The word “fellowship” is a broadening of the word “relationship.” One that symbolizes purpose based on convictions and intentions supported by determination. Such as a determination to serve others in a positive way, a way that changes things for the better.
A relationship can be any kind of undefined connection between one or more people or activities. It can be familial or intensely personal. Or merely a friendly connection. It can run the gamut from acquaintanceship to romantic intensity.
Even matching a task with a tool is relational, as is linking a job with a person.
The way “relationship” is used in a sentence is important. “They have a relationship” can mean one thing. “They are in a relationship” means something entirely different.
I like to use “relationship” as a way of thinking and behaving, associated with philosophical and emotional depth. More like “fellowship.”
The word “fellowship” has social overtones. But it also incorporates something almost metaphysical. An intertwining of many kinds of somewhat more esoteric relationships. Ranging from incidental to scholastic, from introspection to spiritual awareness.
A relationship can be casual and temporary. A fellowship implies something more complex and permanent with an aura of purposefulness surrounding it. One that transcends a mere connection of human beings at a superficial social level.
Teams are Fellowships with a Purpose
The word team is usually associated with sports or any activity with the goal of winning or succeeding in some competitive setting. In the military I was often asked to serve in a combat team, usually consisting of a combination of infantry and vehicles. Members of a team have specific assignments, as in sports when someone plays a “position.” The same is true in the military or even a business combination of some kind.
Teams are units designed to combine people for the purpose of accomplishing a mission, the goal only a group of people can achieve. Team members are trained to work together in the context of accomplishing the team’s intentions. Sometimes, especially in team sports, psychology is necessary to make the team cohere enough to meet the mission.
Because dysfunctional teams will certainly lose.
Teams are fellowships with outward facing goals. Serving their members only to the extent they fulfill their assigned roles. And win their games.
Cliques are Indulgent Fellowships
Other fellowships can be more like fraternities or sororities, designed as cliques. One is accepted while others are excluded. Acceptance and social interactions based on little more than appearances and demonstrations of behaviors that seem to fit in. Those organizations may construct purposeful functions over time, but the foundation of their existence is within a manufactured revelry and artificial sense of belonging.
Service is the Core of Meaningful Fellowship
Teams and cliques become fellowships when relationships are involved. They provide a service in terms of game winning or social inclusion. However, in the context of advancing the quality of human life, neither are especially meaningful.
Games create diversions. Social groups reinforce status or expand/extend acquaintances over time.
Many might disagree with those definitions, the meaning behind them, or the importance they do and should have in human lives. I understand that.
But for me a meaningful fellowship has a purpose that transcends the ordinary and possesses a level of importance much bigger than our individual lives. That uplifting purpose gives a significance that is inspiring and perhaps a piece of history. An influence on others after our lives end.
My varied experiences as a member of a fellowship includes a 14-day trip through the canyons of the Colorado River with boys about my age. A difficult yet life-affirming venture involving challenging tasks we met and circumstances we overcame together. 168 miles in a rugged wilderness and on a raging river, now mostly covered with Lake Powell.
A few years later the fellowship consisted of trainees in Army basic training, the rigors of ROTC camp, and advanced forms of military challenges. Then serving as a commissioned officer with men involved in the preparation for war, depending on them as much as they depended on me.
Later fellowships involved school faculties, graduate studies, and overcoming the rigors associated with meeting requirements for a doctorate. Then university program building.
My family and its associations became a fellowship with meaning, as did the creation of a service organization for public schools: https://cliweb.org/. People came together to achieve common goals. Worked hard to find solutions to significant problems, day after day.
Fellowship as Discipleship
The Disciples that traveled and worked with Jesus Christ became a fellowship. Christians serve in various ways through different kinds of organizations: communities, orders, denominations, missionary endeavors, and crusades. People who gave away their possessions like the Apostles. Sacrificed their human desires and natural impulses to focus their attention on serving their Lord and Master.
Such religious fellowships are found everywhere, in every corner of the earth, among any who share strong beliefs and convictions. Not necessarily limited to Christianity.
The dark side of fellowship becomes an evil force that parade as people of faith in their own brand of political or devotional dogma. It raised its ugly head throughout history, becoming strong enough during the 20th Century to kill millions. And it is all too alive and well today.
On balance, I believe human fellowship to be a good thing. With an enlightened kind of procedural discipline and deep thought thrown into the mix. With the control of unfettered mass media used to pander to those with questionable or even evil intentions.
No doubt development of radio in the early 20th Century contributed greatly to the expansion of Nazism, Fascism, and dictatorial forms of Communism. Just as it did for oddball belief systems and promotion of foolish medical cures in the United States. Today, social media opens the door to online fellowships that may destroy logical thinking and mental health.
Positive forms of fellowship, such as those created by Jesus in the formation of his Apostles, are disciplined but not controlling. Educational in the sense they promote deep thinking and the formation of creative beliefs and actions. It was no accident that Jesus taught through parables, not admonitions or declarations of unquestioned truisms.
Based on that model for fellowship, we become individually and collectively better through dialogue and stimulation of logical thought. Good fellowship is a means to become individually better, thereby able to contribute back to the larger group insights not previously considered.
Like God’s nature on earth, a kind of yin and yang for the survival of everything. Without bees, no flowers.
Which makes interconnectivity the basis of the universe and our lives within it. Which makes true and interconnected fellowship the foundation for meaning and purpose. For our lives in God’s world.
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