If evangelicals have a singular strength, it is a willingness to disagree over secondary issues while agreeing on the centrality of the gospel, inerrancy, and conversionism. This has given us enormous flexibility to cooperate on missions, charity, social justice, and political belligerency.1 The space for common effort that Eric Landry once described as the village green – a common space for neighbors to gather – has been one of the great boons to Christianity.

Evangelicals have learned to put the gospel first, to insist on inerrancy, to prioritize evangelism and discipleship. A better set of practical emphases is hard to come by, and we are right to see the salvation of the lost as God’s great mission and thus our most pressing task. We live "between the times"; there is a necessary urgency to proclaiming Christ’s death and resurrection while we await his return. We recognize that the priorities of the young church were essentially threefold: missionary work, the sanctification of believers in the church through mutual edification and the elders’ teaching, and ministries of compassion. It is to evangelicals’ great credit that these have been our emphases as well.

Indeed, because we esteem the twin causes of evangelism and discipleship, we have set them in the center of our movement – to our detriment.2 To our detriment, I say, because there can be only one center, and if it is anything but God himself, we will run amok. The gospel is the way to the center, but it is not the center. Having put it there, we have misplaced many other genuine goods that are a necessary part not only of human flourishing but of specifically Christian flourishing.

illustration of the solar system

The solar system provides a useful metaphor here. The earth is essential to human existence. It is not, however, the center of our solar system, and it could not support human existence if it were. Just as the sun is the center of the solar system around which all other bodies revolve, Jesus Christ himself is the center of our faith around which all other aspects revolve. Some of those aspects may be nearer the center, spinning faster (that is, with greater urgency). Others may be like Jupiter: some way removed from the center, but of enormous importance to the health of the whole system. Still others may be like the moons of Pluto: far-out, with little impact on the rest of the system, but still part of it and not to be entirely ignored.

To be sure, all healthy evangelicals implicitly understand that the gospel is here to point us to Jesus, rather than being its own end. We struggle with this practically, though; we often make "ministry" the point around which all other aspects of the Christian life must revolve. We must therefore set Christ at the center of our faith much more explicitly, recognizing that the gospel is important but not primary. Jupiter cannot revolve around the earth, but it can and does circle the sun. Likewise, clear doctrines of vocation, a careful theology of the body, or a robust approach to the arts largely go missing or get confused when we try to make them "ministry" – but having thus reordered our world, we can rightly appreciate them.

Work glorifies God even if we never successfully lead a Bible study with our coworkers, and no less when the work is mechanical engineering than when it is pastoring. Friendship glorifies God when the relationship is full of love and encouragement, even when the time is spent playing games rather than discussing theology or praying. Beautiful art glorifies God even when the subject is nonreligious. A soccer game glorifies God when the players use their bodies to their best ability and show good sportsmanship, even when playing in a secular league. Each is free to glorify God in its own way, rather than being shoehorned into a means for various kinds of ministry.3

Evangelicalism is strong because we have recognized the importance of the gospel, discipleship, and charity. It will be stronger if we recognize the supremacy of Christ in all things, not just “ministry”.


  1. I believe political belligerency is not merely a necessary evil but both essential and good. Which particular issues require political action is another question for another day.

  2. Readers who are up on the blog world may note that much of what follows is equally applicable to the "gospel-centered" sub-movement that has sprung up in the last few years as to evangelicalism in general. I appreciate this movement immensely, but see the potential for it to relive many of evangelicalism’s struggles in microcosm.

  3. That is not to say that a friendly game shouldn’t be used as an outreach tool, that explicitly religious subjects for art are a bad idea, that friendships should not include prayer and theology, or that people should not seek to lead their coworkers to Christ. It is simply to say that those are distinct goods that sometimes accompany each of those spheres – not the aim of those spheres.

Posted by Chris Krycho

Chris is a husband and dad; theologian, composer, poet, and essayist; software developer; runner and triathlete; podcaster; and all-around nerd.

  • MarieP

    What are your thoughts on the place of social gatherings (and by that I mean something like the friendly game you mention) in the context of the local church? Is the church called to meet these needs for its members, or is this technically what people “from the church” do together but not “the church” in its identity and mission? Can true Christian love be fostered apart from friendship of the sort you mentioned, ie can fellowship be separated from friendship?

    • Hmm, good question, and it’s one I’ve been thinking on while at work for the last few hours. I think I’d sum it up by saying this is a thing that the church does, though there’s no formal requirement as such in the New Testament. It’s more that it’s a (super?)natural overflow of the bonds of love that should be forming among God’s people as we seek him together. Lest it seem like I’m overspiritualizing, that’s what I’ve observed happening very practically. As we pray together and study God’s word together and spend time together week in and week out, friendships develop. We share meals and games and many other things because we want to – and, admittedly, sometimes because it is good for us, even when we don’t want to.

      Of course, we can take that too far. We can end up right back in the place we started, seeing those things as “ministry” that we have to do for them to be meaningful. Something my wife and I have discussed a fair bit already is that we don’t have to be close friends with everyone with whom we’re doing ministry. We love the people in the small group we lead, and we want to keep deepening our fellowship. At the same time, I don’t feel obligated to spend all my free time with those people, as though other friendships rooted in fellowship are less valuable because they’re less ministerial in character. (I know quite a few people who struggle with that, too, thinking that if the relationship isn’t explicitly about discipleship or theological sharpening, it’s less valuable.)

      So to come to your last question, I don’t think “fellowship” and “friendship” are separable between believers, but I also don’t think that “fellowship” necessarily entails “ministry”. Unless we’re referring specifically to spiritual acts like prayer, partaking of communion, approaching the Scriptures, etc. While that might be a helpful semantic distinction, I don’t think it’s how most believers use the terms; we say “fellowship time” when what we really mean is “hanging out with friends who are all believers”. Nothing wrong with that!

      But now I’m curious to hear your thoughts in response – and apologies if this is an overly long reply; these are things I’m thinking about an awful lot right now.

      • MarieP

        I’ve been thinking about these issues a lot lately as well! I think you are absolutely right when you say we talk about “fellowship” when we mean to say, “hanging out with Christian friends.” I also think you have a great point about not having to be close “friends” with people in order to do ministry with them. I’ve actually been discussing some of these things with my own pastor, and those were actually two of his points as well!

        I think the issue is not only how we define “fellowship” (will need to do a word study on koinonia here!) but “friend” as well. We need to get our definition of “friend” from the Bible, not from Facebook! My mind immediately goes to these two verses: “Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends” John 15:13 and “a friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity” Proverbs 17:17 So friendship, Biblically speaking, is a sacrificial, self-denying, giving thing. It can include “hanging out,” but actually, I wonder if our best friends are those with whom we spent the best quality time, not necessarily those with whom we spend the most quantity of time.

        My initial thoughts…I’ll post the koinonia verses here soon…

        • Right there with you on this; I think you’re exactly right.

          My goal was not to define friendship, but rather to broaden its definition and suggest that real, deep friendships include lots beyond “spiritual times”, even if those times are essential components. Some of my closest friendships include roughly equal parts spiritual edification and video games; others are equal parts ministry and games of Ultimate; others are entirely prayer and conversation. There’s room for a variety of shapes to our friendships; but real Christian friendships always entail mutual edification. That’s not “ministry”, per se, though, which was the point I wanted to make in this post.

          I’ll look forward to seeing some of those verses, as I think a better grasp on the New Testament teaching on fellowship can only be a good thing.

        • MarieP

          Acts 2:42 And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers.

          I found this article compelling, which posits that the context of Acts 2:42 is not general body life but the corporate gathering of the church for worship. The four activities in the verse parallel Temple/synagogue worship: http://tinyurl.com/d3oycum

          Rom 15:26 For it pleased those from Macedonia and Achaia to make a certain contribution for the poor among the saints who are in Jerusalem.

          1Cor 1:9 God [is] faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

          1Cor 10:16 The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ?

          2Cor 6:14 Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers. For what fellowship has righteousness with lawlessness? And what communion has light with darkness?

          This appears to be far more than what we normally call “fellowship” (ie hanging out)!

          2Cor 8:4 1 Moreover, brethren, we make known to you the grace of God bestowed on the churches of Macedonia: 2 that in a great trial of affliction the abundance of their joy and their deep poverty abounded in the riches of their liberality. 3 For I bear witness that according to their ability, yes, and beyond their ability, they were freely willing, 4 imploring us with much urgency that we would receive the gift and the fellowship of the ministering to the saints.

          2Cor 9:13 10 Now may He who supplies seed to the sower, and bread for food, supply and multiply the seed you have sown and increase the fruits of your righteousness, 11 while you are enriched in everything for all liberality, which causes thanksgiving through us to God. 12 For the administration of this service not only supplies the needs of the saints, but also is abounding through many thanksgivings to God, 13 while, through the proof of this ministry, they glorify God for the obedience of your confession to the gospel of Christ, and for your liberal sharing with them and all men, 14 and by their prayer for you, who long for you because of the exceeding grace of God in you. 15 Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift!

          Here, we have fellowship being akin to sharing all things in common- giving of our goods to the needy

          2Cor 13:14 The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit [be] with you all. Amen.

          I’m glad the Holy Spirit does more than “hang out” with us ;-)

          Gal 2:9 7 But on the contrary, when they saw that the gospel for the uncircumcised had been committed to me, as the gospel for the circumcised was to Peter 8 (for He who worked effectively in Peter for the apostleship to the circumcised also worked effectively in me toward the Gentiles), 9 and when James, Cephas, and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that had been given to me, they gave me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship, that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised. 10 They desired only that we should remember the poor, the very thing which I also was eager to do.

          Fellowship here appears to be an affirmation of belonging in the family of God, and with the goal of ministry

          Eph 3:9 8 To me, who am less than the least of all the saints, this grace was given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, 9 and to make all see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the ages has been hidden in God who created all things through Jesus Christ; 10 to the intent that now the manifold wisdom of God might be made known by the church to the principalities and powers in the heavenly places, 11 according to the eternal purpose which He accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord, 12 in whom we have boldness and access with confidence through faith in Him. 13 Therefore I ask that you do not lose heart at my tribulations for you, which is your glory.

          I’m going to have to chew on those verses longer! “The fellowship of the mystery”

          Phil 1:5 3 I thank my God upon every remembrance of you, 4 always in every prayer of mine making request for you all with joy, 5 for your fellowship in the gospel from the first day until now, 6 being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ; 7 just as it is right for me to think this of you all, because I have you in my heart, inasmuch as both in my chains and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel, you all are partakers with me of grace. 8 For God is my witness, how greatly I long for you all with the affection of Jesus Christ.

          Fellowship from the first day until now- so fellowship can transcend space!

          Phil 2:1 1 Therefore if there is any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and mercy, 2 fulfill my joy by being like-minded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind. 3 Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. 4 Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.

          Phil 3:10 7 But what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ. 8 Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith; 10 that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death, 11 if, by any means, I may attain to the resurrection from the dead.

          The fellowship of Christ’s sufferings- somehow doesn’t have the same ring as “pizza fellowship,” does it?

          Philemon 1:6 4 I thank my God, making mention of you always in my prayers, 5 hearing of your love and faith which you have toward the Lord Jesus and toward all the saints, 6 that the sharing of your faith may become effective by the acknowledgment of every good thing which is in you in Christ Jesus. 7 For we have great joy and consolation in your love, because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed by you, brother.

          Wow, I’m blown away by these verses!!! I think Paul is saying that the fellowship of Philemon becomes effective to Paul when Paul thanks God for the faith and love and every good thing he sees in Philemon because of Christ! You know, that could explain why some gatherings with brethren seem to “do” more for me than others. That is another thing that God has been bringing into my mind, specifically today- gratitude!

          Heb 13:16 10 We have an altar from which those who serve the tabernacle have no right to eat. 11 For the bodies of those animals, whose blood is brought into the sanctuary by the high priest for sin, are burned outside the camp. 12 Therefore Jesus also, that He might sanctify the people with His own blood, suffered outside the gate. 13 Therefore let us go forth to Him, outside the camp, bearing His reproach. 14 For here we have no continuing city, but we seek the one to come. 15 Therefore by Him let us continually offer the sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to His name. 16 But do not forget to do good and to share, for with such sacrifices God is well pleased.

          1Jo 1:3 that which we have seen and heard we declare to you, that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship [is] with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ.

          1Jo 1:6 If we say that we have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth.

          1Jo 1:7 But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin.

          If we walk in the light and Christ is in the light, we have fellowship with one another…

          • Marie, good stuff here. Apologies; I haven’t been ignoring it – the comment ended up in my spam box, alas.

            I think these verses highlight that fellowship is not just the same as friendship. Indeed, we have fellowship with many with whom we might not be close friends, and we might have friendships (though not close ones, I think) with people with whom we do not have fellowship. They’re not the same, and that’s no bad thing.

            Thanks again for doing the digging here. :)

  • I love the analogy for planets.

    To push it further, are there things Evangelicals have decided aren’t planets, in spite of being told they were all our lives (Pluto isn’t a planet, anymore)?

    • Oh, yes, most definitely. Try to get a good robust conversation on ecclesiology going and see how far it gets you. The most common response is, “Well, I think there are room for all kinds of churches; however God is moving, we should get behind that and not argue, even if it’s not to our taste.” To which I want to reply, “Well, to some extent yes, but…” There are lots of things of the same variety even on theological topics. We do the same with lots of areas; that one is just one of my hobby horses. I’d be curious: can you think of others?