On October 13 I had the privilege of teaching the students of the FSU Navigators for the first time this semester. Each fall our ministry teaches a six-week series on the Wheel Illustration. Last year I contributed a message on prayer. This year Kyle, our campus director, asked if I would speak on fellowship. I had never taught in a large-group setting on the subject, not specifically anyway, and was eager for the opportunity.
Hitting Close to Home
This message, like many others I’ve taught, follows a basic structure: define, illustrate, and exhort. Within each of these points I felt a measure of conviction. I posed the question to our students as to whether or not they were moving toward deeper relationships with those in the ministry and in their churches. I cited a number of alternative responses and excuses, one of them being one-way relationships. I’ve seen this play out in ministry quite often when, for instance, a student wants to get tight with a Nav staff or some of the older students but isn’t willing to open themselves up in return. But in my case, being the old guy in this collegiate ministry, I find that I can get away with that behavior in reverse. I know there are times when I become aloof in my disposition, when I don’t open up with the same degree I expect from those I’m influencing.
I illustrated fellowship with the picture of the early church in Acts 2:42-47, a challenging archetype of Christian community. I looked at this unremarkable list of activities found in verse 42 that, together with the indwelling Holy Spirit, left the early church in awe. Does anything leave me in awe? Does a sense of awe propel me to act? I think of the people who are in awe of the latest technological toy they can bring home. It has propelled many to stand in line for hours — even days! — to get the first one available, to spend loads of money on said gadget, and to talk endlessly about the virtues of their purchase. The early church was propelled by awe to take action and do the incredible things listed in this passage. The effects were numerous and they were eternal. So why is this not a picture of my life too? Who or what is hijacking my awe?
My final point was that fellowship is fragile, which led to exhorting our students with the standard set in Romans 12:9-21. I imagine that this passage would be a stomach punch at just about any point in time. But my year has had its share of ups and downs, and some of those downs have been with people. Conflict easily arises when hearts are hurt. It sours even the sweetest fellowship. Sometimes I handled these situations well, but sometimes not so well at all. From what I’ve seen this is difficult for everyone. Too many people I’ve known have given up on a church, a campus ministry, or a small group because of a fractured relationship. On this night I simply wanted to acknowledge the potential for problems then point to Scripture to guide from there.
Whether They Know It or Not
This is a tricky message. I made the conscious decision to stray from what I think has become the normal structure of the Nav message on fellowship: define, illustrate, testimony about life both before and after being part of biblical fellowship, and exhortation to find that fellowship too. I chose to teach about perseverance rather than discovery. But if you’re a new Christian or a Christian who’s taking their faith seriously for the first time you may not have gotten to the part where perseverance in fellowship becomes a felt need. Those who have been or are currently in need of this exhortation will have context to which they can readily apply the truth they’ve received. But what about the newbie? Maybe I’m over-analyzing. Maybe I’m not giving these kids enough credit. Ironically, what I’m driving at is something I mentioned in the second point of this message. Are people actually devoted to theology and study of the Word (as in Acts 2), even if the lesson isn’t of immediate practical use? The two can overlap, but sometimes they don’t. Whether they know it or not this will become more than mere theology at some point in their future. I guess I just have to trust that even if my message went in one ear and out the other it didn’t happen outside of God’s control.
This semester Kyle invited me to join the rest of the staff team in their discussion of the book How People Change by Tim Lane and Paul Tripp. The fifth chapter is all about how God uses other people as a primary catalyst for the sanctification of a believer. The influence of that book is evident throughout my talk. My points on the Acts 2 passage were largely informed by Thabiti Anyabwile’s essay, The Mereness of Church: Life Together. To round out my points on Acts 2 I borrowed from a message which Bob Evans, the pastor at my church, taught this summer on worship in the assembly from Psalm 122. He made some challenging points about authentic fellowship and how we twist it.
If you were at Nav Night when I gave this message (or if you listen to my talk online) and would like to give feedback or ask questions you can do so in the comment section below.