After being greeted with a smile and a hearty handshake, a well-dressed man directs you down a hall to where a meeting is taking place. The din of voices grows with every step you take.
You enter and the air is alive with a joyous hum. People are smiling, laughing and shaking hands. There is an occasional hug. It all seems like a celebration‚ÄĒand it is refreshing!
For Christians, this is a similar scene each Sabbath before and after Church services. The experience is commonly referred to as fellowship. While it can seem to be just light conversation, there is deeper meaning to the interactions taking place.
The definition of the word fellowship is simple: friendly conversations with those of like mind. Yet the Bible‚Äôs definition of this word brings it to a whole new level. Notice I John 1:3, which declares that ‚Äútruly our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ.‚ÄĚ
Let this sink in. Our weekly fellowship‚ÄĒspending time with one another before and after Church services‚ÄĒis the same as spending time with the Father and Christ. These two God Beings are involved in this crucial activity!
Put another way, fellowship with God the Father, Jesus Christ, and others of like mind is fellowshipping with the God Family. Ecclesiastes 4:12 states that ‚Äúa threefold cord [a family] is not quickly broken.‚ÄĚ
This analogy demonstrates how a family is stronger than one person alone. They stand together with one purpose. The same concept can be applied to the relationship we share through true Christian fellowship with each other, Jesus Christ, and the Father.
These truths alone should enrich your fellowship forever. Yet how do you put these principles into practice?
The most obvious benefit of Sabbath fellowship is the boost it delivers. After six days of work, God gives us the seventh day to rest from the world‚Äôs ways and attitudes. It is a time to recharge our spiritual batteries and focus on what is truly important.
This commanded rest is an opportunity for extra prayer, Bible study, and meditation. But you cannot discount the tool of true fellowship. It provides that encouraging, uplifting feeling you experience when you really connect in conversation with others of like mind.
Sabbath services provides the ideal environment. We must strive to do what is described in Hebrews 10 by ‚Äúnot forsaking the assembling of ourselves together‚Ä¶‚ÄĚ (vs. 25). The second half of the verse tells us that we should spend time ‚Äúexhorting one another: and so much the more, as you see the day approaching.‚ÄĚ
By watching prophetic events, we can see that Christ‚Äôs Return is fast-approaching. As much as possible, plan to spend ample time before and after services with those in your congregation. Any opportunities to spend time together and fellowship are opportunities for growth. Try to always take advantage of them.
So how can you sharpen your fellowship skills? By preparing during the week.
Thinking about fellowship outside of the Sabbath allows us to ensure we fulfill I Corinthians 1:10: ‚ÄúNow I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you; but that you be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment.‚ÄĚ
To make sure we ‚Äúspeak the same thing‚ÄĚ and that there are ‚Äúno divisions‚ÄĚ requires work.
You should regularly examine what you are putting into your mind. Scrutinize the television shows and movies you watch, music you listen to, books you read, and overall how you spend your time. Ensuring these are edifying is crucial to fellowship success.
We must follow Philippians 4: ‚ÄúBrethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things‚ÄĚ (vs. 8).
If we ‚Äúthink on these things‚ÄĚ during the week, then that is what will come forth out of our mouths on the Sabbath.
Pushing yourself to be a lifelong learner and having a broad range of knowledge will enrich your fellowship as it will help you have more in-depth conversations. Create a habit of staying on top of world news and trends. Consider watching nature documentaries that exhibit God‚Äôs genius in Creation or combing through encyclopedias to glean the lessons of history. All of this will allow you to more easily speak with brethren of diverse backgrounds.
Also, keep fellowshipping in mind when you are studying your Bible. Take note of what verses have particularly helped you or an interesting point you have never considered before about basic truths of God. These can be grist for in-depth conversations.
Integral to Christianity are trials, which allow us to grow and become more like Jesus Christ (I Pet. 4:1-13). In fact, God‚Äôs Word exhorts us to share our personal difficulties and triumphs with one another (Rom. 12:15). (Note: This does not mean we should share our secret or overt sins with one another.) Being open-hearted allows us to realize we are ‚Äúall in this together.‚ÄĚ We have the opportunity to support one another through prayer and through encouragement during fellowship (Jms. 5:16).
Another point of preparation is to pray for brethren who are experiencing trials. By faithfully doing this, you will more readily remember what is going on in people‚Äôs lives and ask how they are doing.
As we fellowship together, we can edify one another (I Thes. 5:11). Pray about your fellowship, consider what you will say and how you will say it, and ask God to give you His mind and fill you with His Spirit.
Finally, make smiling a habit. Ask God for more joy, which is one of the fruits of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22). This simple gesture will allow you to be approachable.
On the Sabbath
When communicating before and after services, the most important principle to consider is balance. It has been my experience over many years in God‚Äôs Church that human nature pushes many to one of two ditches. One is exclusively speaking of physical things such as sports and entertainment. The other is to unnaturally try to steer every part of the conversation to spiritual topics, which usually has an air of self-righteousness.
Sabbath services is not the time to focus solely on one‚Äôs job, how children are doing in school, or worldly pursuits. In contrast, we do not have to have deep, serious, spiritual conversations 100 percent of the time.
For example, you could discuss how you realized you were neglecting the body God gave you and decided to start a new workout program. You could tell the other person how excited you feel that you have more energy and hope to find more ways to serve in your congregation.
Always keep in the forefront of your mind that Jesus Christ is involved in our fellowship. Meditate on I Corinthians 9:25: ‚ÄúEvery man that strives for the mastery is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a corruptible crown; but we an incorruptible.‚ÄĚ
How can you be temperate? Take work for example. You may want to discuss it because of a hardship you are experiencing. The same could be said of a health trial. It is on your mind, and you may want to talk with someone about it.
But do not focus on the negative only. Always bring in what lessons you are learning from the experience. You could mention Bible passages that have been helping you through it.
Other good topics include answered prayers, something you have overcome, how you were called into God‚Äôs truth, and inspiring facts about Creation.
To help you strike the right balance, notice what ministers speak about in sermons. They do not only quote Bible verses. They sprinkle in interesting stories from their pasts, something they read recently, appropriate humor, etc. You can do the same in your conversations.
In all of this, we should learn to express compassion, empathy and outgoing concern for one another, and not be afraid of opening up. We are moving forward together toward the kingdom of God and need each other‚Äôs support.
After services, your conversations can naturally revolve around the sermon and sermonette that were heard and how they impacted you. This positive fellowship can be uplifting and encouraging to others.
Overall, fellowship should always be positive and without contention or controversy (Eph. 4:29). One way to ensure you are on the right track is to put the needs of others before your own (Phil. 2:3).
Sometimes the best way to fellowship is to simply listen to another person express what is on his mind‚ÄĒespecially when getting to know him for the first time.
When meeting someone new, ask questions that are broad in scope. These will give the person an opportunity to speak and let himself be known to you. Always intently listen to what is being said so that you can build on your conversation the next time to you talk with that person.
A person‚Äôs first Sabbath is important as you only have one opportunity to make a first impression. What happens at that time can often determine whether someone comes back the following week.
For this reason, strive to make new people feel welcome. Be sure to provide a warm and safe environment. Be friendly and express outgoing concern for them. In short, be an example of brotherly love.
This is not the time to point out some small point of a person‚Äôs appearance or wardrobe, or to try to fill him in on prophecy or some other doctrine the Church teaches.
Instead, use the time to show real concern for the new members and help them feel at home. Get to know who they are and help them understand more about you.
Never allow new people to be left standing alone or feel they are on the outside looking in. Spend time with them and make them feel comfortable by introducing them to others. Assist them in whatever way you can such as helping them find a seat. This is your opportunity to actively do the Work of God by being a positive example.
Focus on Others
A guiding principle for fellowship is to make a concerted effort to take the focus away from yourself and put it on others.
One way to do this is to realize that, while you may enjoy the wonderful opportunity to meet in a congregation each week, not everyone in God‚Äôs Church has this ability. Some simply live too far away to attend with others.
Do not neglect these brethren! In this technological age, there is no excuse for failing to communicate throughout the week as well as on the Sabbath with those who live far away. This can be done by sending cards and letters, making phone calls, and using video chat services and social media. You may even wish to plan a special visit to someone‚Äôs home if you are able.
By diligently serving in this area, you take away one of Satan‚Äôs greatest weapons for discouragement: loneliness. If you are alone, reach out to those around the globe. Do not wait for others to contact you. Ask your minister if he can put you in contact with brethren you may not yet know.
Do not, however, forget to fellowship with those closest to you. In this hectic world, with all of its hustle and bustle, we can race through the week and not take time to talk to and really connect with our immediate family members.
Each Sabbath, seize the opportunity to draw closer to each other. If you have children, go for a long walk with them. You will be amazed by the conversation that freely flows as you walk and enjoy God‚Äôs Creation.
Never again allow a Sabbath to sneak up on you for which you are ill-prepared for fellowship. Push yourself to take the focus away from your own needs and put it on those of others. Your diligent effort will ensure you and your brethren receive the maximum spiritual boost possible!