Saturday, June 23, 2007

Individualism Is Killing The Church

Just about every pastor I've ever met has repeated the phrase that is the title of this post. Heck, I've said it one more than one occasion (and probably will again). Individualism is killing the Church - I'm firmly convinced of that, but I'm starting to wonder if pastor's and church leaders have been misdiagnosing what the problem with individualism actually is.

See I, like many of my pastor-type friends, will often talk about the problem of trying to create community amongst a group of people for whom every impulse is to pull away from community. This is, indeed, a problem - but, like most things I've discovered in time as a pastor, it's not the real issue. You see the real issue isn't that these folks who are all individuals don't have a community, it's they do have a community which is dysfunctional and through which communal tendencies are playing out. In a dysfunctional community of individuals, however, no one sees how the dysfunctional communal tendencies are playing out through them. The standard response to someone who points out the various elephants in the system is, "Well, I don't do that." Invariably, they do (and I'll include "me" in "they" here). People who think of themselves as individuals first, and members of a community as distant second, are literally defenseless against being manipulated by a dysfunctional system that needs people to think, "Well, I'm OK, it's them that have the problems here."

See what happens? When a dysfunctional system finds it's place of equilibrium in convincing each individual, "I'm all right," then it doesn't matter if an individual thinks,"I'm all right," because they like the organ, been a member for 50 years, or because they believe that Christians ought to evangelize. It's same thing because when the dysfunctional system convinces individuals, "I'm all right in the right way," then membership, worship, and even evangelism aren't things which are laid at the feet of the living Lord Jesus Christ - they are things which are set against the people we're supposed to be doing these things (and being these things) along side of. It's a community in which people are willing to call other people to repent, but are unwilling to repent themselves.

So, I'm finding that the question isn't, "How do we create a community among a bunch of individuals?" Rather its, "How do we make these (false) individuals see that even in their individuality they are part of a dysfunctional and sinful system - and in so doing both lead these (false) individuals into repentance and into a new life where the system they are knowingly part of says, "Well, I'm part of the problem - let's follow Jesus together." [Note: one of the things a pastor needs is some friends who love them enough to say, "You know is there any sin you'd like to confess?"]

For the last four years I've had all the pieces from these thoughts in place and working in this community - and in so doing the system was stretched to it's breaking point so much that I actually watched it collapse (and, to be quite honest, I did feel a great deal of anxiety as it crashed). Now we're standing at the crossroads for the community. We've got a continuum of directions to take. In one range we can use the new freedom that Central is experiencing to say with even greater fervor, "Well, I get it - they have the problem." In that case - the stress of these four years has pretty much been in vain because the Individuals didn't learn to repent. On the other hand we can use the new freedom we're experiencing to say, "Lord, how have I sinned and in so doing contributed to our sin here at Central?" If the Holy Spirit drives us in that direction (and who knows what it'll look like), then the stress of these for years will see something new be born out of the dysfunction of the past. Right now, I'm thinking the Holy Spirit is quietly being listened to, and I'm hearing a lot less, "Well, I'm OK" from people. It's a great thing.


MrsQ said...

But, But, But...
IIII just gotta be Meeeeee!
IIII just gotta be Meeeeeeeeee!

This whole self-centered thing is sin.

Oddly, you can point at any of the evils of society and blame them on... self-centeredness, IOW doing what's best for you and yours INSTEAD of what's best for the greater good... IOW you can blame them on sin. 'Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can to for your country.' -- why was this said? Because people are inherently selfish and tend to use the world instead of help the world.

Fortunately, I serve a God with a clue. God gave us Christ -- selflessly -- and we are able repent and to follow His way of Love. How cool is that?

wezlo said...

Yah, the disaster is that people [read:me] are generally selfish and don't think that they are.

CoderForChrist said...

It's all about meeeeeeeee, Coder!
And all this is for meeeeeeeee,
For my glory and my fame!
It's not about Yooooouuuu,
As if we should do things Your way,
For I am my own God, so surrender
To my ways!

Back in the Baptist church, a friend of mine and I would laugh about that version. Sadly, how often it is that, when singing the original song, that is what we really mean.

Melanie said...

I agree that the me mentality of people is a church killer. I find, though, that the often sought after solution to this problem of carbon copying people doesn't work either.

Often we try to make everyone exactly the same in order to make our community work. We have to be totally for the group and therefore can't have new thoughts, differences of look, or life styles. We leave no room for creative expression or change. We seem to get the 2 meanings of individual mixed up.

We need to be able to create a community of people that are not all about themselves but at the same time can be allowed to be different from one another.

wezlo said...

Well-said Mel...