Discover What the Bible and Our Experience Teach Us about Community, Fellowship, and Discipleship
In my posts, I write a lot about the importance of community, specifically meaningful spiritual community. I’ve mentioned community over one hundred fifty times. Two related words—or potentially related words—are fellowship and discipleship.
Aside from my posts about 52 Churches, I’ve written about fellowship ten times. And apart from book reviews, I’ve written about discipleship once and the related phrase make disciples, seven times. Let’s consider community, fellowship, and discipleship.
The Bible mentions community eighty-five times and fellowship ninety-four times. But discipleship doesn’t occur at all and make disciples only appears once. From a biblical standpoint, it seems we should focus on community and fellowship, while not worrying so much about discipleship. Interesting.
These three words can mean three different things, or they can all intersect. To me they are one. When I talk about spiritual community, I imply fellowship and discipleship.
A community is a group of people with a shared interest. In a spiritual context, this shared interest is our common faith in Jesus. To achieve meaningful spiritual community involves walking with each other in our daily lives. We celebrate blessings and commiserate struggles.
It’s a faith-sharing, faith-growing, faith-inspiring environment.
God created us for community, just as he exists in community, which we call the Trinity. He wants us to live in community with other followers of Jesus. In the Bible, I get a sense that we need to pursue community over church. But if we do church right, it results in significant community.
Otherwise church attendance means little, other than checking off the “go to church” box on our to-do list.
I long to be part of a deep, meaningful, spiritual community. That’s when I feel most alive and most encouraged in my faith.
Growing up I thought fellowship was a euphemism for drinking coffee. Indeed, scheduled fellowship time at my church involved serving coffee and nothing more. The adults sat around tables, drinking coffee and laughing.
As the adults sipped their brew and shared amusing stories, us kids ran around looking for ways to entertain ourselves. Our goal was to have fun and avoid getting in trouble. Usually we succeeded.
Of course, drinking coffee at church is a warped understanding of fellowship, though fellowship can start with a beverage. But there’s more to fellowship than food.
Fellowship is a hospitable and egalitarian gathering of people. It implies a close connection, with the words friendship and camaraderie adding clarity. At its best, Christian fellowship is spiritual community.
A disciple is someone who embraces the teachings of someone else, in our case Jesus. Disciples are active in their adherence. They share their beliefs with others. Discipleship is the act of being a disciple. Disciples make more disciples.
In my experience, the church talks much more about discipleship than about community and fellowship. I wonder why.
Aside from the Bible’s singular command to “make disciples” (Matthew 28:19-20), Jesus gives a related warning to people who do this poorly (Matthew 23:15). If we smugly think Jesus isn’t referring to us, it’s a sure sign we’re deluding ourselves and that this warning of woe applies to us.
Discipleship best occurs in community. We learn discipleship through example, not discourse. That is, taking a discipleship class falls far short of making disciples. Instead, people catch discipleship through example, which can happen in a meaningful spiritual community.
Community, Fellowship, and Discipleship
Community can be a trivial social exercise that specializes in small talk. Or community can be a significant spiritual experience that brings us closer to each other through faith and closer to God.
Fellowship can mean sitting around drinking coffee and avoiding significant discussion. Or fellowship can be a like-minded gathering of Jesus’s followers who get together to celebrate their common faith and spiritual life.
Discipleship can mean sitting in a boring class that stuffs knowledge into our heads, void of action. Or discipleship can be living for Jesus and serving as an example to others.
Participating in significant spiritual community results in meaningful fellowship and actionable discipleship. This reveals why spiritual community is so important. Though some churches begin to tap into this level of community, most don’t. For most of us if we’re going to experience meaningful Christian community, it’s something we must pursue on our own. Our faith in our future depend on it.
Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices.