Learn why it’s so important to be in the right fellowship and how to distinguish between the a good church and a bad one.

I want to take this opportunity to discuss what fellowship is and why it’s so important to be with the right fellowship versus the wrong fellowship and how to distinguish between the two. The Word says:

23 Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, 25 not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching (Hebrews 10:23-25).

Among other things, we need fellowship to help us hold on to what we believe. Fellowship encourages and keeps us on the right track. It helps us stir up good works and love. Without other members of the Body of Christ, following Jesus can be difficult. No one has to be alone, and with the help of God, you will find the right fellowship.

Fellows In A Ship

Fellowship comes from two words: a group of fellows (men) in a ship (boat) rowing to one destination. Notice the reason for fellowship, when it relates to Christ in verse 24 of Hebrews chapter 10: for exhortation, love and good works. If you’re part of a fellowship, ask yourself these questions:

  • Are you involved in “good works?”
  • Is biblical love being expressed (1 Cor 13:4-7)?
  • Are you exhorted to be like Christ (Romans 8:29)?

If NO is the answer to any of the above questions, you may be in the wrong fellowship. In my book about faith, I mentioned the lack of love, the blatant sin, and the unrighteousness I witnessed in Christianity. I mentioned how the Christians I used to fellowship with would make it clear that they weren’t making mistakes but deliberately living in sin. They weren’t striving to live a holy life. Unfortunately, this was a large fellowship I was part of, and these people were rowing their boat to hell.

However, the child of God’s destination should be one of heaven by following the commandments of Jesus Christ (2 John 1:6) and moving away from sin. The children of God are in a different boat—a different destination.

Back then, I would run into people from my old church who’d treat me strangely and wonder why I’m no longer attending their church. My response: “How can we fellowship when you’re going in the wrong direction. You’re in an entirely different boat.”

Discerning their Destination

Doctrine can help you determine what destination that potential fellowship is headed because what people believe dictates their life course. This discernment must come from a foundation of truth. In other words, you have to know the truth for yourself because you studied it, and the Holy Spirit confirmed it. After measuring what a church believes against the Bible, you can decide to be a part of it or not.

I’ve made it a rule not to fellowship with people who believe their good works can get them into heaven because we are not saved by our works but by our faith in Jesus Christ (Eph 2:8-10). While I’m prepared to discuss the Bible’s viewpoint with such people, if this belief is adamant in them, we cannot fellowship. There’s a lot of consequences that come from legalism which I’ve already shared in my book.

I’ve especially made it a rule not to fellowship with those who whole to the Calvinist doctrine. Or people who believe that some sins are OK and that all roads lead to God. Often, all these beliefs result in destruction.

Sometimes doctrine is correct, but there are strife and offenses that happen among the brothers and sisters. The issue to discern is: did these people make a mistake, or was it intentional? Is there a real desire to seek forgiveness or forgive offenses, or have the people become indifferent about their sin? Sadly, in my past fellowships, the latter was the case—it was the wrong fellowship.

There’s a difference between a person who makes a mistake but wants to do the right thing, and a person who makes a mistake, shifts the blame, scoffs at correction, can’t take responsibility, and continues in the same behavior (Prov 9:7-8). Those who run from correction, and continue in sin are not people you should fellowship with. Jesus said you will know them by their fruit (Matthew 7:16).

Everyone isn’t your brother or sister

We often call each other “brothers and sisters” in the church, but check what Jesus said in Mark chapter 3:

31 Then His [Jesus] brothers and His mother came, and standing outside they sent to Him, calling Him. 32 And a multitude was sitting around Him; and they said to Him, “Look, Your mother and Your brothers are outside seeking You.” 33 But He answered them, saying, “Who is My mother, or My brothers?” 34 And He looked around in a circle at those who sat about Him, and said, “Here are My mother and My brothers! 35 For whoever does the will of God is My brother and My sister and mother.

I love Jesus’ definition of family: those who do the will of God. As I follow his example, I don’t care about the ministry anyone is part of, what church they go to, if they always sit in the pew behind me or not. These people are not my brother, sister, mother, or “spiritual father” if they’re not actively following and doing the will of my Father in heaven.

The Whore House

I once lived in a house, where a “Christian sister” moved in her boyfriend, in which they would frequently fornicate (I know so because I could always hear them down the hall from my room). The boyfriend was a bible seminary student. As I confronted him about their behavior, he justified his sin (using the Bible) and continued in it; then he had to nerve to call himself my brother in Christ.

Number one, he was not in Christ, and number two, he was not my brother. His girlfriend (now wife) and he had no fear of God. I feel for their souls and hope they repent and be born again. Fornicators will not inherit the kingdom of God (1 Cor 6:9-10).

To further prove they still didn’t care about God and his commandments about fornication – after they had married, they moved in another female friend of her’s, who would periodically bring over her boyfriend (who I knew from my first church) and have sex with him in her room. No one cared about God’s commandments. But I was supposed to call these people my “brothers and sisters?!” Not according to Jesus Christ.

Notice the differences I mentioned before: how they blatantly sinned and didn’t care who it hurt. We are not supposed to fellowship with such people. If I had known this would happen, I would’ve never moved in with them.

This also applies to the character of your religious leaders. Ask yourself these questions about the pastors, prophets, teachers and evangelists of your fellowship:

  • Are they prideful, arrogant, manipulative and crafty?
  • Do they treat some sins as big and others as insignificant?
  • Do they refuse to be corrected?

For more information on what a godly pastor looks like, visit this series: True Pastors

Just because some Christian leaders display acts of kindness and have programs centered around youth, it doesn’t make them your brothers and sisters. They must follow Jesus in lifestyle and in character. If you insist that they are your family, and they are not in fellowship with Christ, neither are you. The Bible says this about lifestyle and character:

6 If we say that we have fellowship with Him [Jesus], and walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. 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. (1 John 1:6-7)

The Bible says this about fellowship with the sinful:

11 But now I have written to you not to keep company with anyone named a brother, who is sexually immoral, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or an extortioner—not even to eat with such a person. 12 For what have I to do with judging those also who are outside? Do you not judge those who are inside? 13 But those who are outside God judges. Therefore “put away from yourselves the evil person.” (1 Cor 5:11-13)

Paul said, “don’t even eat with them!” That’s harsh, but that’s the Word of God. Now, look at your fellowship and ask yourself this question: Does sexual immorality, covetous, idolatry, reviling, and drunkenness go on without rebuke? If it does, you’re in the wrong fellowship, and your leaders are corrupt. Why does God instruct us to put away such people? Because it will contaminate the church and others will think it’s OK to sin and follow along.

Don’t get me wrong, we are not looking for ways to separate ourselves and excommunicate people, or make cliches or denominational sects. We do not shun or disrespect those who are in sin. Our first priority is correction and restoration to God and broken relationships, but some people don’t want to follow God according to his standards. We will continue to pray and love them (as any other person), but we cannot call them our brothers and sisters, and we cannot continue to fellowship with them. The Word says:

But we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you withdraw from every brother who walks disorderly and not according to the tradition which he received from us (2 Thess 3:6).

Don’t compromise for your need to belong

We stay in bad relationships and terrible churches because we all have a deep need to belong and fellowship, to be apart of a family and community—this is natural. But you mustn’t let earthly fellowship compromise your fellowship with the One who can save your soul. Which is more important: Your relationship with God or man?

Consequences for Compromise

I have to admit, I did compromise. I lingered in the institutional church after I felt a should leave. I stayed because I didn’t want to believe that it was so corrupted, and couldn’t just walk away from the only family I thought I had. I thought I would be truly alone, but I was wrong. I have the Lord and others who I fellowship with today. But my compromise did affect me, and this is why I tell you to break away from fellowships that are not aligned with God. The Word says: Do not be deceived: “Evil company corrupts good habits.” (1 Cor 15:33)

I had lots of zeal, patience, and humility, but because I allowed my flesh to take precedence over the Spirit of God, I paid for it. I became prideful, and I lost patience with myself and God. I also set myself up for a lot of disappointment and grief from toxic people.

My zeal, confidence, stance and identity in Christ had become weak, and my flesh had taken over. Bitterness, depression, resentment and hatred rose in me like never before. I was in a worse condition than before I ever became a Christian. Now, Christ had to clean me out and remove crap I allowed to seep in when I should have just listened to the signs in the first place.

Don’t think that your good qualities will keep you. Don’t be deceived, evil company will change you for the worst. If you’re in the wrong fellowship and you find it’s hard to leave, just know that those immoral people will get to you as they got to me. It’s only a matter of time, so get moving and do as the Word says:

“Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers. For what fellowship has righteousness with lawlessness? And what communion has light with darkness?” (2 Cor 6:14) and “Withdraw from those who walk disorderly” (2 Thess 3:6).

A youth pastor couldn’t understand why I was ending our relationship claiming that I was using the above Corinthian passage out of context. He was using witchcraft, gossiping about things I shared with him privately and was damaging me spiritually. He was in darkness, I was trying to get to the light. The 2 Corinthians 6:14 passage doesn’t just mean people who are not professed Christians (worldly people), but those who walk in darkness.

Ask yourself these questions about your fellowship?

  • Does your fellowship follow Christ?
  • How do they treat you and other people?
  • Do your leaders resemble Christ?
  • Are they trying to obey God or are they living in sin?

Breaking fellowship with evil company

Don’t let a church fellowship lie and tell you, “you were planted here” or, “God placed you here, and you’re disobeying God by leaving our church or ministry.” None of this “planting” crap is in the Bible. And even if God led you there, nothing is permanent. If the Lord says, “Stay” stay, if the Lord says, “Go,” go.

Some will act as if your departure is a departure from God. But this is the way they see things through their institutional eyes. These people are deceived. God is not in some brick building, a small group in someone’s basement, or an online ministry. God is with you when you are obeying him (John 14:23). Don’t let these people intimidate and ridicule you into staying in a fellowship that is unhealthy and dishonoring to God.

You will have to expect shaming and damning from those fellowships you decide to break off. Expect flaming arrows, but block them with your shield of faith and know that you have changed your destination and you now “row a boat,” upstream, towards Heaven with your God.

Also, some people may even change once you make the decision to depart, so don’t rule this out either, but if their change is just to keep you and not for the Lord, you must let them go.

The Lord is bigger and better than them, and his fellowship has rewards. Plus, God won’t leave you hanging. God will send you an earthly fellowship that is in alignment with him, and you won’t be alone. In review, the right fellowship has the following:

  • Biblical love
  • A hatred of sin
  • Desire to become like Jesus
  • Discipleship, correction and exhortation
  • Good works, edification and spiritual growth
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20 Comments

  1. Thank you for this word Neal. It is a word in season to me right now. See how the Lord can use the pain you went through to guide and encourage others who are now treading this path.

    Praise God.

  2. I love this! I need to say that I have no godly friends in my life and never really did. I am single and have 2 wonderful children but I do need godly fellowship but every ‘christian’ and church i went to in 10 years have closed their doors on me and wanted nothing to do with me. I have prayed hard about this. What can I do?

    1. Hi Beth. First, what you should do is get rid of any ungodly friends as James 4:4 suggests. Hanging with the world will block your relationship with God and any real and godly fellowships he has for you. After this, you may find yourself alone and the only friend you have is God. This is painful but normal for a season as this time is allotted for you to build a firm foundation, root and connection to him. After that is done, you will be free to fellowship with people he chooses for you. This is where I’m at currently, but I know that as I become firmly rooted in him, he’ll show me where the true fellowships are. I hope this helps.

  3. I at times get very dissapointed seeing the behavior of fellow believers in church.if we disclose our problem asking them to uplift me in prayers… They spread the problems to others to blame and accused us…. We have to do fellowship with believers too hut such behavior of theirs makes me just keep quiet… Will I ever get a fellowship which is just not fighting for right christian life but longing to live it
    …..

  4. Thank you for this Neal, I left the Jehovah’s Witnesses about a year & a half ago & for a long time I felt lost & alone. I’ve been to many churches since, some briefly & some for longer periods but I am really struggling to find where I fit in. I have recently been attending a Church of Christ congregation which seemed quite scriptural at first but I began to see a “We’re the only true church” attitude which has since really turned me off that group. It’s so difficult to find somewhere to fellowship with other Christians

    1. Tony, I’m learning that direct fellowship with God alone apart from other saints, for a season, is crucial towards building a strong relationship with him. Then he’ll join us together locally when he’s ready.

      1. Thank you, Neal, for this website. I’m just now learning about the Hebrew Israelite history. I’m grateful Jesus said the Holy Spirit would guide us into all the truth. Some of the other websites on this subject reject Jesus as the Son of God, and I’m assuming one reason is that the Catholic Church, and protestant churches too, have represented him as a white man for centuries, but also because God doesn’t speak to his people in the same way in the New Testament as in the Old Testament. I was so glad to find your site since you don’t reject Jesus. The verse kept coming back to mind where Jesus said, “but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven.”

  5. Hi, once again thanks for an great article…As i stated earlier im currently still in the church, praying and waiting to hear from the Holy Spirit about what it is he will have me to about the church. I for one was involved in a few ministries, but i had a job change that wouldnt allow me to be active in them…At first i was a little disappointed cause i really enjoyed them,but after awhile i started to realize that maybe this was for the best….

  6. Hello, Mr. Nealreal,
    I am hoping you would respond to this question. I have read somewhere you said you no longer to Church, I am wondering if you don’t what do you do to replace your Spiritual strength? Do you have a home church with a few friends and family? Please advise. I am no longer attending church but I find myself missing the worship sessions; am I wrong with what I feel?

    1. Hi Rhona,
      I primarily don’t attend a traditional church because the Holy Spirit hasn’t led me to one yet. Believe me, I’ve tried, both me and my wife, to join different fellowships over the years only to be hit with a “No” from the Lord.

      The problem is: bad fellowship corrupts your connection with God and causes you to stumble, therefore it’s best to stay alone in him until he leads you to a place of fellowship (1 Cor 15:33).

      What I do to stay connected is prayer, study and fasting. There are also the occasional sermon online and worship song, but I stay busy for the Lord in the gift of teaching and that keeps me grounded.

      My fellowship is my wife and of course God himself. You really just have to adapt. God is calling us away from the world and into the wilderness, to remove all the stuff that’s not of him so we can properly fit into a fellowship once he brings us one.

      You’re not wrong to miss corporate praise, but what your soul needs is more of Jesus; and you’ll find yourself praising God anytime and anywhere just for seeing how good he is when you spend more time alone with him.

  7. Thank you for writing this question Rhona and for responding Neal. I had the same question. My husband and I have the same issues with attending our local churches. It’s encouraging to hear from others.

  8. God bless you my brother. My husband and I have read many of your articles and have been mightily blessed. We have struggled with the same things you write about. In particular the IC. For 19 years, our entire marriage we have gone from church to church and could not find fellowship but I in particular was terribly concerned about the Lord’s command to “Forsake not the assembling of yourselves together, especially as the Day draws near”.

    It’s now about three months since we left the last church and even prior to reading your awesome articles the Holy Spirit had shown us that there was no sense looking anymore. We live on a small island and must have been to at least 30 churches. People are always admonishing us that Satan will get to us without a covering and numerous other threats.

    Up to today, I have had an attack carried out by someone who works for us who was recommended by a lady in the last church we attended. This lady let’s call her Ann for anonymity’s sake has persistently tried to intimidate me into coming back. Today the employee who I believe is a Christian admonished us that we need to get back into a church especially seeing the things that are going on in the world. It is through her admonishments that we turned to prayer after she had gone home and I once again came to your site and read the Institutional Church and How to tell if you are in the right church.

    I am convinced that the Holy Spirit led me to your website where I first read about women and preaching. In this island, apart from cults, there are NO churches where men alone preach. The Pastor might be a male but he will call in females from time-to-time. People SCOFF at us when we tell them it is unscriptural. Well I don’t mean for this to be a “rant”, I just want to thank you very much for your ministry to my husband and I. We would be very grateful for your prayer.

    1. Thanks for your comment, FrancesEve. I’m glad the articles have helped you. Today the enemy is trying his best to pervert the real saints through bad fellowship, but we’re not going to let him. We will remain holy. Continue to remain adamant against the intimidation of Satan and glory be to God for his strength to keep you and your husband away from places that are not from him. In due time the Lord will bring us to local fellowships that honor him and help us grow.

      1. NealReal: Such a PLEASURE to find a website like yours. Definitely led by the Holy Spirit.

        I will send a separate e-mail to you regarding personal prayer.

        God Bless you.

  9. Couple of questions. What are your thoughts on Pantomime acts in the church? I found myself confused by what they were doing and they had Joel Osteen preaching in the background. Also on Thanksgiving they had an interfaith service, that I did not attend. I was surprised at this because our pastor preaches biblical truths and has many times stated how Jesus lives and other religious prophets are dead like Mohammed and Buddha and Joseph Smith. He seems to be a Godly man, that doesnt teach prosperity and lets us know we are simners who need to repent. I feel there is a mix of truth and lies. Also Im confused by the symbolism they use. The church website uses three crosses with a greater than sign over them. Not sure what that means. Maybe you can quickly look at the stjamescmbc.org site and give meyour opinion.

    1. Hi Lisa, that’s a harlot church. Plain and simple. You feel there’s a mix of truth and lies because that’s what’s going on. No real church of God would entertain other religions or beliefs contrary to the kingdom of God. This isn’t the right fellowship. And I believe you see that. I visited their website by the way too, I see flesh and not the Spirit of God.

      Jesus said, “By their fruit you will recognize them. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit” (Matt 7:16-18)

  10. I think it is almost impossible to live a wholesome Christian life in a Western Country. (especially difficult in the cities). There is pornography even on the bus stops. You get polluted just by walking around. The air is dirty, the way people dress pollutes/corrupts your eyes, people are rude and inconsiderate. I think Africa is the only place left for me to go. This is where most Isrealites live anyhow. People think only those carried by slaveship were scattered but the truth is any Isrealite living outside the holy land is essentially a scattered Isrealite. And most still reside in Africa which is the wilderness they fled into.

    1. “Jesus said, With men this is impossible; but with God all things are possible.” (Matthew 19:26). Even in Africa there’s pollution, this is Satan’s kingdom, you can’t get away from it. However, you can be shielded from it in the holiness of God.

      Jesus also prayed for the saints saying, “I have given them Your word and the world has hated them; for they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. I am not asking that You take them out of the world, but that You keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world” (John 17:15).