For the past couple of days, we've been looking at the idea of moving into a new community without joining it, based on the real-life example of a small family moving to a new place who has refused to even visit with local churches and plans instead to start their own fellowship venture. We have seen some of the dangers of this type of thinking - both for the community at large and for the fledgling faithful in the new venture.
But this is also something worth grieving over for the established church, for the fellowships that are already in place.
When you start your own fellowship, it's usually because you have some ideas you're unwilling to let go of, some things you're so sure you're right about that you're not willing to leave them up to anyone else. It's very difficult to grow in your own fellowship because you're the one who sets the parameters for it, so anyone who pushes the envelope or challenges you can easily be dis-fellowshiped, leaving you stuck in your own limited understanding forever. To someone who wants to start their own fellowship, this is often a very important truth. In fact, it's one of the selling points - I get to do faith my way.
Fair enough, if that's your thing. But here's something else to consider: When you don't join up with a messy fellowship, you don't make them better. You don't offer them your gifts. You don't use what God has given you for the edification of His people and the glory of His name. You keep it hidden in small, safe spaces where it can never be challenged, but it can never be a blessing, either. You never challenge anyone else to grow in their faith. You never encourage anyone else to grow in their faith.
Now, a natural response to this would be, "I'm right here." If they want to be challenged and grow, then they should join my fellowship because that's what I'm all about. That's what I started it for. I wanted to reach out to others who want what I've got, who are ready to be pushed by me and want to grow in a certain direction.
That, of course, is an extremely arrogant attitude. It sets you up as the great teacher, the untoucahble rabbi, the one-to-be-sought after when, let's just be honest, Jesus spent His ministry going to others. Are you better than Jesus? Do you have more to offer than He does? He even went to the disciples, to the persons He intended to call into His close fellowship and inner circle. He went out and made His small group; He didn't just stand on a high mountain and call them to come to Him if they were interested in salvation. He took every bit of His heart and grace and ministry to the people.
It's also a very lonely place to be. Because when you set yourself up as the standard and hold this attitude that anyone who wants what you've got will come to you, it doesn't take long before you realize that not a lot of persons are coming. Maybe they come at first, but maybe they don't stay long. So your little fellowship fizzles, and it becomes a personal failure. You can't help but take it as a referendum on you, and maybe it is. But it will probably make you angry at some point if you feel rejected personally.
Anyway, I digress. See, when you don't offer your gifts to the fellowship in a place, when you don't share who you are with a people on the same journey as you, when you don't bring yourself to the work of God ongoing not just in a community, but in the hearts of His people, they miss out on something incredible. Yes, I really mean that.
I attend a church that has been through a lot of flux over the years. So many of the persons who were there when I entered in twenty years ago have moved on, for one reason or another, and I miss them. I miss the different gifts of heart that they had, the ways that they were shaping my faith. I have had the opportunity to run into a few of them recently and share brief, but meaningful conversations, and I see the way their hearts come out even in the words they speak. And I can't help but think how different my own faith would look right now if these persons were still in my fellowship, if these persons were offering me the gifts of their lives in order to push me to grow in my own. These persons know so much about faith that I want to know. They have lived so well, and I want to live well like that.
Here's just a small example: a lot of the persons who surround my faith right now are the 'teaching' type. Ask them what they hope for their children, and they'll tell you all of the things they are trying to teach their kids. They'll tell you all of the things they hope their kids learn. They'll tell you the way they are guiding their children toward this or that. I ran into a man who used to be in my fellowship a few weeks ago in the grocery store, and he was telling me about the ways that his kids had grown up. I asked what they were doing now, and he told me stories about how they had come to the places they are and the conversations they had had along the way. And he said, "I told them, 'just tell dad what to be praying for.'" He's not a teacher, like I am surrounded by right now; he's an encourager. It's a whole different skill set, an entirely different heart.
Listen, I'm not saying that the teachers are wrong. That's not it. What I am saying is that if everyone in my fellowship is a teacher, then I will learn to be a teacher. But an encourager, just one encourager, can change my faith in a dynamic way - and in fact, one short conversation in a grocery store has. I miss this man in my fellowship. And when I spoke with him, I missed him in my heart. Because of the way his faith grows mine. I miss that. I'm missing that.
This is what you do when you enter in to a messy fellowship - you bring them a gift that they may not have without you. You offer them something that maybe they're missing. If you truly believe that you have something to offer to God's people, why wouldn't you do that? Why wouldn't you go to where God's people are and bring your gifts with you? The church needs you. It's messy. It's broken. It's getting some things right and some things wrong. It's growing. It's finding itself. It's losing itself. It's probably not everything you want, and it might not be everything it wants to be. But it needs you.
That's why you join the church.