One of the more challenging tasks parents have in raising their children is in helping them to understand the proper relationship between the individual and community. This undertaking is complicated by the facts that our culture places an extremely high value on individualism and that children are naturally self-centered. Any parent or teacher can tell you of the struggle in getting a child to accept the idea of placing the group’s needs ahead of their own.
Team sports, group activities like band or a school play can be wonderful platforms for teaching about community. Practice at four o’clock on Thursday may not be great for any one particular person, but it works out best for the whole so that’s when you practice. The individual’s wish is sacrificed for the greater good of the group. Or, with older children, someone is goofing off in practice instead of paying attention so they have to run some wind sprints. This helps them to understand that they’re all connected and are more than just a group of isolated individuals.
The failure to appreciate community is one reason why many Americans stumble on the idea of church (read: organized religion). In the finest tradition of our culture, we’re okay with the idea of an individual and God, but you’re only asking for trouble when you want to start talking about a group of people and God. We’re often quite comfortable thinking in individual terms and equally ill at ease it seems in thinking of ourselves in community terms. We’re by no means alone in either our distaste or our distrust.
One of the major issues the church at Corinth struggled with was community (i.e., learning what it meant to be part of the body of Christ). I like Paul’s style, or I can really relate to Peter best, they would tell one another (see chapter 1). Each was following his own interests and not thinking of the greater good.
Their individualism made a sham of the Lord’s Supper—the memorial meant to commemorate Christ’s selfless death for all. Paul had to remind them that the call of Christ was a call into community (12:13). Many teams have underachieved because they were ultimately no more than a collection of individuals. The same could be said for churches and families. It requires nothing special to act in our own interest—that’s the human default setting. Thinking of and acting for the greater good of the community, that’s special and pleasing to God.
“ . . . make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others,” (Philippians 2:2-4).