By Greg Petrie, District Representative, Northwest District
“Making your way in the world today
Takes everything you got
Taking a break from all your worries
It sure would help a lot
Wouldn’t you like to get away?
Sometimes you want to go
Where everybody knows your name
And they’re always glad you came
You want to be where you can see
The troubles are all the same
You want to be where everybody knows your name
You want to go where people know
The people are all the same
You want to go where everybody knows your name”
Songwriters: Gary Portnoy / Judy Hart
Cheers lyrics © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC
These are the lyrics of the theme song from the 1980s TV show Cheers. Cheers was a local bar in Boston run by ex-baseball player, recovering alcoholic, womanizing Sam Malone. The lovable absent-minded and bumbling Coach worked the bar. The customers were served by the somewhat coarse but straight-shooting Carla Tortelli and the rather erudite and pretentious Diane Chambers, who felt it was her mission to bring some refinement and culture to this crew of misfits. Regular patrons included know-it-all postman Cliff Clavin who frequently bombarded others with insights of trivia, and accountant Norm Peterson. Norm was always greeted with a hearty “Norm!” upon his entrance by all the other patrons and frequently complained about his never-seen wife Vera. Cheers provided what all people are looking for: a place to be accepted for who you are and the camaraderie of others with which to share the highs and lows of life.
Fellowship Is Authentic Community
People have always sought this connection with others. We search for it, if not in a local bar, then a coffee shop or a ballpark/stadium full of others adorned in the appropriate team wear cheering on the favorite team. In years past, many sought this community in formal clubs or organizations: the Grange, Masonic Lodge, Rotary Club, Kiwanas, Lions Club, Eagles, Moose or Elks. Today, many turn to virtual social networks. Some have and do seek it in religious gatherings, including the Church.
What everyone is looking for, to use a biblical term, is fellowship. The basic meaning of fellowship is “sharing, participation.” Fellowship is a shared identity and sense of belonging that results in a shared life. More specifically and biblically, true fellowship begins with and proceeds from an identity with and sharing in the life of God in/through Jesus (e.g. 1 John 1:3 and John’s explanation of that throughout that letter). We can have true fellowship with one another because we first have fellowship with Jesus. All other communities are mere semblances and shadows of this reality.
Fellowship is a sharing of our common life in Christ. That leads to physical sharing; providing a meal, giving a ride, sharing a tool, giving to help a financial need, assisting with a project, doing fun things together. Fellowship also includes a mental sharing; exchanging ideas, solving problems, giving advice, educating, having discussions and dialogues. It involves emotional sharing: encouragement, consolation, support, a listening ear, a shoulder to cry on. A spiritual sharing is what defines, directs and empowers the previous three categories. We share the life of the Holy Spirit. Together, we share the Gospel and its implications of grace, hope and perspective. As a family, we extend the exhortation, admonition and even rebuke of Scripture. In community, we make confessions, extend forgiveness, and strive for reconciliation. We pray for one another.
Each spring during our visits to our churches I offer to discuss one area of church health with the leadership of the churches. This year will be discussing fellowship and seeking to evaluate the vitality of their sharing of life together. (The other 4 areas we look at are worship, prayer, instruction and outreach). Just gathering together in a church building and having a potluck does not mean healthy fellowship is taking place. If we only talk about sports, the weather, and show pictures of our grandkids, are we really sharing the life of Christ? A church does not need to have a certain number in attendance, particular programs in place, or even adequate facilities to have healthy fellowship. They just need an intimate connection and life with Jesus being manifested in connection with, love for, and service to one another.