Have you ever spent time with friends and left feeling empty? Maybe because of a subject that was brought up, a person that was there, or something that was done while you were there?
How about this: everything was fine, but you still left feeling like nothing was done. I think in an honest, conscious or subconscious, effort to fellowship, you ended up socializing.
It doesn’t make your friends evil – or you boring. I believe there was just a lack of intentionality. I think this is one of the most powerful elements of fellowship. With fellowship, there is a deliberate behavior to engage someone else for the betterment of the individual and atmosphere. With socializing, there is an unspoken pressure to conform to what is acceptable to everyone else. GOOGLE IT. That is the #2 definition of the word.
This isn’t a jab at my friends or self-deprecation, it’s just a real situation we would never want for others, especially those we call our friends. In an effort to make myself available to others, I have miscalculated my presence as being equal to my influence. As much as I would want to carry myself in a manner that influences others in a positive way, it is not always the case. In the 1st century, believers were intentional about this principle of fellowship (Acts 2:42). Biblically, the word means joint-participation and joint-contribution (Strong’s Greek 2842). There are quite a few angles to consider at this point. Who is responsible for engaging who?
WE ARE. Whoever has or wants friends must show himself friendly (Proverbs 18:24). Unless we don’t want friends, then this can easily apply to us. There are some people that act like they don’t need anybody, when in fact they tend to be the most desiring for friendship. So what does it mean to show myself friendly? I think this simply means, looking for avenues in which to engage somebody or provoke them to healthy engagement. I have gone out to eat with friends and acquaintances in the name of a “good time” and my most prominent memory of it was how much money I ill-spent or how much REAL conversation was eluded or diluted to shallow talk. I have realized that if I am generous in my friendliness with others, I am going to be met with generous friendliness. This may shock the person you are trying to fellowship with, but ACTUALLY cause them to answer the question, “Hey, how’s it going?”. Don’t settle for them saying, “Good”, or “Hey, how are you?”. I have been guilty of telling people that answered my “how are you” in such an echo, that they ought to answer me first. I mean, how is that response an answer to the initial question? I have used it a thousand times in moments I wanted to keep my guard up, too; but to engage others, we must be intentional about our communication – understanding our own need for fellowship, and helping it be met in others.
What is the alternative? I do my own thing when hanging out with friends and just care about what I get out of it. I know we all need an escape sometimes from life’s circumstances to just enjoy the safety of our friends. But we must guard the climate of our friendships as a consistent lifestyle choice. If we socialize more than we fellowship, we end up compromising the meaningfulness of the relationships where people feel safe for who they REALLY are. Fellowship is about helping others transform into who they dream to be, while socializing is about letting others conform into who they secretly despise to be. Fellowship is about building others up, while socializing let’s people be dishonest with who they are. I don’t want to pressure people to be like me, but I should be able to provoke them into becoming better. It is amazing to me how God meets people where they are at and ENGAGES them into change. We would be amazed to find out how many people would want to fellowship with us if we understood this. I want people to say they feel better about the value of their own life, when they walk away from spending time with me. Am I 100% performer in this regard? Absolutely not. But even a baseball player that makes it to FIRST BASE, 4 out of 10 times, is considered a mega-star. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes along the way. Next time you meet with your friends or even some acquaintances, you get to pick whether you fellowship or socialize.