This is the time of year my spirit starts anticipating the gathering of believers known as the New Room Conference. Every year for three days in September church leaders from around the world gather in one space to worship, pray, and take-in the love of Christ. It’s a place of humility and surrender as we invite the Holy Spirit to do His work in us and through us.
Like so many, New Room didn’t meet in 2020. So when my husband and I walked into the sanctuary last year–just in time to hear the first notes of the first worship song–I burst into tears. At first I was puzzled by them. But as I sat in my overwhelm, asking the Spirit to show me why I responded with such gush and sob, it dawned on me. After two years away, I’d come home.
Nowhere else, ever, have I been in the company of such genuine Christ-loving, God-fearing, Holy Spirit-seeking believers. At New Room people worship with abandon, opening their hearts to all God has for them. Leaders prostrate themselves before the Lord–quite literally–seeking forgiveness. Future leaders line up for prayers of anointing and blessing. Men and women spanning age and status obediently carry themselves across thresholds of renewal and promise. Prayers are spoken with truth-soaked hope for healing, wholeness, and favor. Prophetic words are offered with humble confidence, spreading encouragement and igniting hearts with sparks–and flames–of faith.
This year will be my fourth New Room. My expectancy of what the Holy Spirit will do is hitting the ‘giddy’ level. And, my anticipation of being back with this community of believers is barely containable. To say I look forward to being with them is not only an understatement but a shallow misrepresentation of the true fellowship that we experience each year.
As we enter into this final segment of our summer series on abiding, I invite you into a space of community–because as we seek to abide in Christ, we’ll discover a deep-seated need to connect with other believers. This is the social aspect of our abiding life.
The heart of Jesus’ message throughout the gospels is that we are not meant to do this faith-life alone. That’s why He gathers disciples and puts Himself in the midst of them. It’s why He sends the Holy Spirit to be in us and among us. So many times, in the Gospel of John in particular, Jesus emphasizes His oneness with the Father–how He is never alone (John 8:16), how He never intends us to do this faith life alone (John 17:20-23). For just as the Father lives out His existence in community with the Son and the Spirit, we too are hard-wired for what the New Testament writers call koinonia–a rich fellowship that looks like partnership and joint participation.
Not going it alone.
Friends, we must guard against the pervasive idea that our ‘personal’ relationship with Jesus is ‘private.’ This friendship, the connection we each have with Jesus is meant to be personal in the sense that we can know Him for ourselves. His death and resurrection have made a way for each one of us to say ‘yes’ to Him and become one with Him (John 17:11). This is personal.
But our relationship with Christ is one we share with other believers. Paul calls the Church the Body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12; Romans 12:5)–for a reason. The eye doesn’t roll off by itself, in a private corner of the world, and function on its own. The leg doesn’t hop around as though it can be complete by itself. And neither can we. To try to do faith by ourselves is a privatized idea that isolates us. Alone we fail to grow, looking only and ever inwardly to ourselves for what we need and falling short (Proverbs 3:5). Flying solo opens us to all the attacks that come when we do faith by ourselves. Like a lion on the hunt, the enemy looks for the single believer, who has pulled away from the pack, and goes in for the kill.
Instead, we need to be okay with needing each other.
The early church models this koinonia as they “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer” (Acts 2:42). They devoted themselves–together. John captures the heart of such fellowship:
“That which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ.… If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.”1 John 1:3, 6-7
So far beyond a ‘fellowship dinner,’ the kind of koinonia that Paul and John ascribe to is more like the first installment of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, The Fellowship of the Ring–where people from every race come together for the common good. They pledge allegiance to one another. They depend on each other through battles and rely on each other’s strengths. They encourage and protect one another. At no point does the main character have to go it alone–even when he tries. And, because this motley crew sticks together, they make it. They achieve the purpose they’d been given.
And so can we. Together.
Breakers of the Social
But, to grow and protect our koinonia, we must know how ‘community’ is attacked. At the heart of all the enemy does–throwing out distractions, poking at disappointments, and stirring the discouragements–it’s all to the effect of dividing the people of God from each other. Because he knows that a divided house cannot stand (Matthew, 12:25).
Goodness. Hear that again. The enemy wants to divide the people of God from each other. Does this raise any red flags for you as it does me? How many churches are fractured? How many denominations are currently in the midst of huge conflict and schism?
Distractions, like the messiness of disagreements, divide us. We polarize and label. We argue and point fingers. We shame and blame. We fight with people, forgetting our battle is not against flesh and blood (Ephesians 6:12). Divisions distract us from our mission.
And how about division in families? Or between friends?
Division happens corporately on many levels. And, of course, the enemy’s hope is that eventually we’ll be so discouraged with the whole ‘church thing’ or ‘family thing’ or ‘friendship thing’ that we’ll quit them all. And go it alone.
These two key strategies of the enemy–isolation and division–summarize his focus on keeping us alone so that we will stop gathering together as some have done (Hebrews 10:25).
And, somewhere along the way, all of the anger and resentment builds walls. Not only between us and people. But between us and God.
Builders of the Social
So now that we know how our social isolation and divisions can keep us away from the God we desire to draw closer to, we are empowered to do something about it. And for social abiding it’s all about building community.
Jennie Allen says we need to Find Our People.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer tells us we should do Life Together.
Scot McKnight encourages A Fellowship of Differents.
James Bryan Smith calls such a fellowship The Good and Beautiful Community.
Erin S. Lane reminds us there are Lessons in Belonging.
Lisa Jo Baker extends the forever invitation: We Saved You a Seat.
And, Jesus says we can be unified (1 Corinthians 1:10). Together we are stronger. Together our purpose becomes clearer. Together the way to achieve that purpose is possible.
So, how do we come together despite the rampant isolation and division? A little at a time.
Maybe it looks like finding a church that exudes this kind of Holy Spirit koinonia. As I’ve discovered for myself, that’s a difficult task–but not impossible. I think of all the leaders who gather every year at New Room–they represent churches. Churches that, while not perfect, do earnestly seek the unity of the Body of Christ. These churches exist!
Maybe it looks like asking one person to meet with you weekly to soak in Scripture and pray.
Maybe it looks like inviting neighbors into your home for a weekly Bible study.
Maybe it looks like joining what John Wesley would’ve called a ‘band,’ a group of three or four who meet to confess sin, encourage hope, and apply biblical truths to life.
For all of us, it looks like “being brought together into the company of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.” Because this most essential and core experience of the Christian faith “is the very essence of awakening, and that is what we are–a fellowship of awakening–koinonia” (JD Walt, Daily Text 6/6/22).
What if. Oh, what if we had the bubbling anticipation of gathering with other believers everyday? What if each time stepped into a room full of worshiping brothers and sisters in Christ, we knew we’d come home? What if we, the Church, began to live united instead of divided? I tell you what–we’d be a force like no other in the world. Together, we could bring hope and joy and peace into a world that desperately needs them.
Friends, as we dwell among each other in such holy pleasure and purpose, we will also abide in Christ more wholly.
- I invite you into THIS community every week. The more we interact, the more we grow. 😉
- Ginny Owens’ newest song, “Let Us Love,” is on our Abide playlist. It’s so new I can’t download the lyrics, but you’ll recognize themes from our series. And, it flows like a prayer.
- Lots of resources for this week–a resource list you can come back to as needed. Not an expectation for this series. XOXO
- The books I mentioned in the post–none of which I’ve read, but by authors I’ve read before or come highly recommended:
- Seedbed resources:
- Rich Villodas’ book, Deeply Formed Life,* has a chapter on the spiritual impact of social structures and injustices that brings another layer to the social idea of abiding
- Podcasts–full of ideas that often stretch our way of understanding Christian community:
- Jennie Allen’s podcast season based on Find Your People (FYP)–there are over 30 episodes, so you can scroll through to find the ones (FYP) that interest you most
- Jennie Allen’s podcast episode with John Mark Comer, called “The War For Your Faith,” hits on the social component.
- Russell Moore’s podcast episode with Jonathan Haidt is well done and explores many more areas of social division and its impact on us.
- The Art of Holiness podcast has a few episodes on community. This one with Sean Gladding adds even more layers to the community conversation.