Starting a New Fellowship

Are you a true follower of Jesus?
Do you pray, know your Bible and believe it to be true?
Do you desire to serve and glorify God and use your spiritual gifts?
Then congratulations… you are ready to be used by God!  

by Allan Weatherall

Starting a new fellowship that God will bless is not as difficult as some think. You do not need a theological degree or be an ordained minister or even a member of any particular denomination. What is much more important is that you are a person of faith and character. Are you humble and ready to learn? Do you have an earnest desire to love and serve God? Are you free from the selfish desire to promote yourself? Do you have a sense of call from God? If your answer to these questions is ‘yes’ then read on and learn… God may be using this article to equip you for a wonderful task that he has prepared for you.

Note firstly that I used the word ‘fellowship’ instead of the word ‘church’. That is because in God’s sight, in any city or region there is only ever one Church. It is the body of Christ which is made up of believers who love and serve him, regardless of which fellowship they attend or which denomination that they may choose to belong to. Having good relationships with other Christians and seeking unity with them can only strengthen what God is calling you to do. You may not agree on every point of doctrine, and you may disagree on certain customs and traditions, but if Christ is at the centre, then you can just agree to disagree on peripheral issues. Divisions are sometimes unavoidable, but we should try our best to avoid them.

So how do you start? Who do you start with? What do you do? What is your mission and vision? Let’s look at these one by one.

How do you start?
Just follow the example of the early Church. For the first 300 years the early Christians met mostly in homes. It wasn’t until Roman Emperor Constantine institutionalised and formalised Christianity in the early fourth century that many church customs and traditions developed. Before that, rather than big congregations with hundreds of people that needed a special auditorium and seating, the early believers met in small groups in ordinary homes. In fact, everything that is written in the New Testament about leadership, worship, church structure, pastoral care and discipleship, was all written in a home-church context, so everything you read in the New Testament is applicable in that context. Jesus gave no instructions about building special places for worship or renting facilities for Sunday gatherings, so why do we need to try and do it any other way? Having a simple approach will also free up more financial resources for ministry.

Who do you start with?
Jesus said, ‘Where two or more are gathered in my name, I am there in the midst’. If you are gathering in his name, it doesn’t matter how many are gathered. It is better to start with a few who agree to seek God than many people who come with their own agendas. Just start meeting with a few friends who share a common vision and you will see what God does.

What do you do when you meet?
The early Christians met frequently from house to house (not just on Sundays) and devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, fellowship, to the breaking of bread and prayers (Acts 2:42). Whilst the apostles were recognised as the leaders whom Jesus had appointed, they did not use any special titles and they related to one another as equals. Jesus taught ‘the greatest among you must be least of all and servant of all...’

The believers recognised that Jesus was the only head of the Church and when they met they expected that Jesus would reveal his presence through the gifts of the Holy Spirit working through his people. They expected that God would speak, teach, heal, encourage and comfort. They shared communal meals and celebrated the grace of God with joyful and thankful hearts. When God answered their prayers they would simply give testimony to others of all that God had done in their lives and people would come wanting to know the Way.

Are you feeling inadequate for the task? Remember, if have a Bible then you have access to more information about God than most believers in history. Knowing what God wants is not a problem because it’s right there in the Bible. The main challenge is learning to obey it!

What is your mission and vision? Jesus said, ‘Go… and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always…’ (Matt 28:19,20) We need no other mission or vision other than that which was given to us by Jesus himself.

A: ‘Go...’
People who do not know Christ are our mission-field and we meet them everyday as we go about our daily business. You will make friends if you are genuinely interested in others. Ask people about their lives, what they believe, etc. Sooner or later they will ask you what you believe. Just be ready to testify to what you have seen Jesus do in your life and the lives of others. We are not called to try and convince people... just to faithfully testify to the wonderful things that we have seen and heard. As you meet with other believers you can pray for your friends, family and work colleagues that do not know Christ.

B: ‘...make disciples...’
Making a disciple is very different from just leading a person to pray for salvation. It’s better to lead just a few people to become true followers of Jesus than to see hundreds pray for salvation and then fall away later. God’s strategy to change the world was for his Son to spend most of his time with just 12 men and teach them by the example of his life. You can’t lead anyone to where you have never been, so to lead others you need to be sure that you’re following Jesus yourself.

C: ‘...baptising them...’
New believers need to know that God has washed their sins away and that their old life is gone. God uses baptism to set people free from guilt and to help people move on in their new lives. Baptism is also a good time to pray for people to be filled with the Holy Spirit. When a person is being baptised give them a chance to tell others why they have come to trust Christ and follow him. God often uses this to convict other people about their need for salvation too.

D: ‘...teaching them to obey’ Christ’s commandments.
This is a very important point: To make disciples we need to teach people to be obedient to Jesus’ commands, not just fill their heads with ‘knowledge’. What does Jesus command? Repent, believe, and receive the Holy Spirit (Mark 1:15; John 3:16; 20:22). Be baptised (Matt 28:18-20). Love God, neighbours, other believers, the needy and your enemies (John 13:34. Matt 5:43-48). Forgive others (Matt 6:14,15). Pray (Matt 6:9-13). Give (Luke 6:38). Teach others to do all of the above ie: Make disciples (Matt 28:18-20).

Being a Christian is not about obeying legalistic rules and regulations... it is about following Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit. We should only insist on obedience to those things which are clearly commanded by him. Dangerous legalism develops when people take things from the Bible, or other customs and traditions, and teach them as rigid laws. The teachings of the epistles shouldn’t be used like a set of rules - they are pastoral guidelines that are intended for our welfare and guidance. They are there to teach and help us and shouldn’t be misunderstood out of the context in which they were written. Jesus condemned the Pharisees for misusing the word of God and ‘teaching as doctrines the precepts of men’. Legalism inevitably brings condemnation, but for those who follow Jesus there is freedom and ‘no condemnation’ (Rom 8:1; Gal 5:1).

Most of Jesus’ teaching was done informally as he sat or walked around with his disciples. They way Jesus taught was also interactive. ie: People were free to interrupt and ask questions. Teaching can happen in a group very naturally and informally as you read through the Bible together. When people have questions you can stop and discuss those things. The gospels are the best place to begin.

Some people believe that when they start a new fellowship they need to start doing all the things that they see happening in big churches. Just forget that. When you come together just ask Jesus to make his presence known among you. In a small fellowship people can also be encouraged to use their spiritual gifts. When the Spirit of God moves among you will just give glory to God. You will soon learn that great things can happen among you that would never take place in a larger meeting. God may cause your small fellowship to grow into something bigger, or God may use this time to prepare you for other things. The most important thing is that you stay humble, truly seek to honour God and his word, and love each other. God bless you!

Thursday, November 9, 2006   printer friendly version | 10512 reads