The last few years have seen a marked increase in discussion of and emphasis on Christian community. Perhaps it has been spurred by the continual drop in church attendance or the tendency, in America at least, toward individualism.
I’m thankful for Christian community. I love singing in church with brothers and sisters in Christ. I love group Bible studies and the way that discussion there stimulates my own thinking. I so appreciate being able to share prayer requests and burdens with others in the family of God. I don’t know how many times someone has shared a word of encouragement or conviction at just the right moment. I appreciate that God uses other people to sandpaper off my rough edges, though I don’t enjoy the process.
But I wonder if sometimes we lose the individual in the group. A few years ago a Christian leader wrote that “We will not know God, change deeply, nor win the world apart from community.” I disagreed. Though God uses community in each of those ways, the first two occur for me most often when alone with God. Recently I saw on Twitter a retweeted comment that we should change the pronouns in our hymnbooks and Christian songs from “I” and “me” to “our” and “we.” That particularly struck me because our church has been reading through the psalms together, and I had noticed over and over again that, though they were meant to be sung together, most of the psalms speak of individual experience. We don’t need to deemphasize our individual experience with God to reinforce the idea that we’re a group. Instead, we share with each other what God did for us individually, for the psalmist or songwriter or preacher or church member, so that we encourage each other as we go back out into our individual lives that God will help us in the same way. An article I read which shared ways to incorporate Bible reading and study offered among its suggestions that of reading or studying with another person. Though studying the Bible with someone else is a great thing to do, it shouldn’t replace time alone in God’s Word.
We can’t imagine a family in which the father relates to the children just as a group and never one-to-one. Though we enjoy much time spent together as a family, we know that our father loves each of us, with all our foibles and quirks, individually. We know that we can talk to our father alone and ask for help or advice.
The same is true in our spiritual life. We shouldn’t worship or pray or read the Bible only with other people, as great as those experiences are.
God formed us individually. We’re born again individually. When we stand before God some day, we’ll give account only of ourselves. In-between those events, there will be times we have to stand alone. David encouraged himself in the Lord when everyone was against him. Joseph stood true and faithful to God when forsaken by his brothers, torn from his family, thrust into a new living experience foreign to everything he had grown up with and opposed to everything he believed. Notice in the psalms how many times the writer speaks of communing with God alone, remembering God’s kindness while lying awake at night. In Psalm 107, amidst the description of what God has done for the nation, the psalmist notes that God “satisfies the longing soul, and the hungry soul he fills with good things.” Soul – singular. We’re not lost in the crowd. God sees us, loves us, and meets our personal, individual needs.
God is our Father: we need to get to know Him personally. God has blessed us with the gift of community, but that doesn’t replace our personal relationship with Himself. We need to feed on His Word and speak to Him ourselves. There will be times we have to stand alone, times when no one else is near to support or advise or lean on. When that happens, we find that He is more than sufficient for every need.