You can develop a healthy, robust community that lives right with God and enjoy its results only if you do the hard work of getting along with each other, treating each other with dignity and honor. – James 3:18
Community requires commitment. Only the Holy Sprit can create a real fellowship between believers, but our choices and commitments help cultivate it. If you’ve just about had it with fake fellowships, and you’re interested in building a genuine fellowship, you’ll need to make some tough choices and take some risks.
Cultivating community takes honesty: Speaking the truth, especially when it’s uncomfortable means you care. Proverbs 24:26 says, “an honest answer is the sign of true friendship.” Thousands of fellowships have been destroyed by a lack of honesty. In Galatians 6:1, we are told, “Dear brothers and sisters, if another believer is overcome by some sin, you who are godly should gently and humbly help that person back onto the right path. And be careful not to fall into the same temptation yourself.” People don’t like criticism, but if you speak the truth in love, you will be more appreciated for that. When conflict is handled correctly, we grow closer to one another. Always seek God first before confronting any situation, but make sure you don’t brush things under the carpet.
Cultivating community takes humility: In I Peter 5:5, we’re told to “clothe ourselves with humility toward one another, because, God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” Pride builds walls between people, while humility builds bridges. There are practical ways to achieve humility:
– admitting your weaknesses
– being patient with others’ weaknesses
– being open to correction
– deflecting the spotlight to others (try not to over-do this one)
There is a clear difference between pride and confidence, yet people tend to mix these up. Confidence is saying I believe in who I am and what I stand for, while pride is an inflated sense of self-importance.
Cultivating community takes courtesy: Courtesy is being considerate of the doubts and fears of others. It’s no hidden fact that I have an un-real fear of dogs, which makes no sense to dog lovers. If you want to cultivate a fellowship with me, you may not want to start by inviting me to your home with 4 pets… allow me ease into that. I’ve petted dogs in my friend’s home, but I have to feel really safe with the friend for me to be able to do that. Romans 12:10 tells us, “Be devoted to each other like a loving family. Excel in showing respect for each other.”
We all have a few annoying traits, but in cultivating fellowship, it’s not our place to pick at what people do, but to show them love in spite of it. This is not easy, I struggle with this a lot – I’d rather not ‘hang out’ with someone, than tolerate his or her rubbish, but I’m learning that God has called us to fellowship with one another in spite of all these…
Cultivating community takes confidentiality: Proverbs 16:28, “Gossip is spread by wicked people; they stir up trouble and break up friendships.” When someone opens up to you, or to a group for help, it’s not a table discussion, even with your spouse or BFF…some things should never be repeated. I’m sure we all have stories for days on a bad effect of gossiping, as much as possible, put a lock on your mouth.
Cultivating community takes frequency: Hebrews 10:25, “Let us not give up the habit of meeting together, as some are doing. Instead, let us encourage one another all the more…” Relationships take time. The more time we spend with people, the deeper we our relationships get. Yes, we all have busy schedules, but as much as possible, try to fellowship with your friends weekly.
In our small groups, it’s important to make sure that these nine characteristics of biblical fellowship exists:
– Authenticity: Share our true feeling
– Mutuality: Encourage each other
– Sympathy: Support each other
– Mercy: Forgive each other
– Honesty: Speak the truth in love
– Humility: Admit our weaknesses
– Courtesy: Respect our differences
– Confidentiality: Not gossip or spread rumors
– Frequency: Make group meetings a priority
As we can see, it takes a lot of sacrifice to build genuine fellowships. I pray God gives us the grace we need for this. Also, remember the benefits of sharing life together outweighs the cost, and prepares us for heaven.
Food for thought: How can I help cultivate the characteristics of a real community in my small group and my church?