Fellowship Reimagined

A few of us are learning what “fellowship” means and are putting it into practice. It started a month ago when my wife told me a few people in our community wanted to go in with us in buying shares in a cow. I said, “Thats what ‘fellowship’ means. It means to have half shares in a cow”.


[image from mooworld.org]

This is what Kiwi Viv Grigg told me years ago at a Fuller Seminary class. He also suggested the word “fee” comes from the same word in old English. I did some research on the roots of the word and found out that the English word “fellowship” comes from the Nordic word “fēlagi”. Interestingly, that was pretty much the language spoken up here in Orkney during that time.

Broch-Of-GurnessThis 2000 year old village in Orkney (Broch of Gurness, about 20 minutes from my house) shows how close everyone lived together. Livestock gave meat, milk and heat for the homes in winter – organic heating and organic smell. Families would often share these animals among themselves by becoming ‘fellows’ with each other.

[Middle English felau, from Old English fēolaga, from Old Norse fēlagi, business partner, fellow, from fēlag, partnership : fē, property, money + lag, a laying down.] Answers

Word History for “Fellow”

“A jolly good fellow might or might not be the ideal business associate, but the ancestor of our word fellow definitely referred to a business partner. Fellow was borrowed into English from Old Norse fēlagi, meaning “a partner or shareholder of any kind.” Old Norse fēlagi is derived from fēlag, “partnership,” a compound made up of fē, “livestock, property, money,” and lag, “a laying in order” and “fellowship.” The notion of putting one’s property together lies behind the senses of fēlagi meaning “partner” and “consort.” In Old Icelandic fēlagi also had the general sense “fellow, mate, comrade,” which fellow has as well, indicating perhaps that most partnerships turned out all right for speakers of Old Icelandic.” Answers

This idea of re-imagining fellowship in economic terms came up later with the idea of chickens. Four families, including ours, are going together to buy some laying hens so we can all get fresh organic eggs. Thats fellowship for you. Maybe “partnership” carries the idea a little better.

Technorati Tags:

The topic came up again with a camper van. A number of us want the use of a camper van but none of us can afford it or feel justified in buying one for ourselves. Last weekend was a nasty storm which killed the Shiner’s caravan. They want to be part of a camper-sharing scheme also. The answer lies in FELLOWSHIP, a small group of us casting our lots together in a shared, economic and relational commitment.

Fellowship is the English translation for “Koinonia”, a word in the New Testament found 20 times in the New Testament, The first occurrence is Acts 2:42, “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer”. The fellowship was expressed financially as well as in other terms. People with extra land sold what they had and gave it to the apostles for distribution. The love feasts provided for those without much food or money, as well as being a relational and spiritual bonding event. The early church had a financial commitment to each other.

FELLOWSHIP. It might be an old and tired word for many of us, conjuring images of bad-food potlucks and cups of tea with boring people, but the word itself is a keeper and offers a way out of our individualist, consumerist christianities. Fellowship ALWAYS costs us something and it makes others richer. But giving that gift enriches ourselves and God’s community.

In the emerging church, there are many efforts to recover this idea of sharing in each others lives with a financial commitment. There are examples of common purses, common pools of money to borrow from, living arrangements which allow the idea of fellowship to be played out. Trusting each other and the God-given ability to get along with each other helps. I would be curious to know how is this idea working in your community.


Andrew Jones launched his first internet space in 1997 and has been teaching on related issues for the past 20 years. He travels all the time but lives between Wellington, San Francisco and a hobbit home in Prague.


  • Philip says:

    An awesome reminder of the rawness of Kononia, something I have needed to be reminded of at the moment. Thumbs up!

  • Eddie says:

    It happens in suburbia in traditional churches too. I have shared ownership of tools and gardening stuff with friends from the local FIEC and Anglican churches.
    We looked at sharing a car, but the insurance stuff got complicated. In the end, we’ve got different types of car so that you can always borrow the model you need when you need it. Mine is the grungy estate car for hauling stuff about. I rarely see it at weekends when the other guys in the group are off work. If we want to take the kids and the dog away for a weekend, there is a camper van available in the system.
    One thing that makes this awkward is that I’m a missionary, surviving financially on gifts from some of the same friends that I share stuff with. Often they will be reluctant to allow me to contribute to the pot to replace something. I’ve got this protestant ethic that tells me I should contribute even when people don’t want me to. Any thoughts?

  • andrew says:

    no thoughts but some people contribute time or storage or cleaning rather than money so theres always a way to contribute.
    and it doesnt all have to even out on one project. maybe they give more on one project but you give more on another.

  • Words says:

    Blogs in Review 3/20/07

    Here are the blog posts for today! (Updated as I am able to)
    Scot McKnight (http://www.jesuscreed.org) has some good words to say on fasting.
    Phil Johnson over at the Pulpit Magazine (http://www.sfpulpit.com) starts an apparent series on why he is a C…

  • Mark says:

    So this is what is meant by the Disciples living in Fellowship… the pooling of resources to sustain the community… i guess it is interesting that for most churches fellowship means simply being together, sharing time not “sharing of life”.

  • Melody says:

    My mother always defined that word as meaning ‘two fellows in the same ship’.

  • brodie says:

    Great stuff Andrew – it’s a joy to read of people not just talking about a kingdom approach to life together but actually finding creative ways of doing it.

  • bobbie says:

    i know it’s a drum i bang to often, but i wish there was a way to neutralize the word and free it up from it’s masculine overtones. i think that is the reason it sounds so old fashioned to our ears.
    we want a place where our daughters feel as welcome as our sons.

  • William says:

    For me the word “fellowship” is closer to the “authentic” Christianity of the bible. It speaks of a group of people submitted to each other and to the Lord Jesus who chose to come together to bring the Kingdom of God, both speak and “do” the good news of the gospel. So much so that in our new venture in inner Belfast we have completely avoided the use of the word “chuch” and just called it “Hill Street Fellowship” – http://www.hillstreet.org.uk.
    Of course, we see ourselves as part of the Christian church in Belfast. Regarding Bobbie’s comment about the masculinity of the word fellowship, I think that in many western Christian cultures there is no risk of that since it is so heavily tied to Christian groups rather than the old “jolly good [male] fellow”. Bobbie, I just think that your request is a bit too “PC”…

  • Jon Harris says:

    Wow… I need to send this to a friend. It speaks to me. Thanks, Andrew.

  • Yuki says:

    Have been sent this article and what a refreshing read it is!!….especially the bit
    ‘Fellowship… ‘the word itself is a keeper and offers us a way out of our individualist,consumerist, christianities’…
    those last 3 words describe a contradictory trap that too many of us fall into too easily!!…Thanks Andrew for a very ‘now’ message!

  • Mike says:

    Our “leadership-team” here in Thun calls itself “Fellowship”. I have to send them this link…

  • The Journey says:

    Re-imagining fellowship

    What does the word ‘fellowship’ mean for you?
    Andrew at Tall Skinny Kiwi has a great post looking at the word and what it truly means. It might surprise you.
    It seems it’s not a pleasant chat over a cup of bad coffee after all. It’s more about …

  • bobbie says:

    sorry william – not pc at all – just a woman on the outside looking in – i know what that feels like for the past 41 years and i don’t want my daughter to have to feel it too.
    it’s a male word that should encompass us all.

  • bryan riley says:

    That really brings this verse from Acts 4 to life:
    32All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they shared everything they had.

  • Alan Cross says:

    This was really enlightening Andrew. I’m linking to you on this one.

  • Got Fellowship?

    Andrew Jones has an Acts-styled post on the meaning of fellowship. What he describes is much more than your typical ice cream social, though it could certainly lead to one. 😉 HT: Alan Cross

  • Jon Harris says:

    Bobbie – thanks for your comments and blog. Speaking personally, it would never have occurred to me to connect ‘fellowship’ with masculinity. Is it because of the root ‘fellow’? Can you enlighten me as to what you mean? Thanks muchly.

  • shannon says:

    I normally don’t weigh in on things like this. I like the idea of re-thinking about the word fellowship. A lot of us already live it but having grown up baptist I would say the word was impotent and certainly doesnt carry the depth of the teaching here. But I think that is our challenge in re-claiming language… making sure that we are communicating what we mean when we use a word, and we can pull on the riches of history to do that.
    Being a woman I have to admit it didn’t really come across as overly masculine. I too had to break it down to the root of fellow to to connect it to being overly masculine.

  • andrew says:

    yeah . . but the word “fellow” does seem masculine and “partner” might be a better choice in some circumstances.
    hey – good to see you in london this week!

  • Friday Finds – A week late!

    As I was out of contact for last week and just catching up on the rss feeds though the week, I thought I would do last weeks Friday finds today!:
    1) Be a low maintanance person, Jim Martins tip of the week – Well worth a read to re-centre…

  • spodychoff says:

    My Athletic Club’s motto is “Fitness Through Fellowship”. Makes you think!

Leave a Reply