Suspending our afternoon ministries so we can enjoy an extended time of fellowship once a month is a long-standing tradition in our church. Historically speaking, the practice is actually ancient and apostolic.
In the NT, these events were called “love feasts” (Jude 12) and this helps us understand the nature and purpose of them: Fellowship meals are intended to demonstrate and deepen love within the Body of Christ.
While some have argued that the NT “love feasts” refer more strictly to the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, this reading would still not negate the legitimacy of sharing a full meal together as a church on occasion.
In fact, 1 Corinthians 11:17-34 suggests that the early church observed the sacrament of communion in connection with a full fellowship meal. How else could people have been committing the sins of gluttony and drunkenness while at church?
Despite that particular instance of abuse, the concept of coming together for a shared meal has strong scriptural warrant and that is the primary reason we continue to do so today. The secondary reason is far more practical. Again, church fellowship meals demonstrate and deepen our love for one another.
I grew up attending a church in which everyone was a stranger. We attended worship each week and then went back home. We even snuck out before the benediction on occasion just to make a quick and clean exit!
There was no going house-to-house afterwards (Acts 2:46) and there was no bearing of one another’s burdens (Galatians 6:2) because we were simply NOT in fellowship with one another.
There are over 50 commandments in the NT which use the phrase “one another” and this means that the NT Christian must be in fellowship with other Christians in order to love Jesus and to keep his commands (John 14:15).
Attending our monthly fellowship is a good place to begin and I would strongly encourage you to attend. All you need to do is bring some food to share and then stay after worship. The ministry of Christian fellowship tends to take care of its self.
Nevertheless, it should also be acknowledged that some do profit more from times of fellowship than others, so let me offer a few things to consider which may help you demonstrate and deepen your love of the brethren more:
Obedience – Again, if you don’t spend time with one another, you will not develop meaningful relationships within the Body of Christ. This means that you will simply not be able to keep those 50+ “one another” commands and “not keeping” a command is just another way of saying: SIN
Participation – Don’t just stay for the meal and then sit over in a corner all by yourself (or only with your own family members). Make an effort to get to know your brothers and sisters in Christ. Be-friend them. I have personally found it helpful purposefully to sit next to a different person each month.
Charity – You can demonstrate charitableness in at least two ways. First of all, and on a most practical level, bring an ample amount of food to share. A main dish and a side which would feed about 4 adults would be appropriate. Secondly, be charitable in your conversation. Actually, I should probably make that a point of its own…
Sanctification – Try to remember that fellowship is not the same thing as socializing. It is part of our spiritual duty to sanctify the sabbath as holy to the Lord. Try to bring up matters for discussion which are important and which impart grace to the hearers. If (perhaps when?) the conversation begins to drift into the banal, try to bring it back with a word fitly spoken.
Edification – One of the recurring themes in the “one another” commands is the concept of building up our brothers and sisters in the faith. You can do this by sympathizing with them as they share their personal struggles and also by speaking specific words of encouragement to them. You might also just promise to pray for them that week.
There are several other things we could consider concerning fellowship meals, but as I previously noted, the ministry of Christian fellowship tends to take care of itself once we have come together as the Body of Christ.
So next time your church schedules a fellowship meal, do your share of the work of ministry so the whole Body may be strengthened in love (Ephesians 4:16).
– Pastor McShaffrey