Taking a break from more than two decades of doing church in the fast lane gave me an opportunity to reflect upon two soul-searching questions.
- To whom have I poured my life in order that Christ is formed in their hearts through faith?
- Who have poured their lives upon me in order that Christ is formed in my heart through faith?
I am trying to account for the kind of church relationships that because of our paths crossed in life; a bigger hunger, a stronger desire and a deeper obedience for Christ are nurtured. The outcome grieves me and I believe it grieves Jesus’ heart as well.
When I first came to Canada, I was a new Christian. Like other new immigrants who just moved to a new city in a new country, I did not know anyone. I started attending a church of my own ethnic background partly because of my faith but mostly because ethnic church was, and still is, a great social network to find friends, jobs, places to live and is a convenient channel to buy or sell things. It could even be a place to find dates or potential spouses. I have moved to different cities since. Being a part of a church of my own ethnic culture had been a critical part of my life.
I reap what I sow.
When my mindset for church is a social network, I grow my social network of church acquaintances and do not nurture relationships that can deepen our love for Christ. When I have a social agenda for church, I find those who share common interests, culture, personalities and life styles to be friends with. I get the social club that I seek for that provides a great sense of belonging, a membership that becomes a part of my identity. By walking extra miles to overextend myself in church volunteering, I can also earn acceptance, popularity and respect that subtly and unconsciously become my idols.
We casually call these church friendships ‘Christian fellowship’, not knowing that if we don’t wean ourselves from these social-oriented church friendships into sharing life together in and through Christ, we make ourselves spiritually vulnerable. Christ has prepared for us this great fellowship in and through Him in order to prevent us from drifting away from Him, the Lord of our lives. Without fellowship in Christ, we are prone to drift away, eventually to a point that we miss Christ in our lives altogether, though outwardly, we are still active members of this social club. I feel Jesus is knocking at the door of my Christian relationships and gently ask, “May I come in?”
About three years ago, I started meeting up with a group of brothers and sisters in Christ for weekly morning prayers. Apart from our desires for a deeper intimacy with Jesus, we truly have very little in common. We have only come to know each other since I joined the prayer group. Yet it has been the most spiritually refreshing fellowship I have ever experienced. Reflecting upon such experience, I can identify five warning signs of pseudo-fellowship in Christian friendships:
#1. When Christ is not in between us
There are far too many Christian relationships within the church that tacitly make talking about Jesus in our lives a social taboo. We can talk about cars, sports, travel, investment, real estates, entertainment, fashion, weight loss, career, family and even life. We just cannot bring ourselves to talk about Jesus in our lives the same way we talk about our parents, our spouses or our children in our lives, without feeling awkward or embarrassed. I am not saying that Jesus has to be mentioned in every sentence of our conversations. However, we simply cannot miss the elephant in the room. When Christ is not at all what the relationship is about, when pursuing Christ’s lordship, together and for each other in our life situations, is plainly not the agenda of the relationship, we may care for each other a lot as Christian friends, but love capacity by our flesh is small and there is no fellowship in Christ.
On the contrary, when Christ is whom we seek together, when our affections for Him are shared, when we can sit all afternoon and still run out of time to share what Christ is doing in our lives, such authentic fellowship in and through Christ transcends boundaries, forms soul bonds, brings great joy, strengthens our faith, builds us up and is truly refreshing to our souls. Fellowship in Christ requires no commonality other than in Him.
#2. When the Spirit is Dormant
The absence of praying in the Spirit with and for one another is another warning sign of pseudo-fellowship. I am forever grateful for the prayer partners that the Lord has blessed me with. The greatest expression of their love for me is the time they actually invest to pray with me and for me in private. Authentic fellowship in Christ is when we take time to wait upon the Lord for one another’s life situations: to spiritually discern the snares of the evil one and to claim victory by the power of His Word in Jesus’ name. I still remember one time when a prayer partner received two words from the Spirit for me and asked me how those words sat with me. Little did she know that those were the words I jotted down in my journal from my quiet time a few days ago. When we let the Spirit freely flow in between us, our joy overflew knowing without a doubt we are truly His.
#3. When we don’t speak His Word in Love to one another
Speaking God’s Word to one another is another common social taboo among Christian friendships. The absence of the practice of speaking Truth to one another is another sign of pseudo-fellowship. How can this be practiced? I remember in one occasion, after a sister shared about her situation, another prayer partner responded with her advice by saying “Take every thought captive, and make it obedient to Christ”. She said it so naturally as a part of the conversation without quoting the source of the verse (from 2 Corinthians 10:5) and without taking out her bible. The sister was so encouraged. Another time when we were having coffee together, the topic of spiritual gifts was brought up. I asked, “How can I develop such prophetic gift?” “Eagerly desire. That’s how I received it.” Another prayer partner answered. “Where did the bible say so?” I asked. “1 Corinthian 14:1 so you can strengthen, comfort and encourage others.” She said it sincerely yet so casually. I checked out her “off the top of her head” Bible verse. Wow! Spot on! Since then, I have such a great spiritual appetite to soak myself more and deeper in His Word.
#4. When we don’t share the Father’s heart
Another warning sign of pseudo-fellowship is the lack of awareness of the Father’s heart for each other. Without knowing the Father’s heart for the other person, we can only see the person as who he or she is today, instead of what the person could have been through the Father’s eyes. I would never forget how a prayer partner wept for the person whom he prayed for though he did not know that person very well. We experience from time to time how the Spirit moves us to feel the Father’s heart of compassion and mercy over the person we pray for. As we felt His love for that person, His desire for his or her deliverance from wound and brokenness, it moved us to tears.
#5. When our agenda is not His Kingdom agenda
The fifth warning sign of pseudo-fellowship is our unawareness of God’s kingdom agenda for each other. Part of an authentic fellowship in and through Christ is to help each other to embrace God’s calling in our lives, share our dreams and visions with each other, pray for His kingdom to come, especially in areas of darkness, encourage one another to live in His kingdom here on earth.
Christian friendships without fellowship form a social club, not only that grieves Jesus’ heart, we suffer the consequence of making ourselves spiritually exposed and vulnerable. Instead of thinking in lies that authentic fellowship is too ideal for real life, if it is our desire to run our race in victory, we must claim Christ’s design of authentic fellowship and not settle for any less for one another!
See More Posts on Christian Fellowship:
- Making Disciples By Spirit Power
- Why Fast and Pray?
- Worship is not a church program
- Let Faith be Built on God’s Power alone instead of on man’s credentials!
- Hell is not the GOSPEL. Fear is not GOD’s LOVE.
- Experience Jesus Presence and Power as a Lifestyle #BucketListWithGod
- The Ultimate Measure of A Church
- Disarmed at War But Not Knowing = Defeat!
- Ten Toxic Responses to Issues and Problems
- Holiness in the Digitized Realm