. We were “members” of a largish Southern Baptist Church in Kentucky (they still send me the member bulletins and have tracked us down after a bunch of moves and in spite of me gently letting them know we were not likely to ever set foot in that church again). We sat in the same basic place every Sunday. So did many other families. We sort of knew the people who sat around us and some of the people in our Sunday school class. The people on the other side of the “sanctuary” (we sat to the right of the pulpit)? Didn’t know except maybe by sight. In fact I was talking to one of my clients in a business meeting and found out that he and his family were also members there. We never crossed paths and believe me we were there every Sunday.

I wonder how many Christians spend time every week with people who identify with the same local congregation but don’t know them at all. I don’t mean don’t know their names or know them by sight, although there is lots of that, but I mean don’t really know them at all. We always used to be identified as “the people who used to be mormons” and “the family with 5 (then 6, then 7) kids”. Many people could have probably picked us out of a police line-up because they had our kids in Sunday school or children’s church. Perhaps they had seen us a time or two in our Sunday best. They didn’t know us and we didn’t know them. Worse, no one seemed to think it was a problem.

I know that at its core, this is an issue with us. We were not making the effort to meet others. We were content to show up and “worship” and then make a mad dash for the parking lot to beat the post-worship service rush (we never beat it because we had to round up our kids). The problem was that we never saw the disconnect and apparently nobody else did either.

It would seem to be obvious that if you don’t know the people you go to church with, you by definition cannot truly be in fellowship with them. I am not in fellowship with strangers in an elevator nor am I in fellowship with strangers in a “sanctuary”. Little wonder people are leaving churches in droves. They are told that going to church is how they fellowship with others and they walk away each Sunday thinking “That was it? That is all there is to the Christian life?”. Yet another reason that I think that in the long term, the collapse of Christendom and the cultural religion of America will be an enormously positive change in the church.

1 comment:

Don Litchfield said...

I am not advocating large churches, but I was shocked with what I read in Acts 6 where we are given a brief picture of the early, early church:

v.1 - some widows in the Jerusalem Fellowship Church (JFC) were being left out of Senior Meals distribution and the apostles didn't know anything about it - hmmm!

v. 2 – enter apostolic wisdom: “Since we’re having trouble keeping track of everyone, let’s suggest that we break up into smaller groups, turn the Greeks over to their own leadership, as well as the other cultural groups hanging out in Jerusalem. We’ll name them First JFC, Second JFC and so on. That way everyone will know everyone and no one will miss out on food distribution and fellowship time. Besides, it doesn’t look good that we apostles are feasting off of everyone else’s giving. It’s about time we all got part-time or full-time jobs so we won’t be a burden upon our smaller church. We’ll also instruct the other church leaders to do the same…”


At this time the church in Jerusalem could be anywhere from 5 to 15 thousand believers (some may have likely returned to their home countries)—what a mega-church!!!
(Acts 2:41 – 3,000; 4:4 – 5,000; 6:1 – disciples multiplied)

They were meeting daily both in the temple from large teaching sessions and in individual homes for further teaching and fellowship (2:46; 5:12, 42). Their answer (under the guidance of the Holy Spirit) was not to create smaller groups so that everyone is “known,” so that no one gets left out of fellowship. No, it was to create a new “office” in the church: deacons (actually a truly ministry position but with administrative activity). That permitted the apostles to remain in full-time ministry: preaching, teaching, healing, casting out demons, etc. (We read nowhere in Scripture that at the end of the apostolic age, they made it clear that it was only for the apostles to work full-time ministry and be supported by the Body.)

The result of such a “outlandish” decision?

Acts 6:7:

1) “And the word of God increased…”

2) “…and the number of disciples multiplied in Jerusalem greatly…” (mega-mega church)

3) “and a great company of the priests were obedient to the faith.” (actually made themselves unemployed – no more sacrifices!!!)

I personally believe that a church is only a church if the Holy Spirit is directing its ministry and activities, regardless of its size (“I will build My church…”). It appears from this passage that God is not afraid of large churches/assemblies – He can handle it and He is able to establish leadership to take care of the needs of the Body. Human-led assemblies do not bring glory to God nor do they truly edify the Body, whether that church meets in a home, a street corner wood-frame church or a cathedral. Conversely, wherever God can find a people who will humbly deny themselves and follow Him, consistently obeying the Holy Spirit, He will work mightily. Again, the setting does not usually make the people—God’s people make the setting!