Photo Credit: Joshua Ong
Since young, I’ve been actively involved in Christian fellowship groups. To me, they provide a sense of being rooted, as I come from a family that was always on the move (literally). My father is a merchant navy captain, and so my family sailed around the world quite often. As a result, whenever I could, I took part in camps and programmes organized by Christian groups such as Malaysia Youth for Christ.
In university, I joined a Christian Fellowship (CF). That was when I started hearing comments from peers questioning the relevance of CFs in educational institutions.
“We’re involved in our own churches. Why the need for another Christian body?”
“I find it hard to fit in. Everyone already has their cliques.”
“We shouldn’t only be hanging out with believers. This is the time to build non-Christian connections!”
Those are valid concerns—after all, I had first-hand experience of some of these issues. There were times when we spent so much time together that we lost sight of other friendships outside the group. At other times, we failed to sharpen each other because we were too comfortable with the status quo.
But those concerns do not change the fact that there is value in such fellowship groups. My time in one of them gave some of my fondest memories and helped me grow as a believer. Here are five things I learned about the Christian walk during my time in a CF.
1. CF reminds us to keep meeting
The first-century church as described in the Bible is known for its organic nature. Believers came together naturally for fellowship, edification, and corporate worship. I saw those same characteristics in CF. They reminded me that the body of Christ is not just about gathering at a specific place or time.
Jesus promises that He is with us regardless of the place or time. That should encourage us not to give up meeting together, so that we can encourage one another (Hebrews 10:25) as often as we can.
2. CF teaches us to accept each other in love
My CF had some 70 members.That meant 70 very different individuals, including a mix of charismatics, traditionalists, second-generation Christians, and new believers. Most of the time, this diversity contributed to lively discussions. But they also caused unpleasant debates,which I—being a non-confrontational person—always tried to avoid.
Over time, God opened my eyes to see that disagreements were unavoidable because we were all flawed. More importantly, I understood that it was truly only by His grace that we could come together. None of us deserved to be there. Realizing this, we accepted each other in love, rose above the conflicts, and chose to focus on the things that binded over the things that divided.
3. CF is a place for growing and serving together
If left unchecked, a fellowship can turn into an exclusive club. There were times when my CF friends and I became so engrossed in the “fun” parts of fellowship that we lost sight of the need to include others and care for each other’s needs.We forgot that CF existed not to meet our self-absorbed wants, but to keep one another accountable as followers of Christ.
Thankfully, by God’s grace, we were always pulled back to the main purpose—to reflect the love of God. And we tried to fulfil that mission together. For example, towards the end of every semester, we’d set up a booth offering free coffee to students on campus. It was a small way to reach out to our fellow students,and it renewed our passion for others.It reminded us that we’re called to serve and love—and we don’t have to do it alone.
4. CF reminds us that life is more than assignments and grades
Who does not know the stress of an assignment deadline or cramming for finals? As students, the demands of our studies constantly threaten to overwhelm us.
But for one evening a week, we put our studies aside to worship and learn from the Word together. And every weekday at noon, we met to pray for our families, churches, and our nation. We journeyed through life together, celebrating each other’s birthdays and showing support at the loss of loved ones. In many ways, the fellowship of the body reminded us that studies, while a priority, was not the be-all and end-all of life.
5. CF is where you build friendships for life
Most of the friendships we forged in CF in university continue to thrive today. It is admittedly harder to meet now that we have our own commitments. But when we do meet, the camaraderie remains. I found that the relationships established in the three to four years of near-daily interactions helped me through the many transitions after school.These were the friends I counted on in the lead-up to, on, and after my wedding day.They supported me not just in planning, but also in praying for me as I adjusted to marriage.
Like church, the concerns over Christian Fellowships are understandable. But we can embrace the opportunities for authentic spiritual friendships that they provide.