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Bill Hybels recalls a time when Dr. Gilbert Bilezikian was speaking for a leadership conference at Willow Creek Community Church. He writes about it like this… “Dr. Bilezikian said there’s life-changing fellowship in biblically functioning community. That was a far cry from the childhood experience of a lot of his audience! The only kind of fellowship that many of his listeners had witnessed revolved around the fifteen or twenty minutes after the service when the men would stand around the church patio and ask each other superficial questions.

‘So how’s it going at work Jake,’ one of them would ask.

‘Fine, Phil. Say, you driving a new pickup?’

‘Used,’ Phil would reply. ‘What do you have going this week?’

‘Not much.’

‘Well, great fellowshipping with you, Jake.’

‘Same here.’

That was about it. They’d (find their wives who) were having similar conversations, and go home until next week.

But the Bible says true fellowship has the power to revolutionize lives. Masks come off, conversations get deep, hearts get vulnerable, lives are shared, accountability is invited, and tenderness flows. People really do become like brothers and sisters. They shoulder each other’s burdens - and unfortunately, that’s something that few of the people in that audience had experienced while growing up in church.

In many churches it just didn’t seem legal to tell anyone you were having a problem. Families that sat in the same pew for years would suddenly disappear, because the husband and wife were in turmoil over marriage problems. Instead of coming to the church for help and prayer and support, they fled the other way, because they didn’t feel the freedom to say, ‘We love Jesus, but we’re not doing very well. Our lives feel like they’re unraveling. We need some help!’

The implicit understanding was that you shouldn’t have a problem, and if you did you’d better not talk about it around the church.

I learned that lesson well. When I got old enough to stand on the church patio after services,...

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