The Deceptive Atrophy of Individualistic Christianity
It was a number of years ago that I listened to an address from a pastor where he identified the leadership’s aim for the church. Our goal, he said, is to develop a culture of “self-feeders.” In other words, the leadership’s function was to build up people until they achieved the status of “self-feeder” and then they were on their own, so to speak. Now, at first blush this may seem noble and even in keeping with the writer to the Hebrews statement that “by this time you ought to be teachers” (Heb. 5:12). There is one significant problem, however, with this idea; it ignores the broad context in which the Lord has designed Christians to thrive and function, namely the church. A “self-feeder” mentality is not something that is isolated to a particular church’s leadership aim, but it can be the glacial drift for many Christians. Such an emphasis can be placed on “my personal relationship with Jesus” that one’s walk with the Lord can slowly, almost imperceptivity, become myopically individualistic.
The Lord has designed individual Christians, not to function individualistically, but to function within the context of the church. The Lord determines the end, but he also provides the means by which the end is reached. In the case of Christians, we are being transformed into the image of the Son (Rom. 8:29). As those being transformed, we are also called to serve (minister) to one another within the church. The end to which Christians are appointed is accomplished through the means the Lord prescribes.
The Lord has given to the church pastors/teachers for the purpose of equipping the saints for the work of service unto the building up of the body (Eph. 4:11-12). Those who have been given to the church as pastors/teachers are given to the end that they equip the church for works of service. Those works of service that the community has been equipped to do by its pastors/teachers is to the further end of building up the body.
Paul told Titus to “insist on these things.” Namely, insist on the content of the gospel (see Titus 3:4-7). To say it more directly: preach the gospel. The purpose in doing so would be that “those who have believed in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works” (Titus 3:8). Paul stated that he proclaims Christ for the purpose that everyone may be presented “mature” in Christ (Col. 1:27). Furthermore, the church is to love one another “earnestly from a pure heart” on account of the fact that they have been born again. Being born again has taken place by means of the “living and abiding word of God” that was preached (1 Pet. 1:22-25). The preaching/teaching ministry of the church is the means prescribed by the Lord to accomplish the end determined by the Lord.
An individualistic Christian who severs himself or herself from the community, in which true growth occurs by means of “feeding” the flock through the preaching/teaching ministry, suffer the same end as one who goes without physical food; the body begins waist away. Self-feeders, if they are not picked off by wolves, atrophy all the while embracing the deception that he or she is growing. This is not to diminish personal Bible study, but it is not the primary means by which Christians grow and are equipped to serve.
Furthermore, church leadership must remember the charge given to Peter by the Lord Jesus, “Feed my sheep” (Jn. 21). Peter, learning from the Lord, passed along to the elders of the church the admonition to “shepherd the flock of God” (1 Pet. 5:2), which includes feeding. Elders don’t feed until the Christian passes a certain threshold. Leaders who neglect any part of the flock with the means of growth God has given are not developing self-feeders, they are preparing wolf snacks. Those entrusted with the preaching /teaching ministry of the church must continue to diligently feed the flock until the Lord returns.
The church is one body with many parts. No part can say to another part that there is no need for you. Nor, can one part say I have no need of the rest of the body. The hand cannot say, “I’m going to go this alone.” From a physical standpoint this would be sheer lunacy. A hand cannot function by itself. So it is with the church. We are knit together uniquely by the Lord and we mature and grow through the prescribed means to the end appointed by the Lord. The church is not a collection of individualists coming together on a particular day, but a body being nourished together and working together for a common aim.