By Shannon Youell
I was listening to classic rock today and heard this song lyric: “Your own personal Jesus; Someone to hear your prayers, someone who cares; Your own personal Jesus.”
The song bothered me. Not because I don’t have a relationship with God-With-Us that is quite personal in that I can talk with him and walk with him. Jesus is present with me, he saves me. But the lyrics bothered me because the prevailing god of our culture—in cahoots with the gods of consumerism and materialism—is individualism, the idea that my apprenticeship with Jesus is solely a personal journey that is all about me. Individualism leaves the church in the place where we no longer need one another to be Kingdom people.
Paul, in writing to the Ephesians, tells a different story. He tells of a body that is “joined and held together by every supporting ligament.” He tells of how, as each part or individual works with the rest, the body grows and is built up. That “body working together” is what matures the whole and, thus, the individuals of the whole.
We certainly struggle with Paul’s teaching today because we place a high value on our personal journey with Jesus as the ultimate intent of our being Christ’s disciples. Mark Roberts in his commentary on Ephesians says this about 4:7-16:
The growth of individual parts is only implied. But verse 14, by use of the plural “infants,” shows that corporate growth and individual growth go hand in hand. If the body of Christ grows, then individuals will no longer be spiritual babies.i
Brad Brisco and Lance Ford in their workbook Missional Essentials have this to say about it:
Living in the 21st century presents a unique set of challenges for those of us in the developed world. Modern conveniences and technology certainly make chores and routine tasks easier, but they also coincide with a lifestyle of disconnectedness from others around us. For the most part, our lives are compartmentalized in such a way that we live with a lack of integration. We speak of our work life, recreational life, family life, and spiritual life. The result for many of us is a disintegrated life.
Many in the church are realizing that in order to counter the gods of consumerism, materialism and individualism that haunt and disintegrate our lives we must rediscover the ancient ways of living life together on mission. Many churches have discovered that rhythms of Shared Practices have made huge differences in the lives of their church community and in the discipleship of their members.ii
In my own church community, we have been perplexed—if Christ transforms us, why are we not seeing transformation in so many who are still stuck in the same cycles of spiritual immaturity? After several years of praying, discerning, and wrestling, we came to realize that all our good leadership, our good programs, our good teaching was designed to feed people. Jesus and the early church shaped communities of people, and in that shaping, needs were met and transformation of hearts, minds souls and strength were evident to one another and to those in the world they lived, worked and played in.
God created us to be community, in continual communion with one another, as he himself, is community: Father, Son, Spirit. Tod E. Bolsinger says this:
My primary thesis is that the change we most yearn for is available to us only through the Triune God who transforms his people within the divine community, the church—The People of the Table. I believe and want to convince you that “it takes a church to raise a Christian.”
Here’s a caveat to keep in mind: we are not engaging in Shared Practices for the sake of doing something good together. We are engaging in Shared Practices so as to become more and more the image-bearers of God, in Christ, thus living lives both inside and outside the church that display the good news of God’s Kingdom life here on earth as it is in heaven. Shared Practices help many churches become counter-cultural and discover life in Christ in deeper, transformative ways.
i. Roberts, Mark: The Story of God Bible Commentary: Ephesians
ii. There are so many resources, ancient, classic and new to help us lean into this. A few favorites are The Divine Conspiracy by Dallas Willard, Renovation of the Church by Kent Carlson and Mike Luken, BTW by Derek Vreeland, It Takes a Church to Raise a Christian by Tod E. Bolsinger and books by Eugene Peterson, Henri Nouwen, Mike Frost, Mike Breen, Brad Brisco, Preston Pouteaux, David Fitch and so many others.