I grew up in a church setting in which “fellowships” took place regularly. Potlucks, Thanksgiving dinners, finger food events…all labeled “fellowship.” So when the topic of church fellowship came up, at least growing up I thought our church had mastered the God-given purpose of fellowship. I was slightly overwhelmed when I began to understand real Christian fellowship as found in Scripture. Not that potlucks and finger food events, fully equipped with a plethora of “blank salad sandwiches” are bad things. But independent of intentional purpose these “fellowships” are only “get-togethers.”
God-centered fellowship involves more than just food and people. In Baptist churches anything can turn into a fellowship when these two ingredients are present. But real fellowship is much deeper. To have Christian fellowship means that there is a bond of common purpose and devotion that binds Christians to one another and to Christ Jesus (adapted from the Holman Bible Dictionary). For the early Christians, fellowship did not take place only around a dinner table. Nor did it take place when a group of people united around a common, secondary interest. Fellowship existed when believers identified with each other, having the commonality of salvation in Jesus Christ and possessing a passion to live for Him in communion with other Christ-followers. In Acts 2 we catch a glimpse of genuine Christian fellowship among believers during the infancy of the New Testament Church:
41 So those who accepted his message were baptized, and that day about 3,000 people were added to them. 42 And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread, and to the prayers.
43 Then fear came over everyone, and many wonders and signs were being performed through the apostles. 44 Now all the believers were together and held all things in common. 45 They sold their possessions and property and distributed the proceeds to all, as anyone had a need. 46 Every day they devoted themselves to meeting together in the temple complex, and broke bread from house to house. They ate their food with a joyful and humble attitude, 47 praising God and having favor with all the people. And every day the Lord added to them those who were being saved. Acts 2:41—47
On the day of Pentecost many people trusted Jesus Christ for salvation and were immediately baptized. It is important to note that baptism was an immediate and first act of obedience of brand new Christians who had trusted Jesus Christ as the Lord of their lives. Baptism acted as a visible testimony of salvation and marking grounds for bringing believers into a common bond and fellowship with one another.
Upon salvation and baptism these believers united with one another in a bond of common purpose and devotion to Christ. This was manifested through joining together for teaching, the breaking of break, and prayer. This group of believers had a fear of the God who was working miraculously among them. They met the physical needs of one another. They continually met together and praised God joyfully together. And they must have proclaimed the gospel, for every day the Lord added to them those who were being saved.
Fellowship is more than potlucks and get-togethers. In youth ministry it is more than meals, open gyms, lock-ins, and hangout time. Though each of these can be avenues through which fellowship takes place, they are not the substance of fellowship. Rather, fellowship in youth ministry is when Christian students unite together in the common bond of Christ Jesus. In the church I serve we call our Senior High weekly worship service, “Converge,” which means, “to come together from different directions.” That is, many students come together, despite their differences and from different places, and become one in the common bond of Christ.
Fellowship in youth ministry is uniting students together for the purposes of God and in devotion to Him. This requires intentionality. It requires making sure that programs, events, and activities are more than hollow time together. It requires learning together, worshipping together, praying together, communion together through meals, and doing life together—even outside the walls of the church. There is no single template that fits every church; fellowship will look significantly different in youth ministry settings of all shapes and sizes.
But the intent of fellowship is certain—to rally together in the name of Jesus Christ, for His purposes and in devotion to Him.
“Youth Ministry—What’s the Point? 4 (Fellowship)” is part 4 of forthcoming seven part series written by John Howard, Minister to Students at First Baptist Church, O’Fallon Illinois.