I am pretty much a walking Christian cliché. I come from a Christian home where I attended church regularly, taught Sunday school, didn’t get drunk or do drugs…you know, the “good kid.” Not that I’d call myself that, but you get the point. I’m the sheltered church girl. Don’t misunderstand me, I am incredibly thankful for my upbringing and I genuinely love going to church and teaching Sunday school. My life may be clichéd, but it isn’t an act. I am sincere.
But while I may be earnest in my pursuit of God, the problem is that I have been trying to do it on my own. I have lived openly as a Christian, but I have done so as an individual, not wanting to burden others with my problems. And I am not the only one.
If you’re like me, you have often wondered why most Christians aren’t all that different from everyone else, even though the Bible says that we should be. One of the main reasons for this is that we try to fit Christianity into what our culture says is acceptable, or whatever happens to be the latest trend. And one of the greatest pressures in our society today is to be independent, strong and self-sufficient. We aren’t supposed to let others know our weaknesses, and we aren’t supposed to need help. Because we have been bombarded with this ideology for so many decades, it has become ingrained in us, so that it is subconsciously affecting our decisions. And we have forgotten how contrary such thinking is to the gospel. One of the biggest problems with individualism in the church is that a lot of the time we don’t even see it as an issue, even though it is staring us in the face.
Our society says we can find community in a thousand different isolated activities: sports teams, book clubs, bloggers with like-minded ideas – anything we can piece together to get a fragmented idea of belonging. And when something isn’t working, when someone rubs us the wrong way, our immediate solution is to switch to a new activity or try a new club. It is easier to avoid confrontation than to try and work it out; easier to sever a relationship than to try and repair it. Ultimately, our objective is to satisfy our individual needs. It’s about what makes me happy. What fulfills my desires.
But God wants so much more for us than that! His desire for community involves far more work and cost than we’d like. But it also brings great joy and a deeper sense of belonging. We can only receive great rewards through great sacrifice.
Christian communities should not be afraid of confrontation. Of course I don’t mean we should seek out conflict, I am simply saying that sometimes it is necessary to challenge others in order to resolve issues. Being a part of a Christian community isn’t supposed to be sitting in the corner, uninvolved and unattached. It entails risks, building rooted relationships that might cause us pain because we are committed to others, people who are just as sinful as we are. It means sacrificing individuality. This is completely counter-cultural. Our society instructs us to be independent. But God calls us to depend on others, and to let others depend on us. But in doing so we will not lose who we are, in fact, we will truly be able to be ourselves because we can be honest and vulnerable with those around us without fearing judgement.
The world informs us that we are perfectly capable on our own, that we don’t need anyone else to become the best we can be. We are strong individuals who don’t have to rely on anyone; our own inner strength is enough. This sounds like the beginnings of a good pep talk, doesn’t it? It’s the kind of message that everyone likes to hear. Why? Because it makes us feel like we can tackle anything. Individualism is being preached through countless slogans and fuzzy feel good quotes that people put on Pinterest or share on Facebook without really thinking about the messages behind them. And we are all swallowing the bait. It is so subtle and seems so harmless on the surface.
But think about it. God has created us in His very image. We were designed to love Him and others, not to pursue our own desires. We have a space within Christian community to love others and to reflect God’s love for us. The Bible paints a glowing picture in Acts of what this could look like.
“All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favour of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.” Acts 2:44-47
Our role as Christians extends far beyond walking out our personal faith with God. When we share our walk with others, we can both become motivated, and motivate fellow believers. Having a personal relationship with Jesus means living that out. And according to the Bible, we are called to live it out with others, not alone. We are to cherish and care for each other, sharing all that we have: our joys and our sorrows – our entire lives. If we become intimately involved with others, our selfish tendencies will lose their grip, and our focus will naturally shift outwards and upwards. God will bring about miraculous revival as we stop trying to “go it alone” and let our brothers and sisters into this chaotic, painful, glorious journey called faith.