Murray notes a series of thoughtful concerns, doing so out of a familiarity with church cultures where discipleship and open-hearted spiritual fellowship are not the norm of the life of the body. Yet, there are churches where this is vibrant and normal: many congregations fall somewhere between the two.
The difference between the two ends of the continuum is really quite stark: profoundly tangible when you’ve experienced both. Undoubtedly spiritually significant fellowship is more easily nurtured in smaller congregations where a deeper interpersonal connections exist naturally–a potential strength of smaller churches, and a good reason for pastors and elders of larger congregations to not only preach, pray and lead for this, but also to consider both cultivating regional small groups with this ethos, and intentionally plant churches with this characteristic from their inception.
While sin and difficulties can and will rear their ugly heads when sinners engage in mutual spiritual accountability and encouragement/counsel in the life of the body, it remains a very good, beautiful, God-ordained thing. This is no doubt why sin and Satan love to make it break down and run awry. These realities mean that ministers and elders need to be wise, watchful, and active in shepherding the life of the body in its parts and as a whole.
The reason for this mutual rebuke and encouragement is written across the pages of the New Testament. In I Thessalonians, Paul, by the Holy Spirit, exhorts the members of the church not only to respect and love their elders for their spiritual shepherding, but also to engage in active, personal spiritual ministry to one another:
“We ask you brothers, to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves. And we urge you brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with all. See that no one repays evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to everyone.” (I Thess. 5:12-15)
Not only that, but God also graciously reveals a healthy growth in meaningful fellowship in this church–a divine encouragement as we ourselves pursue developing relational ministry among the members of the body:
“We ought to give thanks to God for you, brothers, as is right, because your faith is growing abundantly, and the love of every one of you for one another is increasing.” (II Thess. 1:3)
This is not just a sweet taste of heaven, it is a God-given means of spiritual growth and preservation, and a powerful gospel witness in a world disconnected from the love of Christ.