Where the world comes to study the Bible

Fellowship-Driven Ministry?

Related Media

About ten years ago, I was teaching a women’s Bible study in a church where we had ten groups of six to eight women showing up weekly, most of whom had done their homework. It wasn’t an intensive Bible study, but neither was it “Bible Study Lite.” The leadership team was thrilled to see a high percentage of the women in our church sticking to a commitment to study God’s word regularly and benefiting from the personal accountability and mentoring that came from group interaction.

About ten years ago, I was teaching a women’s Bible study in a church where we had ten groups of six to eight women showing up weekly, most of whom had done their homework. It wasn’t an intensive Bible study, but neither was it “Bible Study Lite.” The leadership team was thrilled to see a high percentage of the women in our church sticking to a commitment to study God’s word regularly and benefiting from the personal accountability and mentoring that came from group interaction. We saw families changed, marriages saved, and women actively sharing their faith in Christ with family and friends. The more Bible these women learned in the context of caring community, the more we saw them handling biblically whatever came their way--from battling cancer to living with non-Christian spouses. What women they were becoming!

We thought all was going well until the pastor told me we needed to change the structure of our women’s ministry. We were to cut back to having only two groups studying the Bible, and the rest of the groups, he said, needed to “fellowship” around a mutual interest. I believe he suggested cooking, quilting, and scrapbooking groups as possibilities, though he might have said politics, too. At any rate he had a clear reason: We were transitioning as a church from being seeker-friendly (our Bible study did have a seekers’ group) to being seeker-driven. Our mission was to “attract and win the next generation.” An all-Bible-study group, he felt, was too intimidating to “attract” someone who might want to hang out with us doing something less churchy while exploring our faith. What we were doing was too overt. Too intense.

Our women’s leadership team asked, “What if we continue with our ten groups and add the specialty groups?” But that was a no-go.

Sadly, after attending a church growth seminar, the pastor’s ecclesiology had undergone a radical shift.

So the core of the problem lay in a changing ecclesiology--that six-syllable word that means the mission, constitution, and function(s) of the church. When my husband and I joined that church--and we dearly loved it--we did so in part because the leaders shared what we saw as a biblical view of ecclesiology. That is, church is for Christ and Christ-followers. Sometimes non-Christians observe. But the goal of meeting is to worship God corporately as the body of Christ who are members one of another and to build up one another in love. As a result we go into the marketplace to do our attracting and winning. In general, we go to the world; the world doesn’t come to us. And the stronger our sense of who God is and what He has said, the better we are equipped for the task of daily living "in but not of the world."

Often we speak in our women’s ministries of how great it is to have “fellowship.” Yet the nouveau fellowship I’ve been describing is not the sort John had in mind when he wrote this to the readers of his first epistle: “We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ” (1 John 1:3). The current-day remix doesn’t involve the Father and the Son. The sort of casual human interaction we have when learning a craft together or even hearing a motivational speech may have its place, but it is no substitute for interaction with the Word of God--that is God’s revelation of Himself through His Son and through the inspiration of Scripture.

At the expense of true spiritual fellowship, Martha wanted company as she cooked, too. And remember Jesus’ stern words to her? “Mary has chosen what is better.”

Related Topics: Spiritual Life, Fellowship, Issues in Church Leadership/Ministry, Leadership, Women's Articles