KEY TEXT: Phil 1:3-7 I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. It is right for me to feel this way about you all, because I hold you in my heart, for you are all partakers with me of grace, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel.
KEY THOT: Paul feels a special bond of fellowship with the Philippians as a result of their participation in his gospel ministry: they share the “partnership (koinonia: fellowship) in the gospel from the first day until now” and also are “partakers with me of grace.” Though they are not physically present with Paul, they support Paul’s ministry with their prayers and gifts. Herein lies the essence of true Christian fellowship: it is not just a social bonding, but a missional one. Many churches confuse fellowship with socializing (coffee “fellowship”) instead of seeing it as missional bonding. A church that is inwardly focused on meeting their own needs alone (bible study, eating and drinking) will not experience the same depth of fellowship as one that is focused on the missional agenda of God: viz., proclamation of the gospel.
If I want to build a strong fellowship with fellow Christians, I will make the proclamation of the gospel the central focus of this group: in other words, equip to evangelize. All bible study would then be focused on equipping the saints to become witnesses for Christ--both by our lips and our lives. By that, I don't mean equipping them with some kind of evangelism tool or method, but equipping them for a missional lifestyle that is consciously lived to proclaim Christ's glory: "But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light" (1 Peter 2:9).
In other words, a missional fellowship bible study is conducted to create the missional attitude that everything we do as believers is for the sake of revealing Christ to the world--not just through evangelistic or mission activities but through our marriage, our family and our work. Everything we do as believers is not for personal happiness, but to exalt and proclaim Christ. That is how Jesus conducted his "small group" of the Twelve too---it was entirely missional: "And he appointed twelve (whom he also named apostles) so that they might be with him and he might send them out to preach and have authority to cast out demons" (Mark 3:14-15). This missional focus didn't end with the apostles but continue with the early NT church. All activities recorded in Acts are entirely missional: Christ is proclaimed in the life of the faith community and through their words and works.
Many churches have confused bible study with discipleship. Bible study is the means, not the end of discipleship. The end of true discipleship is to equip members to "preach and have authority to cast out demons." Focusing on bible study alone will not guarantee true fellowship if it does not result in outreach to the lost. Neither will it lead to spiritual maturity--only spiritual obesity. Feeding on God's word without missional exercise makes us spiritually obese and lethargic.
It’s only the stepping out of the comfort zone of our boats that will allow the church and small groups to experience God’s power and presence in evangelism. The Holy Spirit fire will only burn in groups that are missional, for His power is given primarily for evangelism, not just self-edification: “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth" (Acts 1:8). Only churches that are gospel-centred will experience true fellowship.
Father, make our church and small groups missional communities that are focused on reaching the lost as a priority motivation for coming together. Empower us by Your Spirit, so that we may be witnesses for You. Amen.