How many times have you preached or taught or written about the epidemic?  Not COVID, the other epidemic.

I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve preached “against” the epidemic of individualism in our culture. Not a red-faced rant kind of preaching, but a measured presentation of the costs we pay for becoming increasingly isolated and insulated.  We have fewer friends, more mental health issues, fewer people who can speak truth to our lives, and more loneliness. 

Proud American individualism is often the antithesis of community as I’ve come to understand it in the Scriptures. And sadly, this epidemic afflicts men at higher rates than women, masquerading itself as some kind of machismo.

I recently listened to a lecture on cultural intelligence. One part of the lecture caught my attention: the cultural value of individualism vs. collectivism. It occurred to me that BOTH aspects of this cultural value were part of Jesus’ teaching and calling. Jesus certainly calls us to personal responsibility for things like faith decisions, forgiveness, etc. And yet he also issues a call for collective, almost socialistic responsibility. So far, so good.

But here’s where the grind begins. While the gospel calls us to personal action, personal transformation, etc., that same gospel also grinds away at many core parts of individualism. I’m thinking of things like consumerism, materialism, and the pride of being self-sufficient. To say nothing of the “me and Jesus, I don’t need the church” mentality that can emerge from pure individualism.

In the same way, while the gospel calls us to a host of “one anothers” and stresses the family connection to those in the body of Christ (which have even stronger implications when placed in a 1st century collectivist culture), that same gospel also grinds away at parts of collectivism. I’m thinking of Jesus’ comments about turning a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother. I’m thinking of his retort when informed that his mother and brothers wanted to speak with him and he almost dismissed them by saying that his disciples were now his mother and brothers. Family and traditions met the grinding gospel.

Now the church traditions that I and many of my colleagues embrace are steeped with individualism, often wrapped in American values. It’s virtually an article of faith in many evangelical churches. We would do well to remember that the gospel will ALWAYS grind up against every human culture, including our own. That doesn’t mean the church should embrace some kind of collectivist socialism, for that system, too is being ground away by the same gospel.

So here’s my challenge for you. Are you able to accept the grinding of the gospel? It sounds like a simple question, but upon reflection, it may just be one of our greatest challenges. For our culture is so deeply enmeshed in our lives, that removing any part of it is painful. And most of us avoid pain when possible.

Where is the gospel grinding on your culture, or that of your parishioners?

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Mark Tindle
Mark is Lead Pastor at Seneca Creek Community Church in Gaithersburg, MD where he's served since 1989. He's a former U.S. Marine, and a graduate of Moody Bible Institute and TEDS. He and his wife, Diane, have two grown daughters. Mark enjoys cycling, reading, Cornhusker football, and almost every kind of music. He blogs at marktindle.com.

3 Comments

  1. Avatar Dave Hyatt on March 25, 2021 at 10:38 am

    Thanks Mark! Great reminder of the tension of the gospel and the call to a third way.

  2. Avatar Tony Balsamo on March 24, 2021 at 8:21 am

    Great post, Mark! Thanks for your clarity and call out to be the church!

  3. Josh Josh on March 23, 2021 at 10:45 am

    Love this Mark. Especially the thought provoking challenge at the end. Thanks for sharing this.

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