Healthy Christian fellowship groups
Healthy Christian fellowships provide safe places for believers to gather regularly and grow in their personal relationships with God. Some communities emphasise Bible study while others are activity based. Whatever the case, the best groups are ones where participants feel safe to be challenged in their faith and will lovingly encourage one another in their walks with God.
What helps to foster healthy Christians communities?
1. Leaders who are motivated by their love for God
Unlike Jesus’ earthly family, none of us grew up with the Son of God at home. Ideally, we learn what it looks like to love God and love others in this broken chaotic world by practising such values within godly communities first.
It is often said that faith is “caught” more than taught, meaning that people learn more from godly role models than they do from theoretical teaching. It is imperative that fellowship leaders inspire and encourage others in their faith and willingly model compassionate, humility, patience, grace, wisdom, sacrifice and self-control. God will bring certain personalities who will challenge leaders in different ways, and we will be sharpened when we choose His ways over our own. Every personality clash or crisis is an opportunity to practice becoming more Christ-like together.
1 Peter 5:2-3 NLT Care for the flock that God has entrusted to you. Watch over it willingly, not grudgingly—not for what you will get out of it, but because you are eager to serve God. Don’t lord it over the people assigned to your care, but lead them by your own good example.
This means that the more fellowship leaders imitate God and walk in His love, the more their groups will flourish. The modified I.M.I.T.A.T.E. model below (accreditation unavailable) summarises some good leadership behaviours.
Ephesians 5:1-2 ESV Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.
|I – Intentional||Encourage, keep one other accountable. Speak the truth in love.|
|M – Model||Model a Christ-like heart and principles consistently.|
|I – Integrate||Integrate what we learn. Practice and influence others.|
|T – Teachable||Be humble. Learn from each other and the Word.|
|A – Available||Make time to pray and encourage. Listen well.|
|T – Transparent||Confess struggles and weaknesses. Protect trust.|
|E – Equip||Facilitate character, ability and skill building.|
Leaders who love themselves or love people more than they love God will be quickly disillusioned and burnt out. But leaders who are motivated by their love for God will persevere in His love and continue to inspire others long after they have stepped down.
Romans 5:4-5 ESV and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.
How do we ensure that leaders are motivated by their love for God?
In any fellowship group, it is usually the leaders’ needs that are the most neglected and underserved. It is therefore important that leaders make it a point to receive love, encouragement and spiritual nourishment outside of the groups that they serve in. Take Jesus for example. In spite of the demands of the crowds that came to look for Him, He intentionally withdrew regularly to lonely places to be with His Father. If the Son of God needed to do that, how much more fellowship leaders. We must go to God often for rest, self-reflection and revelation, and trust the Holy Spirit to restore our souls at the deepest levels.
Luke 5:15-16 NIV Yet the news about him spread all the more, so that crowds of people came to hear him and to be healed of their sicknesses. But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.
It is also good that leaders have a few godly people whom they stay accountable to and can talk about their struggles and griefs. The danger for any leader is to become blindsided and entrenched in their own ways, and become spiritually proud or complacent.
Leaders who serve with the secret expectation of being noticed or appreciated will also be sorely disappointed. We need to keep our eyes fixed firmly on God as the source of our identity, worth and affirmation. Otherwise, we can become jealous, bitter or resentful – and a perfect role model for Satan, instead of our Heavenly Father. We must be quick to seek counsel, deliverance or inner healing if we ever sense any blockage that prevents us from serving God. Our calling is to be cheerful givers who “abound in every good work”.
James 1:19 ESV Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.
2 Corinthians 9:7-10 ESV Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work.
There may always be the temptation to adopt worldly “best practices” but leaders of healthy Christian communities know better than to blindly follow them. The best practices we should follow are laid out in the Bible. Our performance is rated by God and our rewards are in heaven.
2. Submitted to the Holy Spirit
It is not the many that will enter heaven but the few who diligently follow Jesus and do God’s will (Matthew 22:14). The Bible makes it clear that we will be surrounded by people who “will act religious but reject the power that could make them godly” (2 Timothy 3:5). A large community of religious looking people is no indication of God’s pleasure and blessing. Rather it is those who are committed in their walk with God that will be chosen to enter His kingdom.
Matthew 22:14 ESV For many are called, but few are chosen.”
2 Timothy 3:1-2,5 NLT You should know this, Timothy, that in the last days there will be very difficult times. For people will love only themselves … They will act religious, but they will reject the power that could make them godly. Stay away from people like that!
Jesus led a sinless life because He was born of the Holy Spirit. When we accept Jesus Christ into our lives as our Saviour, the same Spirit who was in Jesus now lives in us. We live in very different times from Jesus, and we need the help of God’s Holy Spirit to guide and counsel us (Isaiah 11:2) on a daily basis. The only power we have to live as Jesus did comes through the Holy Spirit. Only when we submit to the Holy Spirit are we promised eternal salvation (John 3:5) and can be vessels for the Fruit of the Spirit; love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23). God’s Spirit will guide us in dealing with the people and situations that challenge us.
John 3:5 ESV Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.
Galatians 5:22-23 ESV But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.
How do we ensure that people are submitted to the Holy Spirit?
Submission to the Holy Spirit requires two main things. First, we must be willing to become servants that obey our Master, just like Jesus did. This means we are to die to our personal judgments, desires, viewpoints or preferences and serve others for God’s glory.
Mark 10:42-45 ESV And Jesus called them to him and said to them, “… whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
Secondly, we need to learn how to recognise the Spirit’s promptings. Here is how we can “test the spirits”:
- Is this in line with God’s Word and His character?
- Does this lead to the Fruit of the Spirit?
- Are we experiencing a supernatural peace?
- Have we waited enough to ensure we are not being impulsive?
- Will we be responding with love and humility?
- Will this ultimately glorify God or people instead?
- Or we can simply ask, “Holy Spirit, is this from You?”
- Acknowledge and welcome the presence of the Holy Spirit into each meeting;
- Intentionally pray for Him to inspire the leaders (Acts 1:16);
- Practice repentance as a group on a regular basis (John 16:8);
- Actively model the Fruit of the Spirit (Romans 8:5);
- As a group, commit everything to God with prayer and fasting (Acts 14:23); and
- Encourage people to seek the Holy Spirit for their answers.
Romans 8:5 ESV For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit.
Acts 14:23 And when they had appointed elders for them in every church, with prayer and fasting they committed them to the Lord in whom they had believed.
3. Aware of the enemy’s schemes
Living authentically as a submitted Christian is challenging when we have an enemy that shoots annoying flaming darts (Ephesians 6:16) in our direction. The Bible records that sometimes, Satan manages to hinder God’s angels (Daniel 10:12-13) and workers (1 Thessalonians 2:18).
The enemy will bring delays, conflict, misunderstanding and division to any fellowship group that seeks to honour God. If Satan can’t get people to sin against God, he will simply make them feel disheartened and drop out – all the time blinding us to the fact that we represent the most powerful Being in the entire Universe, God the Father Himself.
1 Thessalonians 2:18 ESV because we wanted to come to you—I, Paul, again and again—but Satan hindered us.
How can we stay alert to the enemy’s schemes?
Like the apostle Paul, we should stay alert and aware of Satan’s schemes. This means we must:
- Have faith that God is always in control no matter how bad things may look (Ephesians 6:16);
- Rejoice and praise God in all circumstances (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18);
- Quickly “forgive whatever needs to be forgiven” for the benefit of the community (2 Corinthians 2:10-11);
- Learn about and be armed for spiritual warfare (Ephesians 6:12);
- Learn to test if certain ideas, suggestions or behaviour (1 John 4:1) are really from the Holy Spirit or from the enemy whose purpose is to deceive, discourage, disunite and destroy; and
- Ask our Heavenly Father for protection from Satan’s schemes (John 17:15).
Ephesians 6:16 ESV In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one;
2 Corinthians 2:10-11 NLT … And when I forgive whatever needs to be forgiven, I do so with Christ’s authority for your benefit, so that Satan will not outsmart us. For we are familiar with his evil schemes.
1 John 4:1 ESV Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God…
4. Focus on spiritual transformation
You recognise spiritual transformation when people find they “cannot keep on sinning” (1 John 3:9).
1 John 3:9 ESV No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him; and he cannot keep on sinning, because he has been born of God.
Fellowship groups that look more like social clubs don’t foster real spiritual transformation. Such groups tend to comprise the same people year after and year who talk about the same things over and over. They tend to draw people they personally like and subtly judge and neglect those they don’t. By doing so, they neglect the presence of God (1 Corinthians 4:20), who is right in their midst and take His name in vain.
Matthew 18:20 ESV For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.”
Unhealthy fellowships can proclaim to do in-depth Bible studies but yet not live it out. The apostle Paul described such people as “always learning but never able to come to a knowledge of the truth” (2 Timothy 3:6-7). At the other end of the spectrum are groups that focus on lots of activity but neglect studying the Word, fellowshipping with the Holy Spirit and seeking life change.
1 Corinthians 4:20 ESV For the kingdom of God does not consist in talk but in power.
2 Timothy 3:6-7 NIV … loaded down with sins and are swayed by all kinds of evil desires, always learning but never able to come to a knowledge of the truth.
In healthy Christian communities, people no longer hide behind religious masks or spiritual comfort zones. They will be excited about God, open to sharing their struggles and testimonies and lead initiatives that are inspired by the Holy Spirit.
James 1:22 ESV But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.
How can we facilitate spiritual transformation?
It is the Holy Spirit that changes us into God’s image over time (2 Corinthians 3:18), but we can help facilitate spiritual transformation in a few ways:
- Worship in truth: Study the Word together, share testimonies, ask questions that help people search their hearts, practice life change together, keep each other accountable
- Worship in Spirit: Practice spiritual disciplines together e.g. daily prayer, fasting, Bible study, scripture memory, serving others
2 Corinthians 3:18 NLT So all of us who have had that veil removed can see and reflect the glory of the Lord. And the Lord–who is the Spirit–makes us more and more like him as we are changed into his glorious image.
John 4:23 ESV But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him.
Jesus proclaimed that His followers will accomplish greater works than He did when we desire to glorify God. Spiritually transformed people will go on to do great things for God, this is His promise. They must, however, remain humble and actively give all glory to God, so that people do not end up following them rather than God.
John 14:12-13 ESV “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father. Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son.
5. Give everyone a sense of purpose and belonging
We all join fellowship groups for different reasons and with different expectations, but people will stay on when they are able to say the following:
- “I feel accepted and can trust these people.”
- “I agree with the values upheld in this group.”
- “I connect with at least 3 people in the group.”
1 Corinthians 12:25-26 ESV that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.
Fellowship groups must be mindful not to promote self-entertainment and self-gratification. In God’s kingdom, there are no consumers or shoppers. Each one of us has been created with a purpose and for specific good works. Fellowship groups are great places to discover and apply our unique spiritual gifts. A group that learns and serves together grows together.
Ephesians 2:10 ESV For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
1 Peter 4:10 ESV As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace:
How do we give everyone a sense of purpose and belonging?
Healthy fellowships foster a shared sense of purpose and belonging when the leaders facilitate more than “dictate”. They are also good at ensuring the following:
People’s views and hearts are aligned:
- If possible, the core members come together to develop the group’s vision. These can, for instance, be based on a set of principles (see the 5 C’s below) or verses from the Bible such as Philippians 2:1-4, Colossians 3:1-17, Romans 12:1-2;
- Every meeting starts with a recap of the group’s vision;
- Forums or surveys are conducted regularly to gather ideas and feedback from participants, and bless those with good ideas to lead new initiatives.
People are given a sense of ownership:
- Different roles are rotated so people can grow and develop their gifts;
- Volunteers (not the leaders) recruit volunteers for the next meeting;
- Everyone is encouraged to share and serve, no single person dominates at any one time;
- The group serves a variety of missions, such as prayer walks in the neighbourhood, mission trips, outreach events, helping at local shelters etc., so that participants get to use their varied gifts.
Leaders model loving care that members will follow:
- Group leaders model the desired behaviours and are open about past mistakes/sins to demonstrate how God redeems. Group members won’t open up if leaders don’t lead by example;
- Leaders remind the group that anything shared must be kept confidential and respected;
- Men actively reach out to and minister to other men, and the same goes for women.
|The 5 C’s|
|Christ-focused||Focus on biblical principles and Christian values|
|Confidential||What people share in the group will not be disclosed outside the group|
|Contribute||Everyone is to actively participate|
|Community||Volunteer to help the less fortunate, serve at church|
|Constructive||Provide constructive feedback in love, positive attitudes, speak words of life|
6. Growth and multiplication
Good fellowship groups manage to strike the right balance in terms of size, and are ready to multiply when they start to become too big.
Jesus chose to lead a team of 12 disciples. Research has also shown that twelve is the maximum size for discipleship groups. Other types of groups may thrive in smaller or larger numbers. Whatever the ideal size for a group is, healthy groups grow and it is imperative that its leaders start to groom the next generation of leaders early. Jesus spent three years preparing the disciples but we don’t need to wait that long if the purpose of the group is simpler. One year is usually sufficient.
How do we grow and multiply?
There is always the danger of any group becoming moulded into the image of its leaders, rather what God planned for each individual. Fellowship leaders must be willing to relinquish their roles and intentionally groom one or more next-generation leaders each, just like the apostle Paul commissioned Timothy, his “true child in the faith” (1 Timothy 1:1) to step into a major church stewardship role.
Psalm 145:4 ESV One generation shall commend your works to another, and shall declare your mighty acts.
It is usually the existing leaders who hold the responsibility to prepare and plan for future growth:
- Start to identify and mentor next generation leaders one year in advance;
- Encourage people to discover and utilise their spiritual gifts;
- Pray for people’s hearts to desire God’s calling for them;
- Raise the topic of multiplication and blessing others with the entire group at least six months before putting it into action.
Who God chooses as leaders may not always be obvious. Take Peter (brash and presumptuous) or Paul (persecutor of the church) for example. There may be people we will not instantly take a liking to, but God may choose them to do great things for His kingdom. This is why it is imperative for fellowship leaders to seek the guidance of the Holy Spirit for all things.
No one will ever feel ready to step into a new leadership role, but this is precisely the posture that prepares them to rely on God. Those with great business skills may think they will naturally make great leaders, but God prefers to choose the meek to humble the proud. It is often those who rely on their worldly knowledge who will end up hindering spiritual growth.
1 Corinthians 1:26-29,31 ESV For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God.. so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”
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