Relationship. It’s something we long for, something we were made for. Relationships bring us great happiness and joy in life — but also heartache, turmoil, and disappointment.
Community. It’s a buzz word in some Christian circles. It’s something we aim for and something we’re a part of. It’s an essential aspect of the Christian life. But I find it’s often over-idealized — like some pie-in-the-sky possibility that we can never quite fully attain.
And so I’ve chosen a different word: fellowship.
Essentially, practicing the discipline of “fellowship” is the same as the discipline of “community” — but I want to get away from some of the more radical or overly-idealized connotations of “community” in the evangelical subculture and get a bit more to the raw essence of what it is that God calls us to — and why we need it.
The etymology of the English word fellowship is interesting to me. The suffix -ship simply means a state or condition of being. What does fellow mean? Does it just mean “guy” — like, “look at that nice fellow over there”? That would be rather uninspiring (“the state of being guys”). No, originally in Old English fellow meant “partner” and it was associated with business dealings. It was a relationship between two people that was inextricably linked — and in which their success for failure depended upon each other.
What grabs me here is that this speaks ultimately to our mindset — and it pushes back quite hard against my inherent drive for independence and individualism. I want to see my faith as my journey; I want a personal relationship with God; I want my space and my self-sufficiency, thank you very much!
But a fellowship mindset is one that sees Christian friends as not just buddies, but as partners — people I’m meant to depend and rely upon. It’s not just about smiling at church or giving friendly side-hugs or meeting up for small group meetings. It’s something more essential — it’s about how I view me and how I view you. It’s an understanding that I’m dependent on the partnership of others — that I need companions on this journey.
The New Testament uses the Greek word koinonia which is pretty basic, meaning “joint participation in.” But this too requires a mindset shift. It sees faith and growth as a joint-venture — and it doesn’t have a lick of the “personal-relationship-with-God” ring to it, does it?
Of course I do believe we are to have a personal relationship with God. But I also think it’s not to be as “personal” (read “individual, independent, private”) as we often lean toward. There is a strong sense of the communal aspect of faith in both the Old and New Testaments — the interdependence we have upon our fellows (partners) in the faith and the awareness that, indeed, we are created to live in a state of such dependence.
This month — this week — join me in inviting God to challenge our notions of independence and spiritual self-reliance. Ask God to show you how much you need your “fellow” travelers on this journey. I’m ready to be challenged!