There are words in normal church vocabulary that are supposed to be fully and easily understood by those within the church. Those same words may have different or puzzling meanings to outsiders. We don’t often think about church jargon, but we certainly have it. If you tell your unchurched friend that you were “really blessed by the fellowship during the mission fest last night,” she may have no idea what you are talking about.
I think “fellowship” is one of those words. I’m not even sure that most of us know what it should mean. I have heard all kinds of messages on how important fellowship is, but in the same churches I have seen very little evidence of any real fellowship. Oh yes, the people who like each other get together and have good times, but that happens outside the church as well.
Yet, when you open the amazing box of gifts that came with your salvation, you will find something that could be called “fellowship.” Basically, it means that you are now part of a community, with all the benefits and privileges thereof. In fact, it means that you are part of a body and all parts are important and connected. Since you are an important part of the body, the rest of the body loves you and accepts you and supports you. The church needs you, not to do work, but just to be who you are.
Honestly, the church hasn’t done very well with this part of salvation’s gift. We seem to be much better at making people feel separate or unwanted. The church often fosters competition and judgment that are inconsistent with the character of Jesus. Some would go so far as to say that they have found more friendship and acceptance outside the church than inside. That’s very sad.
But those who seek love in the body of Christ will find it. There are good people among the believers. There are people who will help and encourage and love. Their love might be challenging sometimes, as they refuse to allow you to keep hurting yourself or deceiving yourself. But there are people who care. They care because Jesus cares and they are filled with His life.
Just understand that other believers are just as hesitant and immature and compromised as you are. They struggle too. They are failures who need a Savior. I know that some of them act like they have it all together, but that’s also part of their struggle. They are afraid to relax and let others know the truth.
I have been in full-time ministry for over 35 years. I have known a lot of believers through that time. Some of them I call friends. A handful of them are people who share life and support. Those few are precious. They are not users or judges or critics. They are just friends—and brothers and sisters in Jesus.
I know that some unbelievers are good friends also but my Christian friends are especially important because we share a common life, the life of Jesus. We draw from Him a common strength and understanding, a love that goes beyond this life and this world. As I look around the church I see many people that stretch my belief that we will all enjoy each other in Heaven. I believe it, but I can hardly imagine it. But these few friends—well, let’s just say that they are evidence that Heaven isn’t just a place far away. A little of the love and acceptance of Heaven is mine when I am with them.