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God With Skin: Fellowship that Truly Heals

I recently shared a story with you about a teacher who had her students write something positive about each classmate. She then shared these observations on a sheet of paper for each student. The results were magical. At least one class became a safe, kind, gracious place to attend public school.

 Over a decade later, many of those students and their teacher gathered for a classmate’s funeral. The boy’s father told the teacher how much she meant to his son. He showed her the crumpled piece of paper with his classmate’s responses. He carried it on him to the day he was killed in combat.

 Several other students unfolded their piece of paper too, yellowed with age, stuffed in wallets and buried deep in purses. The wonderful positive affirmations of their fellow students had become a prize possession for each one, something they read whenever they needed to a boost in life.

 Real Christian fellowship produces similar results. Sometimes I see people who attended a church I pastored. They often tell me that ever since then, they have never recaptured the quality of fellowship we knew ‘back then,’ though they sought it in many churches.

 I don’t say this to brag. Early in my pastoral ministry, I knew that Christians need intimate fellowship if they are to survive let alone thrive in today’s world. I also knew that fellowship is more than the back of someone’s head.

An hour on Sunday may have been enough for people when times were simpler, America shared solid moral values, and temptation didn’t lurk from every turn of the radio dial, click of the TV remote, or encounter with an attractive co-worker. Today, we need much more than doctrine to grow spiritually. We need genuine fellowship – people with whom we can be ourselves, admit our deepest needs, and receive ministry to help us become more whole.

 Sadly, there is often more fellowship in bars than there is in most churches. Saturday night live thrives because Sunday morning dead is such a sad reality. Twelve step groups are usually more open, redemptive and caring than most small groups in churches.

 So, how did we achieve genuine, deeply satisfying fellowship? Largely, it began with shared experiences at retreats. Sadly, most Christian retreats are little more than expanded worship services where you get even bigger piles of words, do nice, safe, innocuous things and throw in a rustic venue and lots of unhealthy food. Our retreats are vastly different.

 Adults need more than information, they need transformation. We only really change when we experience things deeply; so first, our retreats model honest, vulnerable leadership. We also use powerful experiential exercises and clear simple guidelines for small groups that allow people to open up in a deep, personal way they had never experienced.

 We reinforced the retreats with relational classes on true Christianity where people could journal, ask questions, discuss their own thoughts and feelings about the Bbile, and share personal stories of both their successes and struggles.

 Today, most seminaries teach clergy not to get close to parishioners but Jesus understood the necessity for deep, intimate fellowship. He had three years to train twelve frail men to change the world. To accomplish that, he lived with his roving band of oft bone-headed brothers. He ate with them, slept with them, cried in front of them, and healed people and cast out demons. He even let his disciples see his anger. After he built the relational bridge strong enough He rebuked them. He could do that because they knew he loved them. He really, really loved them -- like no one they had ever met. 

 That’s fellowship. It isn’t hunkering down and playing safe. It isn’t building a wall of people around you to make sure no one ever criticizes you. It isn’t lecturing people who have no opportunity to question you or offer feedback. It isn’t keeping everyone at arm’s length so no one can see your flaws.

 John, Jesus’ beloved disciple, said this: “If we walk in the light, we have fellowship one with another and the blood of Christ cleanses us from all sins”. Most Christians know they’re forgiven but they still feel dirty. They have never been cleansed by being truly, deeply known, warts and all, by another Christian.

 Some churches are so judgmental is isn’t safe to be open, let alone dare to be real. So, churchianity becomes a mask, a façade, a pretense that fools everyone and no one. The root word for Pharisee, or religious hypocrite, is mask. We look squeaky clean on Sunday morning. When people ask how we are, we lie and say fine even when our guts are ready to burst from guilt, grief, shame, self-hatred and powerful feelings of perpetual inadequacy. We doubt and feel guilty, we sin and have nowhere to confess, we hurt and no one even knows it. Our tortured soul desperately needs healing but there’s no place to go to get it. We feel bound by sin, torment and pain, while there is no balm in Gilead let alone anyone to loose the bonds of wickedness and set us free.

 True fellowship, the kind that creates a place where we can risk being who we really are and saying what we really feel can fix that. It offers us a fresh start to a real relationship with the same Jesus who risked so much for the likes of us. Jesus is truly there in the presence of a Christian brother or sister but only if we see Him in them, and only if we BE Him for them. That’s the Jesus that can make us whole; the One who was anointed to heal our broken heart; who came to undo the works of the devil in our lives. He makes the phrase “body of Christ” a living, viable, contemporary reality.

 We all need God with skin. Thankfully, He’s here, right now, in the lovely disguise of trusted Christian friends. That’s real fellowship – the kind that leads to followship. It’s much more than a series of twelve week Bible studies, for it penetrates far deeper than your head. It can restore your very s


Ken Unger is President of and founder of, where you can learn more about him and his transformative ministry. click here ,
 "Ken's new book, The Ultimate Breakthrough, goes beyond self help to self healing. You can preview it at  The Ultimate Breakthrough "


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