The following is a review of Chapter 2 of Why Small Groups? by C.J. Mahaney. This free e-book is available on the Sovereign Grace Ministries online store and is a helpful guide for accountability groups.
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What is fellowship? Every Christian knows the answer to that, don’t they? Eating and spending time together—that’s fellowship, right? In men’s groups, it includes doing manly things like hunting, and fishing, and, of course, discussing masculine topics like sports and politics, doesn’t it?
In his contributing chapter in Why Small Groups?, John Loftness says, “no.” In the second chapter titled, “Fellowship Rediscovered,” Loftness takes on current trends in the church regarding fellowship. In it he not only rejects common notions about “fellowship” practiced by the church today, but he contends that the church has redefined it altogether, and in doing so, has hindered our ability to help each other in the areas where we need it most.
According to Loftness, these approaches not only make such fellowshipping, large or small, spiritually superficial and therefore useless, but they rob fellowship of the life-transforming power God has vested in it. If we want to become more like Christ, then we have to deal with the areas of our lives that are not Christ-like. God designed and empowered Christian fellowship for that end. But if we keep our fellowship superficial, then we rob ourselves of the fountain of grace that God has provided to energize us to overcome struggles (especially our secret struggles).
And since I am writing this review for Covenant Eyes, let me connect Loftness’s assertion of weakened superficial fellowship to the alarming rise in the number of men in the church struggling with porn. If sin (and struggling with lust) abounds, we must more readily avail ourselves to God’s grace that much more abounds (Romans 5:20), a grace that teaches us to deny ungodliness (Titus 2:11-12). Since we believe God provides sufficient grace for us to live as more than overcomers, then the problem must at least in part be that we are failing to understand, experience, and live according to that grace.
After expressing his fear that the church is abandoning true biblical fellowship, Loftness plunges the reader into the text of Scripture to rediscover fellowship as a uniquely Christian experience (p. 19). The principle he seeks to establish is that, “While Christians have relationships, not all relationships include fellowship. In fellowship, God offers us a precious but neglected gift—a type of human relationship created exclusively for his children” (p. 18). He defines fellowship as follows:
“[P]articipating together in the life and truth made possible by the Holy Spirit through our union with Christ. Fellowship is sharing something in common on the deepest possible level of human relationship—our experience of God himself. Participating together . . . life and truth . . . sharing in common . . . human relationship . . . experience of God—these phrases capture the essence of the unique Christian experience of fellowship” (p. 19).
From there, he continues his penetrating exposition, centered around our communion with God. His foundational Scripture is 1 John 1:3, 6-7, which he explains and applies as follows:
“Fellowship with God is the prerequisite to fellowship with others. . . . The flow of John’s argument may not be as straightforward as modern readers prefer, but his logic is clear. John and his fellow teachers (the ‘we’ of the passage) have come to know truth through the life and teaching of Jesus. This has allowed them to have fellowship with God the Father and with the ascended Christ. This fellowship exists not only with God but between and among those who ‘live by the truth'” (p. 20).
If this is all Loftness had given us in his chapter in Why Small Groups?, we would all be in debt to him for helping us rediscover that fellowship must center around our communion with God. Yet he isn’t content to ground the reader in right thinking. He is driven to lead the reader to apply that right thinking to right living. Here is his thesis: Since the church is the body of Christ, its members grow into conformity to its head—Christ—by stimulating one another to do so. The point is simple. The precision of his applications are liberating.
First, he shows that we must engage in fellowship as a means of grace, which he defines as “things we can do—such as pray or meditate on Scripture—to put ourselves in a position to receive something from God” (p. 22). He provides a detailed list of God-ordained means of engaging in fellowship such as praying for one another, carrying one-another’s burdens, sharing our spiritual experiences, confessing our sins to one another, correcting one another. Practicing these “means of fellowship” in corporation with the work of the Spirit, Loftness believes, “[Is] a way of getting to a place where God will meet us” (p. 22).
Next, Loftness appeals that we put aside all hindrances to spiritual transparency: self-sufficiency, formality (ways of thinking that keep us from opening up to one another), bitterness, and elitism (the attitude that we don’t need the Body to grow). Loftness urges that when we gather together we should share our spiritual needs, experiences, and victories in Christ with one another. Through practical assignments along the way, vulnerable illustrations and provoking questions to conclude his chapter, Loftness shows his readers the life transforming truth that fellowship, when lived out biblically, adds a powerful means of growth to any believer.
When I shared these principles with the men’s group at our church, they were seemingly what all the men wanted. They want to put aside the superficial conversations that keep us from being used of God to help each other become all that Christ died to make us. One of the men insightfully said, “we choose to share with others only what we want them to know about us.” I pray that Loftness’s efforts will spur men of God on, to choose to share with one-another what we really need in order to experience God’s ordained fellowship that can make us more like our Savior.
In this reviewer’s opinion, like the first chapter, this is a gem. Go online and get this chapter. Read it. Encourage your men’s ministry pastor to read it, and pray for God’s sovereign grace to rain upon the men in your church a fresh experience of biblical fellowship.