During the 19th century and first half of the 20th century community spirit was much in vogue. It was common for neighbors to help neighbors during times of need, especially in rural
America. Growing up during the latter years of this
period, before the radical shift to individualism occurred, I was fortunate
enough to witness this phenomenon. While
still a young boy, I had the privilege of attending a barn raising where
farmers from twenty miles around came together to help a neighbor to build a
new barn. As part of a threshing ring,
our family along with several others bought a threshing machine to harvest
grain. During the harvesting season, the
entire group would move from farm to farm, harvesting each farmer’s grain, the
men and boys working in the fields, the wives and girls cooking the meals. I have always felt privileged to have been
old enough to participate in this activity prior to its cessation from American
life. One spring, when my father was ill
and unable to prepare our fields for planting, several neighbors showed up one
Saturday morning with their tractors and plows to prepare the fields. These types of activities were common during
Moving into the latter half of the 20th century things radically changed with the rise of both industrialization and individualism. The urban flight to suburbia with its protected yards and garage door openers, the vast increase in mechanized equipment on the farms, the shift in attitude towards “doing one’s own thing” and “I’ve got to be me” all led us away from community. Front porches, with neighbors sitting on them and conversing, were replaced with decks in backyards, resulting in further loss of community. Churches, by en large, also succumbed to this loss, as, with better roads and faster automobiles, coupled with the thrill of individualism, the concept of local community churches disappeared. It is not uncommon today for people to live thirty or more miles away from the church where they worship. This makes community life much more difficult.
The emphasis upon individualism which began in the 1960s, moving through modernism into the postmodern era has increasingly fractured society, with many today feeling alone, aloof and disenfranchised. The void that individualism brings can only be filled by community because God, being triune, is in community, and expressed our need for human community when he said “It is not good for man to be alone.” In constituting the church, God has chosen the symbol of the body to illustrate its communal nature. We are called together, with the understanding that we need each other to function properly.
The church, because of its body structure, is poised to overturn the aloneness and abandonment of our current individualistic society. As a caring community, it can reach out to the world, meeting the needs we find there. But community does not occur by osmosis. It requires intentionality. It will not occur without deliberate effort. To be successful, it will require men and women coming together with the conviction that God has called them to such an endeavor.
God calls each of us to be a part of His redeeming community. He calls us to reach out to the alienated world around us and draw them into His community, the church. But it will not happen unless we are willing to abandon our own individualistic ways of living. It is only by our active involvement as the body of Christ that others will find the Christian community attractive and seek to enter. Are you willing to make the effort?