What’s the number one mistake that Christians make in their attempts to grow?
Here’s how I would answer: we try to grow alone.
Let me explain.
The Age of Individualism
We live in an age of individualism. We’re so used to it that we don’t realize how unusual it is to think of ourselves primarily as individuals as opposed to part of a group.
In a penetrating blog post based on a recent book, Trevin Wax writes about this worldview:
We believe in the dignity, indeed the sacredness, of the individual. Anything that would violate our right to think for ourselves, judge for ourselves, make our own decisions, live our lives as we see fit, is not only morally wrong, it is sacrilegious. Our highest and noblest aspirations, not only for ourselves, but for those we care about, for our society and for the world, are closely linked to our individualism.
In the past, and even now in other cultures, people looked to communities for guidance on how to live. We now look to ourselves. We want to decide what’s right, make our own decisions on how to live, and be self-reliant. When we join with others, we join on our own terms with the right to withdraw any time we like.
Again, Wax writes:
Many people see themselves as lone individuals who only come together based on common interests or goals. Any commitments we make are on our own terms. In an individualistic culture, the community aspect of our existence can suffer. Church attendance suffers, too.
Again, this view seems so ordinary to us that we think it’s normal. It’s actually a new way to live, and gets in the way of God’s design for our growth.
You were never meant to live as an isolated individual. There’s a better way to live.
A Better Way
Carrie Russell, who lives in Charlotte, North Carolina, reflects on a recent study with other women at her church:
After studying Romans 8 with a group of ladies at church, I’ve been struck by the great gift it is to study God’s Word with God’s people. And not just any of God’s people, but the very sisters in Christ with whom I have covenanted through our local church.
Many good organizations are attempting to do good things with Bible studies. I know of citywide Bible studies, and various online forums and apps; I’ve heard about authors hosting six-week sessions through their recently published work. Of course, studying God’s Word is always better than not studying his Word. But the best place to do this is with fellow members from your local church…
Russell is on to something.
Do you want to grow? Don’t try to grow by yourself by reading a book or even tackling good habits by yourself. Don’t even try to grow by signing up for an online course, using an app, or joining a group in your community.
These approaches aren’t all bad. They’re just not the best.
The best way to grow is to move away from individualism toward growth within a good local church. Commit yourself to a local church. Attend regularly. Get involved with others who are hungry for God’s Word. Refuse to live life as a solitary individual, and begin to live as an active participant in God’s gift of the local church.