1. Authenticity: sharing true feelings.
2. Mutuality: encouraging each other.
3. Sympathy: supporting each other emotionally.
4. Mercy: forgiving each other.
5. Honesty: speaking the truth in love.
6. Humility: admitting our weaknesses.
7. Courtesy: respecting our differences.
8. Confidentiality: no gossip.
9. Frequency: making the group a priority.
If you are a part of a fellowship group with all nine of these characteristics, you are blessed!
The purpose of a discipleship system is to identify the stages of spiritual growth and then help people transition from one stage to the next. The first two purposes are the foundation for all that comes. The size and strength of the foundation determines the size of anything you can build on it.
The first foundation for a mature Christian life is Jesus Christ and our relationship with God. But our relationship with the body of Christ, the church, is like rebar in concrete. The first two purposes work together and complement each other in how God planned for our faith to operate.
Research by George Barna reported over a decade ago indicates, however, that only 17% of worship attenders participate in a weekly bible study, Sunday School class or prayer meeting. In short, their practice of discipleship with other Christians is limited to what happens in a worship service. This is a small foundation which will limit a Christian’s future growth. As we move on from purpose 2 to the other purposes, what has been done here will limit what can be done in discipleship later.
Extending our foundation is going to involve working in the area of Purpose 2, genuine Biblical fellowship. Much of what follows in the faith happens in small groups; fellowship is how those relationships in small groups begins in the life of a new believer. One of the greatest errors we make is when we believe that we can do everything in a worship service that believers need for spiritual growth. We don’t say that – but when we look at our behavior, what we do indicates that this is a basic approach of the church today. We plow most of our time and energy and financial resources into the worship service … and starve the other forms of service to God.
The place to begin the renovation of the house of God is with repairs to the foundation, and particularly the element of fellowship. We can imagine that God desires us to be spectators in awesome worship, but everything beyond that involves participation and depends on participation with other Christians. And participation begins with the quality of relationships we begin in the purpose of fellowship. Jesus was not exaggerating when he said to his followers: “A new commandment I give to you, to love one another as I have loved you.” This statement in John 13:34 is repeated in the Great Commission at Matthew 28:20 – what Jesus does with his disciples is a pattern for us. Fellowship is the foundation for future discipleship, and if the way we interact with each other becomes similar to what Jesus and the disciples did, we will see the same results they gained.
Consider your involvement in small groups where Christians love one another. Does your group show all of the nine characteristics named above? If not, how can we increase the value of the experience of fellowship.
Some quotes in italics are from Day 19 of The Purpose Driven Life by Rick Warren (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2002).
George Barna is quoted in Greg Ogden, Transforming Discipleship: Making Disciples A Few At A Time (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2003), 26.
The photo is by Alex Leung aka six steps, courtesy of the Flickr Creative Commons License, and can be viewed at: http://www.flickr.com/photos/sixsteps/492862375/