“…And in Fellowship”

“…And in Fellowship”

Disciple-making at work: Pastor Tom Dibble of Waterbury, Connecticut writes, “I am teaching a group of six converts and three established saints. The established saints are being trained to teach Take Root and Bear Fruit. It has been tremendous. It is a great feeling when someone is saved but it is even more so when I am seeing spiritual growth and maturity developing in our new babies. Thanks for the efforts on discipleship.” Contact Bro. Dibble at cicrev@mac.com.

This may be my poorest analogy ever: How does a puppy learn to act like a dog? By being with dogs.
Puppies taken from their mom and raised in houses by humans are not really very dog-like. They eat human food and act more like humans than dogs. The dog is developed by who it spends time with. When it’s around other dogs, it becomes like a dog.

How does a new convert learn to act like a saint? By being with saints.
In the Book of Acts church, new believers continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and in fellowship (Acts 2:42). The word “fellowship” is kononia meaning “social interaction.” Three thousand had been added to the church, and they were being taught a new converts course, if you will. The apostles’ doctrine did not alone develop the new believers. They were also involved in social interaction with other saints. No words are wasted in the Scripture; apparently fellowship is important in developing new people.

What does fellowship look like? Well, it looks like people interacting socially. Here goes another of those poor analogies, but think about it before you throw it away. Is it possible a neighborhood bar is the best counterfeit there is to the fellowship there should be within the church? What happens at the bar?

It’s an accepting and inclusive environment.
Frustrations are shared.
New friendships are developed.
There is laughter, fun, and a sense of being “in.”

What is provided at the bar has little lasting substance, but people go back every week. Why? Because God made us to be social. It is in the human heart to know and be known, to love and be loved. At the local bar, counterfeit fellowship can be had for the price of a few beers.
It leads to a difficult question: While a bar dispenses a forgery of fellowship, do I understand the value of providing the real thing? Is “fellowship” still intentionally on your church’s menu?
Does “fellowship” happen at your place? Let’s probe around here and see how uncomfortable we get:
Have you had lunch with a new convert within the past month? (And yes . . . this Director’s Communiqu is still specifically being written to and for preachers.)
How many weeks since some new believers came to your house for a time of social interaction?

How much time is a new convert actually spending with saints? (Remember the, “How does a dog learn to be a dog question?”)
When you last saw a group of your saints at a restaurant, was there anyone with them who had been recently saved?
Is your church saturated at the point of intimacy? Think about this: What happens if one takes a glass of warm water and mixes in a teaspoon of salt? The salt soon dissolves and the water will become clear again because the salt has been assimilated into the water. Now, mix in another teaspoon, and another, and another. Soon it will be harder to dissolve the salt into the water. Eventually, salt deposits will form at the bottom of the glass. The solution of salt and water has become saturated because water can only absorb so much salt. In a similar way, your church can only absorb so many members in the social groups that now exist. You may need to create new opportunities for people to connect.

Now before any of you think I’m a social gadabout, if there is cell in my body that loves to party it has not yet surfaced. I labor with “fellowship.” However, I’ve learned I actually need it and that fellowship works to help retain new people.

Why is “fellowship” so important?
Jesus did it. Jesus was “with” them. Having called His men, Jesus made it a practice to be with them. All Jesus did to teach these men was to draw them close to Himself. The twelve heard Him sing and knew His wit. “And He ordained 12, that they should be with Him . . .” (Mark 3:14).

God made us to be social. People are going to connect with other people. If your church does not provide the new convert opportunities to connect, he or she will find connections elsewhere. A new member who has seven new friends in the church within six months is likely to remain. As the number of friends decreases, the percentage of new converts who stay decreases.2

It assimilates people into the body. Christianity is lived in interaction rather than isolation. As new people get socially acquainted with mature believers, they begin integrating into the life of the church. The new believer may be a talented artist or be a plumber. As the newcomer’s skills and abilities are put to work the church becomes “my” church.

For an example. Converts learn to imitate Jesus by imitating an example of Christ. Paul wrote, “Follow me as I follow Christ” (I Corinthians 11:1). The Greek word translated “follow” means to imitate. Paul was saying, “Imitate me as I imitate Christ.” Do you want your new converts to be part of the prayer effort of the church? Sure you do. How will it happen? One way is for new believers to hear mature saints talk about Family Prayer as part of casual conversation. The new convert will imitate what others are doing.

It gives a pattern for life-change. An unseen pattern cannot be applied. Fellowship lets new converts see others living their beliefs. When new believers see things that are so contrary to their past lifestyles (and probably their present way of life because they don’t know any other way to live), they begin visualizing a different pattern of behavior for themselves.

An opportunity to ask questions. In casual conversation things are addressed that may never be asked in a more formal setting. Fellowship allows for spontaneous discussion of some notable things God is doing.

Where Fellowship Breaks down
Unfortunately, though we know fellowship is important, implementing it is sometimes easier said than
done. Why?
Saints may be consciously or subconsciously defensive of their clique. Churches are hard to get into. In some instances new people can only enter the group kicking and screaming. Most new converts will not take the initiative to wrestle their way into a church.
People in older churches tend to be less “new people” conscious. We get into habits. “Us four and no more,” is practiced at Sunday lunch. Instead of inviting a new person who will disturb the comfort zone people do the same thing they have done the past 200 Sundays.
Fellowship slumps into lip-service if a conscious choice is not made to maintain healthy fellowship. Ever see, “Friendliest church in town?” A smile and a handshake, but it takes more to have found a friend. Having a good hospitality team (which is important) is not the same as strong fellowship. You must extend the effort for real fellowship to happen.

A Working Plan for Fellowship
1) Be an example. Let saints see you and your spouse practice fellowship before they hear you teach it. If the church does not perceive you and your spouse as being comfortable with newly converted sinners, they won’t be comfortable either.
2) Breakfast, lunch, and dinner appointments. A recent book by Keith Ferrazzi and Tahl Raz entitled Never Eat Alone sums it up quite well. (The title is better than the book.)
3) Connect with people in their work place. Welding shops, auto repair, glaziers, garment factories, fireworks warehouses, restaurants I’ve been in many work places. Being interested in a new convert’s work never failed to build a bridge.
4) Honor fellowship by commenting when you see some of your saints interacting with new people away from church (not just people moving from another Pentecostal church).
5) Teach . . . then teach again . . . and again the importance of people opening their lives up to others.
6) On occasion force the issue. It would work like this: pointing out someone who was visiting, I might say to Scott Fulton, “See that couple? They are about the same age as you and Rhonda. Would you invite them to go to Dairy Queen with you after church? Bring me the receipt.” Sometimes it worked well other times well there were other times.
7) Miss those who are missing. Good question: “Does anyone miss the missing?” Have someone take attendance at your services. Establish a process to follow up on absentees. New saints in the church family need to know they are valued and that the church misses them when they aren’t in attendance.
8) Quarterly newcomer’s social at the pastor’s home. Every three months we’d have new people come to our home. We’d include a number of mature saints in the group. The mature saints understood they were there to mix and mingle with the newcomers.

Among the many disciple-making strategies we’ve shared, there is no substitute for fellowship. Develop a plan to ensure your new believers are “continuing steadfastly in the Apostles’ doctrine and in fellowship.”

You may have other ideas that would be of benefit as well. Email them to me, and let’s continue cross-pollinating ideas intended to help us reach and disciple the lost.

General Conference Service Update Scores have commented on the HM General Conference service. It reminded us of, “The Invisible Population.” Foreign Missionary Brad Schreckhise’s 8 year-old daughter received the Holy Ghost during the Conference Home Missions Service as she and the family watched the service at their home in Honduras. Home Missions Director Mike Cox (Maine) prayed for a lady during the altar service. She was in pain and couldn’t find relief; God instantly healed her. A lady in Johnson City, TN (Pastor Calvin Grimm) received the Holy Ghost watching a DVD of the Home Missions service the week after General Conference.

General Conference Offering $435,000 was raised through various commitments and the cash offering. People are still using the internet and phone to make additional commitments. As soon as possible please forward your pledge to the General Home Missions Division. We will be good stewards of your offering.

New Home Missions Director Bert Ray has been appointed by the Virginia District Board to serve out the unexpired term of Edward Snyder. We welcome Bro. Ray to the HM Team and pray blessings on Bro. Snyder’s continued work in the church in Danville.

Missions Conferences Home Missions is available to help with your World Missions Conference. Recently, Pastor Terry Kennedy in St. John, NB took advantage of the opportunity to have me at their conference. Director of Promotions David Tipton is also excellent at presenting the HM opportunity.

Northwest Regional Director Lorin Bradbury of Bethel, Alaska is the new Regional Director for the Northwest Region. Bro. Bradbury is a veteran Home Missionary and for many years served as Alaska/Yukon’s HM Director. He is a great addition to our team.

Christmas for Christ 2008 We are in the last weeks of the annual Christmas for Christ campaign.
While I have not spoken with every district leader, each HM Director I’ve spoken to has anticipated an
increase. January is not too late to get your church involved. If you did not receive a CFC packet or need additional materials, please contact Errin Bryant at ebryant@upci.org.

Christmas for Christ Dates In order to receive full consideration, CFC applications must be in the GHMD office by January 15. Applications are reviewed by each applicant’s Regional Director before being examined by the Home Missions Administrative Committee.

Thank You A great “thank you” to various divisions and departments for partnering with Home Missionaries. Through the years Home Missionaries have been served by allocations by other divisions or ministries. Word Aflame Press provides each new missionary a quarter of Word Aflame literature and other materials; Sunday School provides funds for a Home Missionary to have a Children’s Revival; and Ladies Ministry and the Youth Division make allocations to missionary needs. These serve Home Missionary needs that would otherwise go unmet. I’ve been remiss in not making mention of these benefits. In the past few years Home Missionaries have been blessed as follows:

Ladies Ministry allocates Mother’s Memorial to various needs. 2004 – $52,000.00 (Literature and Emergency Assistance) 2005 – $20,000.00 (Literature and Emergency Assistance) 2006 – $15,000.00 (Literature and Missionary Websites) 2007 – $16,000.00 (Multicultural Ministry and Literature) 2008 – $5,000 (Christian Prisoner Fellowship)