Superficial relationships in the church are a tragedy. The church is the last place humanity should be allowed to anonymously pass by each other. As Christians we live in the eyes-wide-open panorama of the cross of Christ (1 Cor. 1:18). No longer stumbling about in the pervasive darkness blind to the sin that plagues our existence. We now walk in the light (Eph. 5:7-8). We see each other clearly with all our common ailments.
From our common confession springs sympathy and compassion. Rather than reject each other, we welcome each other into a common life of brokenness, grace, forgiveness and transformation. No one passes by unknown or unaccepted. There is no longer a need to hide our brokenness. There is nothing left for us to hide (for all is known) and no reason to hide it (for all is forgiven). There is no need to put on our “Sunday best.” We are free to confess our weakness one to another without fear of condemnation (Psa. 34:17-18). Or, are we?
Despite the fact that we place a premium on “authentic relationships,” very few people within the church ever come to enjoy them. We make great boasts of “the way and the truth and the life”, but gather us together into our churches and all this truth speech goes silent. We clam up about the interior of our own souls and personal struggles. We hide from one another. What you tend to hear in church instead of soul-exposing honesty is cliché driven dialogue adorned with spiritual speak. “Fine,” we say to one another, “I’m doing fine.” We accept these sorts of answers from one another and move on to sports, kids or weekly routines. But, we are not “fine” and we know it. We are all fallen people (Rom. 3:23). All our silence is needless and destructive (Psa. 32:3-5).
We need to be known.
For as long as we have been “in church” how many of us are truly known by other people? How well do we know those around us? Furthermore, how many of us truly know ourselves. There is a self-awareness and perspective on life that can only come from mutual fellowship saturated in the truth of God’s Word (Eph. 4:25).
True Christian fellowship is born of truth and freedom and grace. The truth about who we truly are before a Holy God. The freedom to confess our brokenness in view of God’s unconditional love through Christ. The grace to receive each other’s broken lives without condemnation. This type of love is equal parts intrusion and gentleness (Phil. 1:9). The fruit of such love is an accountability which, rather than producing fear, produces freedom (1 Jn. 4:18).
Are you truly known by your brothers and sisters in Christ?
Here are a few positive signs that you’re experiencing true fellowship as a Christian:
· Sunday services are the smallest part of your participation in the church. The greater exposure to the Body of Christ happens outside of Sunday morning’s service throughout the week.
· Multiple members of your church would be the first people on the scene if you should experience a great need or personal tragedy.
· Due to exposure people exist who can read your life well enough to inquire about the condition of your soul. And they cannot be “snowed” by casual answers.
· You are currently on someone’s prayer list. Someone else is on yours.
Church culture can sometimes prevent genuine fellowship.
Ironically, there are aspects of church culture that can drive us away from the friendships that are ours in Christ—not towards them. Here are some common barriers to fellowship in the local body.
· A judgmental spirit that keeps sinners back from confession (Matt. 7:1-5).
· A shallow message that avoids frank talk of sin and the root problem with humanity (Col. 1:21).
· A moralistic culture that is only concerned with improving behavior rather than getting to the heart (Matt. 6:1).
· A lack of compassion in the church that overlooks individuals or certain demographics (1 Cor. 12:22-23).
· A selfish perspective that approaches church with personal needs in mind (Phil. 2:4).
In future articles, we will look at practical ways to foster healthy church culture and counter this all-too-common tragedy of superficiality in our churches. In the meantime, what are some thoughtful things you can do to help people benefit from true fellowship today?
Byron Yawn is the senior pastor of Community Bible Church in Nashville, Tennesse. He is the author of What Every Man Wishes His Father Had Told Him, and the forthcoming Suburbianity: Can We Find Our Way Back to Biblical Christianity? (Harvest House) You can follow him on Twitter @byronyawn.