Something that many modern Christians have forgotten is that our faith grows out of Old Testament Judaism, which is a religion of community. The Jews lived in fellowship with one another and with God. This was God’s plan from the beginning with Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. This was God’s plan when He instituted the concept of a weekly Sabbath. It’s still His plan for us today.
That is why the writer of Hebrews declared:
“And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near” (Hebrews 10:25 NLT).
Attending church regularly and being an active part of Christian fellowship throughout the week is essential for growth as a disciple of Jesus Christ. But it’s important to remember, no church is perfect. You have to begin your journey with this in mind so that you don’t become disillusioned when people disappoint you—because they will, just like you will likely disappoint someone else at some point in the journey. Someone once said, “There is no perfect church—I know that because both you and I are here.”
So why does God want us to commit to ongoing Christian fellowship? There are several reasons, but let’s begin with the first and second commandments of Jesus.
The Pharisees were a group of Jewish leaders who lived during the time of Jesus’ earthly ministry. Sadly, many of them were jealous of His success. They were afraid that the people would eventually reject them, and then they would lose their political power. So they often tried to trap Jesus with difficult questions in an attempt to have the people turn against Him. One day a group of Pharisees approached Jesus and one of them asked, “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?”
“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and
with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great
and first commandment” (Matthew 22:34-38 ESV).
Then Jesus took their question a step further and coupled the love of God with the love of other people.
“And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as
yourself. On these two commandments depend all the
Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 22:39-40 ESV).
By making church attendance and Christian fellowship a priority in your life, you are honoring both the first and second commandments. You honor God by setting aside one day every week when you worship Him for His love and for who He is. You give Him praise for His faithfulness in your life. And you pour out your petitions to Him in prayer.
You also fulfill the second commandment to love others by building relationships with people in the family of God. By doing so, you grow through your exposure to the knowledge and experience of others—and they grow from the gifts and talents you bring to the relationship. As these friendships mature, there will be times when you will help others, and there will be occasions where others will help you.
And remember, obeying the Sabbath to keep it holy is one of the ten commandments. This is the original list of God’s priorities for mankind, and we will do well to heed all ten—including a day set aside for worship and rest.
Here are some of the reasons God wants us to make consistent fellowship a part of our lifestyle.
Weekly church attendance gives you a designated time to worship God. This is fulfilling the greatest commandment to love God with all your heart, soul, and mind. The issues of life can become quite demanding of our time and energy. It’s easy to neglect our time with God throughout the week. By entering the doors of a church, you are setting aside a segment of your time with no other purpose but to give praise and worship to God.
A significant part of most church services is spent in praise and worship. In fact, one of the deciding factors for many people in choosing a church fellowship is whether they relate to the form of worship. But remember, worship is for God, not for people, so don’t get too distracted if you don’t like every song.
Learning God’s Word
The local church and small Bible studies are some of the best places to learn about the Bible. King David makes some powerful declarations concerning the revelation of God’s Word in Psalm 119 (NASB):
“Forever, O Lord, Your word is settled in heaven” (v. 89).
“Oh how I love Your Law! It is my meditation all the day” (v. 97).
“I understand more than the aged, because I have observed Your precepts” (v. 100).
“From Your precepts I get understanding; therefore, I hate every false way” (v. 104).
Then David makes this poetic statement regarding the Word of God:
“Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path” (v. 105).
For the child of God, the Bible is a lamp to guide where our feet fall each day, and it is also a beacon or flood light to guide us toward wisdom in the decisions we must make for the future. In other words, the Bible is essential for victorious Christian living.
While it’s important to read and study the Bible every day (see chapters 5 and 10), it’s also good to learn the principles of Scripture from others. Every time we attend church, or a Bible study, or another kind of fellowship group, we have the opportunity to learn from God’s Word. We grow by sitting under the teaching of a mature man or woman of God in a church or Bible study.
Building Relationships with Other Believers
One of the best ways to become wise in life is to surround yourself with wise people. Many have said, “Show me your friends, and I’ll show you your character.” Close friends can either lift us up in our faith, or tear us down. By committing yourself to faithful participation in a church, a youth group, a men’s or women’s fellowship, a Christian business association, or some other type of Bible study, you are making a conscientious decision to surround yourself with godly people.
The writer of Hebrews points out the wisdom of this choice, declaring, “Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works” (Hebrews 10:24 NLT).
Through faithful attendance at church or a Bible study, we can build strong friendships with other godly people where we “motivate one another to acts of love.” You want to cultivate these kinds of friendships in order to become more like Jesus!
The experiences in our Christian life can be described like a ladder. There are those who have walked with Christ for a longer time who may be several rungs up the ladder above you. As a result, they have experienced several things in life and have gained wisdom from which you can learn and grow.
Scripture points out that it is prudent to seek this wisdom:
“Where there is no counsel, the people fall; but in the multitude
of counselors there is safety” (Proverbs 11:14 NKJV).
“Is not wisdom found among the aged? Does not long
life bring understanding?” (Job 12:12 NIV).
“The one who gets wisdom loves life; the one who cherishes
understanding will soon prosper” (Proverbs 19:8 NIV).
By surrounding ourselves with mature believers, we can also gain from their wisdom.
A Place of Prayer
Jesus quoted the prophet Isaiah when He said, “It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer’” (Isaiah 56:7; Matthew 21:13 NASB). While Jesus was speaking of the Jewish temple, the truth is that any house of worship dedicated to the God of the Bible is His house—and as such, it is to be a house of prayer.
Another wonderful benefit of being a member of a local church or Bible study is the opportunity to pray with others. The Bible makes it clear that prayer is powerful (see chapter 6). God promises that He hears us when we pray. He says He will answer prayer—but He declares that it must be prayer that is offered according to His Word and with the proper motives.
Another key to answered prayer is to join with others in lifting up petitions to God.
“Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them” (Matthew 18:19-20 ESV).
It’s not that God doesn’t want you to pray alone. He does. But our faith is strengthened when we come into agreement in prayer. Scripture says it this way:
“A person standing alone can be attacked and defeated, but two can
stand back-to-back and conquer. Three are even better, for a
triple-braided cord is not easily broken” (Ecclesiastes 4:12 NLT).
This brings up another element in our need for fellowship. While we have a need to be in larger groups for what we call “corporate worship,” we also have a need for smaller, more intimate Bible studies and fellowships. While large weekly church services provide various opportunities for prayer, smaller Bible studies and fellowship groups allow more time and opportunity to share personal observations, to ask questions, and to pray. It is in these small groups that we grow to know people on a more personal basis, rather than just greeting them quickly in the parking lot or lobby of the church.
Because of these deeper relationships, disciples grow to know and care for each other. This is called by some 20-20 vision, taken from Acts 20:20 (NLT) where Paul writes, “I never shrank back from telling you what you needed to hear, either publicly [corporate services] or in your homes [more intimate, small groups].”
Opportunities are often given to pray for one another during small group gatherings. Then as friendships grow, many will take it upon themselves to write down prayer needs in a notebook or in their phones and then pray for those things throughout the week. People in the group grow in faith as prayers are answered, and God moves on behalf of the members.
Opportunities for Service
Churches and Christian fellowships by their nature provide opportunities for service within the community. We are created for the purpose of doing good works to glorify God and to demonstrate His love to other people.
While you and I were being formed, God infused into us His plan for our lives, and that included the manner with which we would shine His light in tangible ways to people in our family, in our neighborhood, in our community, in our country, and around the world. The psalmist poetically describes this wonderful genesis:
“For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s
womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful
are your works … Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book
were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me,
when as yet there was none of them” (Psalm 139:13-14, 16 ESV).
Every life has purpose. You were created with a plan in mind. The prophet Jeremiah declares:
“For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope” (29:11 NLT).
Have you identified the talents and spiritual gifts that God has created in you? Do you know how God wants you to use those gifts to bless other people and point them to him? By being a committed member of a local church you can receive help in first discovering what those gifts and talents may be; then you can receive guidance, teaching, and training to develop those spiritual gifts and natural talents; and finally you can find outlets to use or deploy those gifts in the church, community, and even around the world.
We read in the book of Acts that service within the community was part of the DNA of the first-century church. In Acts chapter 6, we see that the church had grown to the point where the apostles could no longer tend to the feeding of the poor and the care of widows while also doing the teaching and preaching. They decided to appoint seven men to oversee these duties. This care for those in need was a part of the day-to-day functioning of the church—and it should be the same in churches today.
Throughout the New Testament, we see examples of the local churches caring for the poor and needy in their communities. This is another way that believers, both individually and corporately, can fulfill the second commandment of Jesus to “love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 29:39 NKJV).
Fellowship with Others is a Gift
Scientific research has confirmed what the Bible has said from the beginning—and that is the fact that God created us with a need for relationships. That is why Scripture encourages us to find a community of believers in a local church and in Christian Bible studies or smaller fellowship groups. When you walk in fellowship with your brothers and sisters in Christ you will grow, they will be blessed by what you bring to the relationship, and the community is touched with the love of Jesus through you.
As we fellowship with other believers, we grow in maturity and in personal holiness. Learn more about these virtues in chapter 8.