The Fallacy of Fellowship
I preached with Dr. Hyles for many years. I never met a man who loved people more than Jack Hyles. I never met a man who enjoyed spending time with people more than Jack Hyles. He was fun to be around. He enjoyed being with others. Yet, in all the years I was with him I never once heard him placing an emphasis on fellowship for fellowship’s sake. In fact he in many ways feared fellowship. He felt it was highly overrated, overused, and misunderstood.
I spent much time in the company of Dr. Hyles, but very little of that time would be considered as fellowship by most people. He often talked about the importance of walking and working together in agreement. He found his fellowship in serving with others not sitting around gabbing with others.
Do not misunderstand me. There were times that he went out to eat with me and others. However, even at those times he was careful that we did not over fellowship. The purpose of those times was not fellowship, but refueling for the work. Fellowship was not an end, nor was it even a means to an end. It was a byproduct of working together.
Any commander of an army will tell you that the most dangerous time for a soldier is when they are off duty and out with their fellow soldiers. They do not get in trouble when their marching together. They get in trouble when they going to town together. They don’t get into trouble when they are in the foxhole together. They get into trouble when they’re out on the town together.
Any coach will tell you that the most dangerous time for his players is when they are not playing or practicing. Many a player has been disqualified from playing in a big game because during his free time he got into trouble with his fellow players. You don’t get into trouble on the field. You get in trouble when you are fellowshipping off the field.
Most trouble is caused by fellowship away from the battle. I am not saying there should not be times we spent together, but those times should be planned and purposed. Dr. Hyles said that gossip was usually the byproduct of people hanging out without a purpose. In fact, most church problems are caused by people fellowshipping without a purpose.
A pastor once questioned about the apparent lack of fellowship in Dr. Hyles church. He said, “Dr. Hyles, it seems that you do not encourage fellowship among your people. Don’t you think your people need to get to know each other better?”
Dr. Hyles replied, “I have a closer relationship with those with whom I work than I do with those with whom I play. I would rather get to know a man better by serving with them than going to a ballgame with them. I am not against going to a ballgame. I am against careless and meaningless fellowship.”
The pastor said, “But how can people get in trouble by merely fellowshipping with other church members?”
Brother Hyles replied, “Sir, there are several ways to get in trouble. The first way is they get to know each other too well. The mystique between each other is torn down and lost. That is always dangerous. The things that we do wrong are usually done when we let our guard down. Leaders who fellowship too much away from service lose the respect of their people quicker than those who fellowship in service. That is why commanders in the military do not go out with their troops. Too many pastors want to be their people’s buddies rather than their leader. When you lose the mystique and mystery you lose the power of the purpose.”
“The second danger is that they become more enamored with fellowship than they do service. The way to get to know each other is to serve together. People who work together create a purer bond than those who merely play together. We emphasize fellowship as a way of developing friendship, but the strongest friendships are developed by those who fought side-by-side in a battle. The purest fellowship one can have with Jesus is to suffer with and for him”
“The third danger is that it distracts people from the purpose. My goal is for people to know each other in service not away from service. Jesus walked with his disciples for three years serving. Their fellowship was purposed. They ate and rested together as they worked not to distract them from the work. Often fellowship takes the eyes off of the main purpose which is ministry. My desire is to have a church that fellowships in service not to get away from service. Too many preachers think that their people will be closer if they have more fellowship together. I have learned that people are closer when they work together. Show me a church that is serving and I will show you a church that has unity. Show me a church that is playing and I will show you a church that has problems.”
Over the years I have learned that these are truths that many pastors do not understand. Our job is not to create fellowship. The truth is fellowship is neither a means nor an end. Fellowship is a byproduct. The end is to serve our Lord. The means is the work we do to accomplish that end. The byproduct is fellowship and closeness.
A soldier does not join an army to fellowship. A soldier joins an army to fight for a cause. A football player does not join a team for fellowship. He joins to win games. In fighting for a cause relationships are built as a byproduct not as a means nor as an end. May God help us to understand the true purpose and reason for fellowship. May we understand that it is not play or idle time that creates closeness. It is when we walk together in agreement of purpose that our relationships are built to be the strongest.