This was my input from a series of questions posted on a former discussion group
I have a question for all of you. How do you fellowship? Who do you fellowship with? Where? Etc. ... If you go to a traditional church...do you have real fellowship there? If you don't go, what do you do instead? How long have you been outside of traditional church? Etc.
Well, here's a little history to give a better picture of what I've come through.
I grew up in a liberal Lutheran Church in Virginia until 1971 when my family moved to Delray Beach, Florida (I was 18 at the time). I didn't know that my church was liberal until we went to the one in Florida which was a more conservative or strict branch of the denomination. My sister and I didn't like it at all ... so my mom and dad said we didn't have to go anymore. It was a peace-making concession on their part as all of us were getting on each other's nerves. My poor mom was openly bewildered saying often, You kids are worse AFTER going to church than BEFORE! So, we quit.
Now, in 1971, the Jesus movement (you know, the Jesus Freaks) was still in it's early stages, and even in a sleepy little beach town below West Palm Beach they were getting into the scene. The local First Baptist Church let the summer youth director turn their old bus garage into a Coffee House. My sister (2 years younger than me) bugged me until I gave in and we went to check it out. Well, they latched onto us and it began a very interesting journey for me.
After becoming part of the Coffee House group, we got talked into joining the youth choir for the Baptist Church. About a year later they talked us into joining the church, which, OF COURSE, meant that we had to get dunked. Around the same time a new local evangelical youth group got started up and many of us went over in an attempt to have a good time. At Christmas time they were taking a group of kids up to Charlotte, NC for a weekend youth camp so I also went. During this time a few of us (including my sister and I) went forward to dedicate our lives to Christ.
This group made a big distinction between salvation and service so that we wouldn't get the impression that it would help us get to heaven since Jesus did everything for that. Of course, how one is to live between now and death was left in the realm of duty and service. We were taught that our entrance into heaven was guaranteed, BUT we might have some pretty lousy accommodations for the rest of eternity if we didn't serve the Lord!!
Somehow, I got talked into enrolling in the local Bible College about an hour south of us in Hollywood, Florida. My family was not too excited about it ... to put it mildly. During the second semester of school I really got on fire and the Bible College became to me the repository of all correct truth. I didn't often go to the First Baptist anymore, but instead hopped around looking for Bible Churches or more conservative Baptist Churches. I ended up going to a local Bible Church in Lake Worth that had been started by Florida Bible College alumni (it was a small group). I graduated from the College in 1975 (they had accepted a year's worth of credits from previous schooling so I finished in 3 years. I got married the summer before my last semester.
Fellowship was more or less centered around learning more Bible teaching. It also took on the flavor of hanging around having a good time together afterwards. As I had bought a guitar in 1972 and got involved in leading contemporary music and writing my own songs and singing specials with my wife (who has a beautiful voice, by the way) we became the core of the active youth (though it was always a small struggling group of kids). As far as the sharing of the life of Christ among us (fellowship) it was going on when and where we least expected it.
We taught fellowship as this thing that you can get into and fall out of ... back and forth, in and out. Fellowship meant, TO US, that we were doing this thing called Walking in the Light and NOT doing the thing called Walking in Darkness. For us that meant not doing the fleshly things, but instead doing the Spiritual things. You know, not drinking, not smoking, not having premarital or extra-marital sex, not taking drugs or cussing, etc, etc, but instead, to be going to church, reading our Bibles, witnessing, doing good deeds (not to be saved, mind you), etc, etc. I'm glad that our Father doesn't change things to accommodate our false perceptions. I'm glad that when He put us into Christ that His life kept pouring through us ... otherwise, we never would have seen ANYTHING spiritual. I am glad that He took me through a long and difficult life of struggle, because it has given me nowhere else to credit the life that has happened in spite of all the crap.
Something did happen to me during my last semester of Bible College (Fall 1975). I began to study the Bible for myself to find out what it had to say. I began to see things for myself. That's not totally accurate. I began to REALIZE that I was seeing things for myself. I began to count on a reality that God would and was teaching me. It got me into an awful lot of trouble no matter where I went to fellowship.
After a year-long internal struggle between myself and the four other elders in the Bible Church ... we quietly left.
By the way, I always had a Bible study going on in my home during these years. Always somebody coming and going.
At the same we had been getting involved in a "grace" church in the same town as the Bible College which was meeting in a home on Sunday PM's. Once again, I got involved in leading the music. We learned much there about the grace of Christ. And when the group began meeting in a store front Sunday AM's and PM's, we drove down in the morning and stayed all day often till 1 or 2 in the morning. Fellowship was found mostly around discussing grace though we were also aware of a lot of life happening among us. Once again, true fellowship was going on the whole time regardless of our perception of it. :) We eventually got involved in something local to us and made the break (the long trip and long hours were a huge drain on Sherri's health). This happened between 1979 and 1984.
I also had a music group of sorts going on from 1974 -1998. Somewhere during the course of the rehearsal we would break for a time of study where I would share the good news of Christ.
We got involved with this home group (approx 1984-86). Once again, I added my musical input, though few wanted to hear what I had been learning about Christ. There were some cool things about it, but there was always that nagging feeling in many that we weren't a real church. A few issues came up which eventually tore the group apart.
Then again with another home group from 1987-1989. I thought that group might be hopeful but there were too many things against it. Too many of the people wanted to lick their wounds and live in the shadow of the legalism they had come out of. The guy who usually did the teaching had learned much about the grace of Christ and had much to share ... and it was the main reason we hung around. Once again, the sense of inferiority pulled on the group as many suffered from the idea that we weren't a real church. Things went up and down for those years. It finally kinda just fell apart.
Sometime around 1990 my oldest daughter had gotten involved with the youth group of a local Presbyterian Church (PCA). We began attending because of the kids involvement. It was mostly horrendous. The deadness was pervasive. Fellowship happened on Wednesday evenings during their weekly pot luck ... which of course meant getting together and eating ... that was fellowship there. Well, I got involved in my daughter's youth group (which she loved my participation). I helped out by leading the music, of course, and by going with them on their outings. I had the opportunity to share life with them. I was looked upon with some growing suspicion, but they loved my help and input, mostly. I also had the chance to play some special songs during their service which many enjoyed for the life that was added (I was told this on a few occasions). I would either do a guitar or a piano song (I play that, too ... oh, they had this wonderful Baby Grand which I had rumbling the rafters as one man told me, haha). The confrontation came a year or so down the road when I was asked to lead the Junior High group (which my middle daughter was part of, who was also excited about the idea of dad being involved). Well, you can't be an official teacher unless you were part of the Church (ie member) ... oh, well, they didn't like my crazy beliefs about what it means to live under grace and not under law! That was about the end of the road there.
For 2-3 years we didn't go to any church. Gasp!! We hung out at home and always had some kind of contact with other believers ... it's just difficult to stay away from each other, you know? :) Real fellowship keeps going on because our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son.
Got involved in a small church group again during a very rough time in our family with teenage girls and their growing pains. I worked at Home Depot (with the inconsistent schedule) so I visited by myself on the Sundays I could and then was asked to join their praise and worship team (surprised? I think not). There were ups and downs in the group in their confidence in Christ and I played a large part of the grace influence. The pastor (a guy I had known from Bible College) was doing flip-flops in his own up-and-down approach to life in Christ. Some were aware of the fellowship that existed among us because Christ was our life ... and it was a good experience from that. Because my youngest daughter had gotten into the whole drug culture in our area I was considered a bad example and was not allowed to teach in any group capacity. As I had begun writing a gospel newsletter during those years (1996) it created a situation with the leadership where they called me in to sit in the hot seat and get judged for my misguided teachings. It wasn't in any way unanimous, but the controversy was intense. The really odd thing was that some people were realizing their own freedom in Christ, but some in the leadership were so afraid that it would lead to sin. Strange ... they were sensing their freedom FROM sin and that caused the fear that these people would sin MORE. Fellowship happened nonetheless ... praise HIM for that. :)
We went to a group in Ft. Lauderdale (about 45 minutes south) for about two years from approx 1997-1998. Another grace church. Some good stuff ... and yet some not so good stuff. The thing that eventually tore the place apart was finances and the increased pressure to push tithing heavily. After a few years of not teaching at all I got the chance to do the Wednesday evening group. It was cool. Intense. Real life stuff in view of the power of the gospel of freedom. Was asked to leave, pretty much, with the whole tithing issue as I did not and would not support it. They loved my grace approach but were afraid that too many would stop tithing and the bills would not get paid. They didn't, but the damage was done to so many who got caught up in guilt through the law being pushed into their lives through yet another important issue. It was horrible to listen to the people get raked over the coals for their failure and lack.
Been nowhere official since. But fellowship is fantastic. On the computer, on the phone, at work, weekends at our place, people stopping by, meeting at a couple house numerous times on Sunday mornings for breakfast and sharing of Christ. It goes on and on, even though sometimes it doesn't SEEM like it. When you KNOW what the fellowship is then you find that you can ENJOY it even when it just YOU AND GOD.