My small group is starting a study on Philippians, and I have recently been reading Paul’s effusive praise of the Philippian church. What especially struck and challenged me is the cause of Paul’s gratitude toward the church—namely, their “participation in the gospel from the first day until now” (Phil. 1:5).
What I had not realized until now was that the word participation in Greek is koinonia, which is commonly translated fellowship. Being the nerd that I am, this led me to do some research on Paul’s use of the term, because after reading this verse I felt like I was missing something in my personal understanding of the word koinonia.
As a leader of small group leaders, I long to see rich fellowship occur in every small group. Many people join a small group because of the desire and want for fellowship, myself included. But have I actually stopped to think about what true fellowship and participation would look like in small groups?
I have generally equated fellowship with simply standing around and talking with people, hopefully about spiritual things. Or if I am a little more intentional, I hope that I can model a deeper level of fellowship with my small group by being vulnerable about how God is working in my life and the challenges I face. In general fellowship is something passive, rather than an active entering into an objective reality.
But according to Paul, he thanks the church in Philippi for their active participation in the gospel. So what if the fellowship in a small group is not just a nice thing I allow to happen at the start so that people feel welcome and close to others, but an active entering into the full, objective reality of God’s kingdom?
What would my group look like if it were to rethink fellowship to include an active participation in the gospel? What does it mean that the fellowship with my group extends past the group meeting and into how we are used by God to further the gospel?
It is exciting but it is also scary. It is much easier to stay with the status quo and not challenge a group to change. But then I reread Paul’s love letter to the Philippians and realize that they stood by Paul through thick and thin, supporting and participating in what God was doing in and through Paul, to such an extent that what Paul did was in direct correlation to the Philippians’ participation.
So we are not all called to be Paul, but I am called to participate as God leads me, and be faithful with what he has entrusted me with. Where am I and where are you called to participate more fully in the gospel as an individual and corporately with a small group?