Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Seeking True Fellowship

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the quality of various friendships in my life. There are friendships, and then there are fellowships. Friendships can be based on anything—a common interest or hobby, work, our taste in music or movies. Fellowship, on the other hand, is based around a common goal, even if the parties don’t have much in common as far as background or interests go. Some friendships can be quite shallow and hollow if they’re only centered around watching movies together. A fellowship goes deeper; it seems to be more soul-driven than flesh-driven.

There are certain fellow Christians in my life with whom I have friendship, but not really fellowship. Sometimes after hanging out with them, I find myself wondering what the purpose of that time together was, how what we did or said glorified God. And I wonder: am I expecting too much from them?

I don’t necessarily expect that every time I meet with a fellow Christian, we’re going to crack open our Bibles or launch into prayer. But there are some Christians with whom I have a deeper connection, and our talk just seems to naturally turn toward Christ, whether we consciously intend to or not. Those particular friendships inspire me, encourage me, spur me on “toward love and good deeds” (Heb. 10:24).

I know that, as Christians, we are not called to separate ourselves physically from the world but to use our influence as Christians in the world. But what about being around fellow Christians who don’t make me feel more Christ-like. Should I limit my time with them, or should I use my Godly influence on them as well?

Please don’t think that I've got this holier-than-thou attitude—there are many, countless times every single day when my words and actions are sinful and fall far short of honoring God. But as I strive to become more like Christ, I want to be around people who have that same goal. So when I encounter fellow Christians who do not act like they want to be more like Christ, should I avoid them? Or am I setting my expections too high?


Anonymous said...

You have raised an issue I never really considered before. People who have a negative influence on your spirituality are ususally fairly easy to identify and the need to limit their influence makes itself known. Friends that may not bring you down but also do not lift you up are trickier. Maybe you are at a different level of spirituality than they are and your continued time around them is a positive influence on them over time. Maybe God wants you to be the giver in this relationship.

If you can enjoy common interests without feeling spritually drained, I don't think there is anything wrong with that. On the other hand, if spending time with them leaves you longing for a stronger spiritual connection, you may be better served by surrounding yourself with the fellowships that fulfill you.


Jon said...

Great points and I tend to agree. I have more friendships than fellowships. Fellowships require much time and maintaining fellowships with more than 2 people can be difficult and unhealthy. Also, fellowships carry the danger of placing expectations on the participants that GOD never meant to be placed. Anytime you enter the human element into're bound to bring about error. Great distinction though, big difference between Fellowship and friendship. Alot of it boils down to trust in the other person to not become overbearing or lording or "self-righteous" over you. We are not meant to be purveyors of righteousness but rather examples of righteousness. You cannot make me righteous and I cannot make you righteous; that element alone comes from God~we can encourage each other by our examples though.

Let me say (because I can-only from dealing with the same issues in the past) that I'll challenge you even further....instead of debating w/ yourself for a period of time regarding this subject, become proactive. Be proactive in initiating spiritual discussion even if you don't particularly feel close to the individual. Don't talk about your struggles necessarily, or initially, but consider topics that affect the entire group. Let the broader topics be a primer for the deeper, more personal issues. Become all things to all people. In doing so, you may well find friendships that bloom into fellowships.

I will say one more thing, it is possible to be friends with other Christians, yet have the fellowship of Jesus Christ with them, even though you may not be on their level, or vice versa.

Aleah said...

I would have to disagree with Jon to a point. I don't think fellowships have to be time consuming or that maintaining them with more than 2 people can be difficult and unhealthy. Maybe my view of fellowships is a little different. I can certainly recognize the difference between friendships and fellowships. I think fellowships can be something you sort of fall into. I have fellowships with several people, and they just seem to come naturally.

I think we meet people along the way who have similar goals and thought processes. We are simply drawn to those people. They begin as friendships, and somewhere along the way turn into fellowships. Look at our fellowship, for example. At what point did it move from friendship to fellowship? I don't remember. Talking about spiritual things and sharing hopes, dreams, frustrations, etc just seems to flow naturally. I have found similar relationships with people at work, church, even with people I only talk to on the phone or email with. The difference is the connection. I feel connected to these people in a different way. The bond we share is spiritual. That's not to say we don't get together and watch movies and act crazy from time to time!

Maybe the friendships you are experiencing right now are just fellowships in the making. Maybe not. Here's where I do agree with Jon...if you put yourself out there, stick your toe in the water, bring up spiritual things, maybe you will be the gateway for a fellowship to blossom. I think where you can spend a lot of time and energy is trying to create fellowships where they simply aren't going to happen. Again, I think fellowships are natural. If the ground work is there and you throw out a few seeds-a fellowship may bloom. But if you are in such different places and there is very little common ground, you may throw out the seeds and the other parties may look at you like, 'Excuse me, but why are you throwing things at me.'

Once you realize there's not much hope of fellowship, I think you've got to view the relationship as what it is. Simple friendship, no more, no less. On any given day, you can then decide if you are in a mood for a movie or something more. I wouldn't write those people off, because we simply aren't going to have fellowship with everyone. Accepting these relationships are not going to move beyond friendship might clarify some boundaries for you and help you realize how to better meet your relational needs, depending on whether you are seeking friendship or fellowship.