Summary: Kingdom community is the soil in which discipleship should take place. It’s hard to find Kingdom community in an individualistic culture. But we can be instruments that bring it back. We need to catch the vision for how we were meant to live collectively.
Where discipleship happens
There’s a lot of talk these days about discipleship and spiritual formation. But regrettably, there’s little talk about the context in which discipleship and spiritual formation is made possible. That context is Kingdom community.
We’ve got access to more sermons and other training materials than ever before in the history of the world.
Yet it seems we still struggle to find true spiritual maturity. This is because true Kingdom community is hard to find. That’s even the case among churches where one might think it would be most vibrant.
A major reason for its absence is our culture’s ingrained individualistic mindset. I’ve addressed this with a few posts in the past. But now I’d like to dig deeper.
People grow together or not at all
Individualism is perhaps most clearly seen when it comes to the issue of conflict. Individualistic cultures see conflict as an undesirable experience. The typical reaction is to remove ourselves as quickly as possible from the situation. They find it hard to see it as an opportunity to grow as a disciple.
There’s a problem with this. When you leave you don’t die. When you don’t die, you don’t grow. Conflict is the hammer and nails in the Father’s hand to put you on the cross of discipleship.
Those relationships that bring conflict? They’re tools of redemption designed for your long-term well-being. When it comes down to it, people grow together or not very much. Those that stay together and work through conflict grow. Those that leave don’t.
We leave when the going gets rough
So why do we have all this leaving going on in families and churches? We all know where divorce rates are at. We also know how quickly and easily people hop from church to church. Many never go back to church at all.
Again, a root cause of this is an individualistic mindset.
As Joseph H. Hellerman says in his book When the Church Was a Family…
“We in America have been socialized to believe that our own dreams, goals, and personal fulfillment ought to take precedence over the well-being of any group – our church or our family, for example – to which we belong. The immediate needs of the individual are more important than the long-term health of the group. So we leave and withdraw, rather than stay and grow up, when the going gets rough in the church or the home.”
In short, we’ve been programmed and encouraged to think “me first.” We hear the advice “you’ve got to do what makes YOU happy” all the time. This is how we typically think when it comes to decisions in our lives.
The well-being of the family is typically put on the back burner when it comes to things like who we will marry, what we will do for a living and where we will live. We’ll take jobs, move to another state and build our own mate on the latest dating site in our pursuit of individual “happiness.” We do these things without serious consideration of the long-term effects they have on the groups we’re a part of.
Group discipleship over individual discipleship
It’s all most of us have known throughout our lives. Therefore, we’re unaware that nearly all of the societies that have existed throughout history have been just the opposite. They’ve held what’s called a collectivist worldview. This view practices the good of the group over and above the good of the individual.
Take marriage, for example. Those in collectivist cultures evaluate how the union will affect the families of both parties first. Their decision is not first and foremost based on “falling in love.”
The Bible was written by those with a collectivist mindset. Family came first for the early Christians. Their spiritual family came first above all. This is why family is the #1 metaphor for the church in the New Testament.
While they were concerned with converting people to Christ, they were just as concerned (I would argue more) with raising up spiritual family communities of discipleship. Their goal was to display the literal Family of God on the earth.
Unlike us, they didn’t overemphasize the concept of a “personal savior.” Yes, we have a personal savior. But that’s a phrase that is found nowhere in the Bible. They emphasized the Head of the Body, the Father of God’s Family and “our Lord.”
Catching a vision of this way of thinking is eye-opening. It’s a reversal to those that have been trained to see the world through an opposite lens. Catching this vision is what will equip us to cultivate Kingdom community. This is the place where true discipleship can happen.
The rest of the posts in the Collectivist Community series are here.