story from the field
Submitted by Jay McCumber, Executive Director, TTWM
The Greek word koinonia has come to mean many things in today’s church culture. Back in the 80's and 90's, koinonia was adopted by the small group movement in the church as a way to describe the biblical concept of intimacy or deep interpersonal connection. Rather than the churchy word fellowship, we chose the word community to describe koinonia meaning that we church leaders wanted our people to “get into each other’s lives” and pursue “organic and deep relationships.” Much of this emphasis was drawn from extrapolations on the word koinonia. This led to an emotionalization of the word itself, often displacing better words like love, affection, or tenderheartedness that were actually intended. But hey, it was Greek, so it meant more, right?
Simply translated, koinonia is fellowship or partnership. The word koinonia in the Philippian passage above is translated appropriately in this context as partnership. It carries with it a concept of mutual understanding of one another and mutual understanding of the work at hand. Imagine two fellows shipping off somewhere in a boat. It is vital to their survival that each one understands the role of the other, caring as much for that person’s success as he cares for himself. It is also important that each one understand the strengths, talents, and priorities of the other so that the two can work together to get where they are going and can do so in a way that secures not only their survival, but the flourishing of the other.
That is koinonia, it carries with it the concepts of intentionality and care for the other, but also for the shared mission to which the persons have been called. What it does not mean is a bunch of people sitting around doing a Bible study, talking about their problems, or complaining about their church. Often churches say they are great at fellowship and teaching, but not so good at missional living. That’s like saying our basketball team is amazing during practice, but we get blown out in every game!
The word and concept of koinonia is worth reclaiming, establishing ourselves and our ministries on partnership, cooperation, contribution and fellowship. The relationships therein established are life-giving and meaningful, but they need to be cultivated and cared for in the proper way so that truly, “you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ.” (1 John 1.3)