Tuesday, July 8, 2014
How individualism blocks community
They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.
THE ACTS study we are engaged with continues with a word picture of this newly-formed group’s community – deep community. In a little over 100 words, we can probably find a dozen different expressions of their togetherness.
Of course, this was a church comprised of Jews, who had their own culture of mutual support and unquestioned obligation to provide hospitality — remember the story Jesus told of the man who had visitors late at night and needed bread? There was little question that the bread would be found, and it was culturally acceptable to make the demand boldly for the bread to be handed over, on the basis of need. They were untroubled by consumerism, not precious about what they had or shared or what anyone would think, and didn’t hold the individual, private, separated viewpoint that we have acquired from our culture.
Randy Frazee, who served as a teaching pastor at Willow Creek and is now senior leader in partnership with the much better known Max Lucado in Oak Hills Church, San Antonio, Texas, has a lifelong passion about authentic community. In his book The Connecting Church 2.0 – subtitled Beyond Small Groups to Authentic Community – he includes a chapter on The Problem of Individualism. The book uses a running story about a stereotypical family, the Johnsons, who joined a church because they wanted community. Their busy lives, both partners commuting and working, with two children pursuing a range of out of school activities and in a home group whose members travel half an hour across town to get to the occasional barbecue in between not-very-community-enhancing group activities, left them without any real friends – or friendship.
Frazee comments that it simply hasn’t occurred to the Johnsons that the culture which has shaped them might be a lot of the reason they have a desire for something they seemingly cannot get. Like us, their wants and desires and rights rank higher than responsibilities, especially community responsibility. Relative truth and their perceptions rank higher than absolute truth. Career advancement scores over things like lifestyle choice, loyalty to the company, or trust. So when they gather in their group (or other get-together) they gather as individuals, primarily concerned about their own wants and needs, not as a community united around a common purpose. One academic, John Locke, head of Human Communication Sciences at Sheffield University, has coined a term for this: ‘Solo Sapiens’.
The Acts 2 picture seems like a different world. Yet it is a better reflection of our original design, which was for community, with God and each other.
The challenge is to become aware of our own individualism, and how to be free from it – to be able to make lifestyle and relational choices which begin to change that culture.