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Forming a Community of the Spirit: Hospitality, Fellowship, and Nurture, Part 1

What may seem strange to some is this connection of testimony and fellowship. It is important to understand just how vital it is for believers to intertwine their lives in the faith community. The best way to do that is to hear each other’s stories. As believers become familiar with their brothers and sisters in Christ, they learn about each other’s hurts, concerns, joys, and anxieties. They learn about their loved ones, their work, their neighborhoods. In brief, they become connected through the telling of their stories. Miroslav Volf has made the point well about relationships within the believing community. He has noted that new believers do not attain full maturity in Christ when they come to faith in Jesus Christ. It is through fellowship with others that believers can grow to maturity. Volf observes,

Just as a person cannot arise, develop, and live apart from her relationships with others, neither can a Christian exist as a Christian before entering into relation with other Christians; she is first constituted as a Christian through these relations.24

It is through testimony, conversation, education, nurture, and worship that believers are brought to maturity and maintained in their faith as God’s grace works by means of God’s spirit in and through the community. C. Ellis Nelson put it well when he said that a Christian faith matures,

… when life experiences are interpreted in the light of the Christian tradition in order to understand and do the will of God amid ongoing events in which that person is involved. Because a congregation is part of the Body of Christ, it is the place where individuals receive guidance, as they work out the meaning of their experiences, and (find) support as they attempt to follow the leading of God’s Spirit.25

As a young, zealous convert to Christ at age eighteen, I was anxious to share my faith with others in my small hometown in western Oklahoma. I measured spirituality by vocal, energetic expressions of the gospel. I was convinced that others weren’t in what I deemed at the time to be spiritual groups and that the groups they were in were “less spiritual” than my group. It was not long before I learned a hard lesson from one of those so-called “less spiritual” people. A humble man who owned a drugstore in my small hometown was known for his kindness and regular church attendance, but not much else. Imagine my surprise when, in one of my forays into personal evangelism in the community, I discovered that for months the druggist had gone to a very poor man’s home to give pain shots twice a day to a destitute man with terminal cancer whom the poor man had taken in. He gave these shots despite the fact that he had a business to run and a family to care for. And he did so without fanfare or recognition.

The druggist’s witness showed me that a true witness provides more than just a tract and a gospel sermon; a true witness also is there to offer comfort and loving assistance to those who are hurting and needy. The destitute man did not need a gospel tract or a sermon; he needed a humble servant who would demonstrate true concern by giving him every day the medicine he needed in order to live. I was telling the poor man and his friend how to be a follower of Jesus Christ; the pharmacist was showing him how to be a follower of Christ. That “sermon” by the pharmacist was better than any I would preach!

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Category: Ministry, Winter 2012

About the Author: Steven M. Fettke, M.Div. (Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary), Th.M., D.Min. (Columbia Theological Seminary), is Professor of Religion at Southeastern University in Lakeland, Florida. He was awarded the Delta Alpha Distinguished Educator Award by the Alliance for Assemblies of God Higher Education in 2009. He is the author of Messages to a Nation in Crisis: An Introduction to the Prophecy of Jeremiah (1982).

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