I was in a staff meeting a couple of years ago at another church and our team was working on a new tag line for our small groups. One of our pastors wanted to use the phrase “Living life together.” Another pastor in the meeting was adamantly against the suggestion, saying, “I do not want to use that phrase—it sounds effeminate, and honestly I do not want to live life with these people.” The pastor’s comment made me angry, but unfortunately he just said what a lot of people think. Our human nature tends toward selfish individualism. We want to make our own rules, satisfy our own desires, and be our own gods. If we aren’t intentional about encouraging one another to live as Jesus lived, our churches—pastors included—will be full of “Christians” who simply want to enjoy their own individual Christianity. Church will just be a box to check at the end of a long week, and when pastors use phrases like “Living life together” and “Gospel Community,” they will fall on deaf ears.
The selfish individualism that permeates our churches is responsible for the church failing to accomplish its mission of making disciples of all people. We have worked hard to fill our churches with people who want a spectacular show on Sundays and other programs of their choosing during the week. As a result, we have a church weighted down with consumers instead of one armed with people on Jesus’ mission to make disciples. It is time for those of us who devote our lives to shepherding Christ-followers to help people see that church is the people, not the building.
This is much easier said than done! In light of the fact that we live in a consumeristic, materialistic, and individualistic culture, how does the church mobilize people to live life on mission together? How does the 21st century church overcome decades of “Lone Ranger” Christianity? The best place to start is with the compelling picture of Gospel community presented to us in the Bible, specifically Acts 2:44-45: And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. The 1st century church met one another’s needs.
Our churches are full of broken people, broken marriages and broken families. People are struggling to keep their heads above water and fighting through the daily grind of life. Before we can mobilize them for mission, we must first come alongside them and bear their burdens! The New Testament does command us to live life with one another. Here are just a few verses that exhort Christians to relate to one another in the context of the local church:
- 1 Jn. 4:11: Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.
- 1 Pet. 4:9: Show hospitality to one another without grumbling.
- Heb. 10:24-25: And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.
- Gal. 6:2: Bear one another’s burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ.
- 1 Thess. 5:11: Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.
This kind of Gospel-centered living doesn’t only take place on Sunday mornings and Wednesday nights. It takes place seven days a week, sometimes 24 hours a day. The church is the teenager who babysits on Friday nights so my wife and I can have a date night. It’s the men who meet for coffee at 7:00am on Tuesday to hold each other accountable to be Godly husbands, fathers, and employees. It’s the families who bring meals when someone has a baby or is sick or loses a parent. The church is the friend we call for Godly counsel when our teenager stays out all night. It’s the other couple who come over when our marriage is struggling. The church is the people who celebrate birthdays and holidays and life’s milestones together.
We gather to strengthen one another so we can scatter out and meet the needs all around us. Missional community is first a community and then it is a community striving to be missional. Instead of just looking to meet one another’s needs, we also look to meet the needs of those outside the people we call “church.” We encourage each other to stay alert, to be ready, and to be on mission all day, every day. The only way to break the grip of selfish individualism is to do something for someone else—to do as Jesus did and look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others (Philippians 2:4).
Here’s a challenge our pastor gave us that I’d like to pass on to you: When you see a need this week, make it a point to meet that need within 72 hours. Together we can begin to break the grip of selfish individualism and build Gospel community.