Adapted from Personal Disciplemaking by Chris Adsit (used with permission)
The disciple has a basic understanding of the importance of Christian fellowship and is beginning to attend Christian functions.
BIBLICAL BASIS FOR THIS OBJECTIVE
Every believer needs to be in fellowship with other believers for mutual protection and encouragement. As you have done so many times before, look up the following verses and jot down a summary for each in your disciplemaking notebook. Add any more you can think of as well.
Fellowship: A building up, encouraging, and equipping of the body of Christ by the body of Christ.
PEP TALK FOR THE DISCIPLEMAKER
As you can see from the wording of this particular training objective, we’ll be looking at two components of fellowship: (1) teaching your disciple about fellowship and (2) motivating him to fellowship. Therefore, we’ll be dividing the treatment of this training objective into two sections, one addressing each of those components.
Actually, I hope you began to get your disciple involved in Christian fellowship quite some time ago. I just haven’t had much of a chance to mention it until now. If you’ll read this whole second section (chapters 9-20) before diving into your discipling relationship—as I recommended earlier—you’ll know all this. You’ve been meeting with your disciple for six to eight weeks by this time, and if you’re the only Christian he’s had contact with up to now, it’s high time you got that new babe into a church! You should be applying a lot of what I’ll be saying about “Motivating Your Disciple TO Fellowship” long before you actually sit down with him to discuss the fellowship spoke of the wheel.
Section I—Motivating Your Disciple TO Fellowship
A mysterious thing has happened to your disciple: He has been grafted into the body of Christ. He is now part of his Savior’s body, right along with you.
How much do you know about the human body? As an undergraduate biology major I took an astonishing course called “Cytology.” In it we studied in great detail the workings of individual cells, what each of their sub-cellular components did and how they functioned in concert with neighboring cells, tissues and organs, to keep you going strong. I sat spellbound as I learned about the intricate symphony of life constantly being played within each cell in our bodies. Hundreds of microscopic sub-cellular pin-points wonderfully and obediently do their jobs in flawless rhythm twenty-four hours a day, each cell perfectly harmonizing its concert with the one being played in the cell next door. They give and receive chemicals, hormones, oxygen and nutrients in just the right quantities, and in split-second timing. All the cells together synchronize to produce a masterpiece of form and function, able to carry out whatever the brain demands in perfect coordination. Why, it’s enough to thunder-strike even the most materialistic atheist.
Oh that the body of Christ could function as efficiently as our own physical bodies! Someday, in eternity, that will be reality. As we look at it now, however, we’re looking through smoked glass. But that’s no reason you, your disciple and I shouldn’t strap on our backpacks and begin the ascent to that celestial summit. With the help of the Holy Spirit, a little knowledge, and some personal discipline and determination, we can go a long way toward helping the body of Christ around us come closer to that heavenly ideal!
What do you think your disciple will experience during his first exposure to genuine Christian fellowship? If the group you take him into is functioning as it should, probably the first thing that will strike him will be the love that he sees both from group member to group member and from group members to him. That’s as it should be. Jesus said that the primary distinguishing characteristic of Christians should be love (John 13:35). Your disciple should be pleasantly surprised at the attention people pay to him, how they want to get to know him, and how they rejoice at his recent decision to trust Christ.
But if he hasn’t had much church contact before, there’s a good chance he’ll feel a little out of place at first. Even if he HAS been a church-goer in earlier times, he may feel a little uneasy, thinking, These people are singing songs about Jesus and praying, for cryin’ out loud…and it looks like they’re doing it because they want to, and not just because it’s part of the litany.
My first few Christian meetings were a little scary. I really did love the Lord, but did we have to do all this singing about it? I fervently hoped that none of my friends would peek in the window and see me with these fanatics. But as time went on, and I observed the camaraderie, the bonds of friendship and the unconditional love they held for each other and for me, I was caught—and I didn’t care who knew it.
How warm and loving is your local body? If you bring a new believer there, will he feel welcome? Will people show genuine love and concern? Will he want to come back? Or will he feel like an outsider? Will the members of your group keep to their little cliques, give him a polite nod and then go back to their mutual-admiration societies? These ingrown fellowships are not healthy, not for the newcomer nor for the old-timers. If that’s all you have to take your disciple to, you can try to help your group change, or move to another fellowship, or call a few of the more mature members of your group and ask them to put forth a special effort to make your new disciple feel more at home. In our me-centered, overly-mobile, disposable-everything society, it’s already hard enough for people to establish good relationships with decent people, without fellow Christians making it even harder.
What should constitute his first Christian meeting? The obvious answer: a church service. He can meet lots of other Christians; he might be favorably impressed with the music and the big organ; he’ll be fed from the Word of God during the pastor’s sermon; the beauty of the building could be inspirational; etc. A lot of good things can be said about a church service.
On the other hand, it may be a little overpowering. Your disciple may feel lost in the crowd, especially if you belong to a big church. Or, since it’s hard for members of big churches to keep track of who’s new and who’s not, he may not sense the love and warmth people ordinarily show a visitor, especially one who has just come to know the Lord. I’m not saying this will happen at every big church, but it’s certainly something to take a look at.
You may prefer to invite him to a smaller group meeting, such as a home fellowship, a Bible study, a retreat, a church breakfast or dinner, or even an informal function with a bunch of close Christian friends. As I mentioned earlier, the first Christian meeting my discipler took me to was in the next town. We went with about ten other guys from his church and watched a Billy Graham movie. During that evening, I became quite impressed with the special bond among those guys, and I wanted in. I sensed that they wanted me in, too.
But let me emphasize again, “You decide.” You and the Holy Spirit know the facts surrounding your particular church, and you can figure out what would meet your disciple’s needs.
BROACHING THE SUBJECT
Not only is it tough for me to advise you specifically as to what should be your disciple’s first Christian meeting, it’s equally tough to say when. You may invite him to join you immediately after he accepts Christ, or you may want to wait a week or two. I can’t think of any reason you would want to wait any longer than three weeks, however. It’s up to you and the Holy Spirit to determine the proper timing.
If you’ve got a dynamite group, with brothers and sisters who really walk with the Lord and would immediately welcome your disciple into the warmth of their fellowship, invite him soon. If you’re a little hesitant about your group, and think he might have a negative experience if he went right away, put it off a while. Take a little time to develop a strong relationship with him yourself, and look for an opportunity to divulge to him the startling fact that Christians are sinners, too.
SUGGESTIONS FOR GROWTH
The Actual Invitation
Most Americans already understand that churchgoing is part and parcel of being “religious.” For that reason, a new believer rarely would be reluctant to begin getting involved in fellowship with other believers. They already expect to be asked. Generally speaking, all that you will need to say is something like, “Hey, Jodi, how’d you like to come to church with me next Sunday?” Or, “Hank, a bunch of us get together every Thursday night to study the Bible. How about coming along this week?”
On the other hand, you may choose to be a little more creative, and say something like:
YOU: Hmmmm. I wonder what you are.
DISCIPLE: Beg pardon?
YOU: Do you think that you’re more the “hand” type or the “foot” type? Or maybe the “eye” type?
DISCIPLE: I don’t know what you’re talking about.
YOU: Maybe you’re a heart…or a liver…or a gall bladder…
DISCIPLE: Would you please tell me what you’re babbling about?
YOU: Well, all through the New Testament, Christians are spoken of as being part of the body of Christ, and I just wonder where you fit in. Ankle?
DISCIPLE: I think I know where you fit in—the pits. What do you mean, “part of the body of Christ”?
YOU: Take a look here at 1 Corinthians 12:12-27 (or whatever passage you want to use; read it or have him read it). So you see, all Christians are like one big, supernatural body, with Christ as the head. Just like the different parts of our bodies have different functions, each of us has a different function within the body of Christ, and each is important. Plus, whenever one part of the body is hurt, the entire body stops to help it out. That’s the way it’s supposed to be in a local group or church, too. Ear—maybe you’re an ear. How would you like to meet your elbow, big toe and left eyebrow?
YOU: You know what I mean. How would you like to come with me to church next week and meet some other members of the body of Christ? It’s never too soon to start learning just where you fit in.
What if he says no?
There are several reasons a new Christian might not want to get involved in a local fellowship:
· a bad experience at a younger age;
· too shy to go to public meetings;
· hesitant about being branded a “holy roller” by his friends;
· jealous about his time and not willing to take on any more time-consuming activities;
· has a problem with the hypocrisy he’s seen in other Christians;
· and, no doubt, many others.
The main thing you need to do is figure out what misconception he may be operating under regarding fellowship, and then try to help him accurately assess the situation. A simple and relatively nonthreatening way of going about that is to say, “All right, McGill. Suit yourself. But I’d really be interested in knowing why not.”
Depending on the situation, you may want to have it out with him then and there, gently but firmly sharing with him from Scripture how vital it is that he be involved with a local body of believers. With other people, it may be appropriate to drop it for now, and try again in a week or so. Of course, during that week, you should spend much time in prayer on the matter. You also can slip in a plug for fellowship whenever you get the chance.
In any case, don’t give up. You may have to work on him for months before he finally relents, but work you must. If the person you are working with is indeed a Christian, and he is showing reluctance to attend Christian activities, don’t forget your “fifth front,” the Holy Spirit. He will be working within that new Christian to help him overcome preconceived notions or prejudices about fellowship. It’s not totally up to you to be the big “convincer” here. Just keep loving him, praying for him, and gently nudging him in the right direction.
The person’s aversion toward Christian fellowship may be because he himself actually is not a Christian, in which case being around other Christians makes him sick (2 Corinthians 2:15-16). If your overtures continue to fail, you might explore this possibility. Maybe you should ask him point blank, “Ralph, I hope you don’t take this the wrong way, but ever since you asked Christ into your life you seem unwilling to get involved in fellowship with other believers. Now, the Bible says this is a trait of someone who is not saved (2 Corinthians 2:15-16), and to tell the truth, I’m beginning to wonder about you. Are you convinced that you do belong to Jesus Christ, that you really meant it when you asked Him to come into your life?”
By laying all the cards on the table like that, you may be able to come to the source of the problem. I recommend this recourse only as an extreme resort. We don’t want to induce our disciples to start doubting their salvation left and right, but if you think there is a legitimate concern that he has misunderstood salvation and is not a Christian, better give it a whirl.
Section II—Teaching Your Disciple ABOUT Fellowship
Now we’re back to the present again. Your disciple has been going with you to church or small group Bible studies for several weeks now, you’ve shared the wheel illustration with him, and now you want to give him a little deeper education on what Christian fellowship is all about.
BROACHING THE SUBJECT
Your disciple needs to understand that, contrary to what he may observe in most churches in the U.S. today, Christian fellowship is a lot more than saying, “Hi! Hawayah?” to a bunch of casual acquaintances on Sunday morning, or having lunch with a Christian friend and knitting or talking baseball the whole time. At the core of fellowship is love. Now a shallow, casual or inconsistent love, but unselfish, willful, accepting, dynamic, constant, accountable, provocative (in the biblical sense) love. The kind of sacrificial love that Jesus had for us. The kind of love that would cause outsiders to take one look and say, “THAT is from GOD!” (John 17:23).
For this reason, I think it’s a good idea to help your disciple warm up to this subject by having him read Transferable Concept #8, “How To Love By Faith”[i] before you meet. You could have him complete the thought questions or Bible study prior to your meeting, or do some of them together during the first part of your meeting. If your disciple doesn’t have a firm grasp on what true Christian love is, all the rest of what you say about fellowship will be meaningless.
Another potentially interesting way to get your conversation revved up is to ask him if he could make up, or has ever heard, a good definition of love. Or look it up in the dictionary, and see if the two of you agree with its definition, or think you can improve on it.
SUGGESTIONS FOR GROWTH
Remembering that your disciple is still a very young Christian, and that you’ll be going into much more detail later in his development, you will be wise to focus now on just three concepts, which I’ve listed below. Each is accompanied by several verses, with a brief summary of each verse (so you will see the same point I did in each). You still need to look them all up, however, and decide which ones you want to use with your disciple. I suggest you simply sit down with him, using your Bible and a sheet of paper, and look up each reference. Ask him questions like, “What does this verse say about love as a priority in the Christian life?” Or, “Why should we fellowship, according to this verse?” Then, lead him to more in-depth thinking about his answers by asking guiding questions such as, “What do you think it means to ‘speak the truth in love?’ Do you think it’s possible to speak the truth ‘not in love’?” Don’t put words in his mouth, but guide his thoughts if he has trouble answering.
1. The priority of love in Christian fellowship
If he has already read Transferable Concept #8, simply discuss it. If not, read and discuss some of the following passages:
Matthew 22:37-40—Loving God and loving man are the two greatest commandments.
John 13:34-35—Commanded to love by Jesus; mark of a true disciple.
Romans 13:8-10—Love is the fulfillment of the law.
1 Corinthians 13—The great love chapter.
1 Corinthians 16:14—Do everything in love.
Galatians 5:22—Love is the first component of the fruit of the Spirit.
1 Peter 4:8—Love covers a multitude of sins.
1 John 3:16-18—Love prompts us to sacrifice for others. If not, love of God isn’t in us. Need to love in deed, not just word.
1 John 4:7-8—Love is a characteristic of all those born of God.
1 John 4:16-21—Abiding in love = abiding in God. We love because He first loved us; you can’t love God and hate your brother.
2. Why we should fellowship
Proverbs 27:17—We “sharpen” each other.
Ecclesiastes 4:9-12—Better return for labor, and protection, warmth and strength in numbers.
Matthew 18:20—Christ has promised to be there in a special way.
John 17:21—To unify ourselves, to become better witnesses.
Romans 1:11-12—We all strengthen, benefit and encourage each other.
1 Corinthians 12:12-26—We are all part of Christ’s “body,” and need each other; we help each other by supplying each others’ needs.
Hebrews 3:13—Keeps us from being hardened by sin.
3. What we do in fellowship
Acts 2:42—Study the Word together, have communion, pray together.
1 Corinthians 10:24—Seek each other’s benefit, not our own.
Galatians 6:2—Carry each other’s burdens.
Ephesians 4:15-16—Speak the truth in love; build each other up.
Philippians 2:1-2—Seek unity and like-mindedness.
Hebrews 3:13—Exhort each other to maintain a lifestyle.
Hebrews 10:24-25—Get together often with other Christians; provoke each other to love and good works.
1 Peter 5:5-6—Serve each other in humility.