Upon reading the title for this, you may be wondering “what does this even mean?” It may be confusing, but it does convey the message I want to get across this week. Although growing up in the city, for a short time Chloe and I lived in a small town (something new and difficult for both of us). The term “culture shock” is often experienced by those who move from an urban area to a more rural one or vice versa. With that being said, whether you live in a city or a smaller town and attend a local congregation, you may be inclined to say that you know everyone; or perhaps you do not know several people in the congregation despite being there for years.
In a smaller town, everyone knows each other because of the close proximity. Because of this, many can say they know people and have known them their whole lives. However, there is a difference between knowing someone and actually knowing them. Obviously, this can vary from place to place. Many who live in urban areas can serve at a local congregation for years and not know those who sit next to them. Also, given the circumstance of the past year with cities being under lockdown, families under quarantine, and the inability to worship together in our church buildings we probably grew more distant from each other than we even realize.
How does this affect the church? Well, with either scenario, it can be easy to neglect intimate relationships. I am not suggesting that this is exclusively to one location or another, because it can be found anywhere. It can be easy to forget about becoming close to other members. It is important that every member of a congregation strive to grow closer to one another through social interaction and spiritual fellowship. We often sing, “what a fellowship, what joy divine, Leaning on the Everlasting Arms!” I know this song is pointing to the joy and privilege of being in fellowship with God, but that same joy should be found in the fellowship and closeness we have with our brothers and sisters in Christ. The well of fellowship and closeness can be run dry if it is not cultivated or prioritized in our lives. It can become a temptation to not strive to learn more and grow with one another because of the geographical proximity and history that is found with people in the town or the congregation that you attend. However, we must fight the urge to substitute familiar with closeness. We can know the entire history of someone’s family and assume we know everything about them and allow spiritual fellowship to be forgotten. In fact, we can talk to everyone and still feel or be distant from them. However, a goal for every Christian, whether a rural or urban location, should be to cultivate fellowship and strengthen the bond between one another.
How can this be improved or remedied? Here are a couple of practical suggestions.
Prioritize hospitality and open up your home.
It seems that the art of hospitality has been lost over the years. However, it should not be lost for the Christian. It is an attribute that an elder must have (1 Timothy 3:2), but that is not excluded to only elders. Every Christian must have this attribute as well. It is used for encouragement, edification, and intimacy that can assist in our spiritual walk. In fact, the Hebrews’ writer stressed this upon the conclusion of his letter (Hebrews 13:1-2). It may be difficult to do now with COVID-19 prowling about, but it should not be neglected or forgotten, but prioritized once, Lord willing, everything blows over.
In addition to hospitality, fellowship coincides within it. As previously mentioned, fellowship and socializing are two different things. Socializing seems to be focused more on the mundane subjects. For instance, “How’s the weather today? See the game last night?” Compared to spiritual discussion, these fall short to what fellowship can do for the Christian. Ask one another about Scripture. Challenge spiritual thoughts and understanding by asking what certain passages mean. Read the Bible together. These can assist in fostering fellowship. Fellowship is something that separates Christians from the world. We have fellowship with God but also with one another (1 John 1:5-7).
In conclusion, fellowship is to our souls what water is to our body. It is required to have a relationship with God but also with one another. Simply being close in proximity geographically or attending a congregation for several years does not mean everyone is close to one another. However, the church should be close by fostering fellowship and being hospitable. May we not put fellowship and hospitality on the back-burner.