Fellowship versus Learning the Word

I seem to be dwelling on what I perceive as misplaced distinctions or compatible categories positioned as being mutually exclusive. Here’s another distinction I’ve encountered, one I’m sure is fairly common: fellowship and learning God’s word. I lead a small group with our church, and it is not uncommon to have the choice of content and format for a small group presented as a choice between learning and fellowship. The more I’ve thought about this distinction, however, the less helpful I find it. If our use of scripture is grounded in some form or fashion in the public sphere, there is far less of a need to choose between learning the Word and fellowship.

The distinction arises, I believe, quite naturally from the normal meaning attributed to the notion of studying the Bible. In our day and age, it often means some form of the inductive Bible study method, or some other diagram-the-sentence-and-examine-each-word methodology. I’ll need to write another piece on my views of broad versus narrow, but suffice to say that such an approach is not the only way to go about learning the Bible, nor is it necessarily the most helpful. Suppose one can learn the Bible by talking about a theme in the Scriptures, such as the Lamb of God, using perhaps a list of references to lambs in the Bible as a starting point. Could not a group of people tell each other the story of redemption by talking about the various references to lambs, contributing the pieces of which they are familiar until a greater whole is formed?

It seems to me that such an approach could bring the scriptures to bear on our lives. Beyond that, it could create an environment of rich fellowship, so long as one is able to get beyond the idea that fellowship must be tied to entertainment or telling each other intimate details of one’s life (either in the form of testimony or prayer request). I would propose that fellowship can be built up using many different types of stones. Perhaps one type of stone is entertainment, another sharing a meal, another praying together, and yet another talking to one another about the stories of the Bible.

2 Comments

  1. mark
    Jan 20, 2002

    Jay, I have recently found myself impressing on my Sunday School class that sitting at a table with Bibles in hand around a person appointed to teach about the Bible is itself, apart from the information imparted, a way the Spirit transfigures us. I think that older statements about how the sacraments work just like the Word may need to be reconsidered. Perhaps the sacraments work just like the word not because sacraments contain decodable messages, but because the preached message is received corporately and is used to renew and strengthen our identity as God’s people who listen to him.

    It’s about the body of Christ.

  2. scott cunningham
    Jan 21, 2002

    Great post. This is something I run into, too. I tend to be the inductive bible reader guy, and our co-leaders (in our small group at church) emphasize the more “fellowship” part of our gathering. It’s not a good dichotomy, but I feel that we both have something important to learn from each other. Maybe what you’re describing is that new paradigm/balance.