When we fly on an airplane, we are associated with the people surrounding us. We are on the same flight. We experience the same bumps, the same views, and the same food. We arrive at the same gate, at the same time, peruse the same magazine in the seat pocket in front of us, listen to the same announcements, and are greeted by the same flight attendants. But despite having the same experience and being next to one another, we are typically not in community with those around us. We associate, but we don’t participate.
I fear many churches are like an airplane, filled with people who associate but don’t participate. We can hear the same announcements, sing the same songs, read the same texts, and arrive and leave at the same times without participating—without being, as Paul stated, in “partnership in the gospel.”
When the apostle Paul wrote the believers in Philippi from prison, he told them: “I give thanks to my God for every remembrance of you, always praying with joy for all of you in my every prayer, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now” (Philippians 1:3-5).
The word for partnership in the original language is the word koinonia, which expresses participation, not merely association. These believers did not merely show up for church; they lived as the church. They participated in each other’s spiritual growth. Participation with one another is much deeper than association with one another.
If you are a church leader, don’t settle for mere association. Preach and plan for participation. Don’t be content to lead an airplane church.
Eric Geiger serves as one of the vice presidents at LifeWay Christian Resources, leading the Church Resources Division. He is also a teaching pastor and a frequent speaker and consultant on church mission and strategy. Eric has authored or co-authored several books including the best selling church leadership book, Simple Church.