In Intercultural Communication courses, continuums are taught. One continuum is individualistic versus collectivistic. In its extreme, an individualistic culture has the reputation of being filled with individuals that share this attitude: “As long as I am doing okay, that is all that matters.” In its extreme, a collectivistic culture reflects: “A decision can’t be made unless it benefits everyone.”
What about America?
At this time, America has the reputation of being individualistic. Support for that opinion includes high concern for individual rights, contentment with living independently from others, preferring to use our devices to independently deliver food and products to our doorstep, obsessed with watching anything we want on-demand through various media platforms, and working from home alone.
What about God?
Of course God loves each of us individually and has the ability to make each of us feel like the center of the universe. How does He do that? But God is also collectivistic. He sent Jesus to die for the sins of the whole world. (John 3:16)
Just like each family household has a distinct culture, God’s family has one too. We are called to be a distinct people who live and love with others in mind. We are to care not only for ourselves but also for others.
Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. (Philippians 2:3-4)
What about the church universal?
Our pastor preached his heart out on Ephesians 3:20-21: Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.
God’s focus is about the glory of His global church throughout all generations, not the glory of each of us.
What about the local church?
Are there churches who only care about themselves? Are there pastors who do not know the other pastors in their town? Are there churches that host service projects without ever considering joining forces with another church? I think there are.
At my local church, our pastor prays every Sunday for several pastors and churches in our local area before giving the sermon. This practice illustrates what it looks like to lean toward a collectivistic mindset. Our church is not his only concern.
What about each of us?
Individualistic mindset: My purpose is to glorify God today. He will shine brightly through me. As long as God and I are good, I am good.
Collectivistic mindset: My purpose is to glorify God today. I must, because if I don’t, the body of Christ around the globe will not shine as brightly. I can’t let God or my brothers and sisters in Christ down.
Just because we live in an individualistic culture, does not mean we have to be individualistic ourselves. In fact, I propose we can’t live as extreme individualists because God has charged us with being a light to the whole world. He has commissioned us to go and make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28: 16-20)…and neighborhoods, and workplaces, and friend groups.
As each of us aims to reflect the collectivistic nature of God, we need to remain aware of the intense pressure society will place on us to live for ourselves instead. Without intention, we will live as individualistic Christ followers, or live more individualistically than we ought.
How do we figure out where we are between the individualistic versus collectivistic continuum extremes? Asking good questions can help determine the spot. There are many questions to ask, but here are a few that are aimed at sorting out this continuum: Can we list people we are pointing to Jesus appropriately, relationally, and as circumstances allow? Do we pray for others? Do we reach out to others for conversations and to meet needs? Do others ever reach out to us? Do we participate in any group activities or activities? Are we investing in a people group society ignores? Do we participate in anything out of your comfort zone that requires us to live by faith in God’s strength instead of being able to rely on our strength and just get by?
What about our passions?
Some of our passions can be individualistic, but do any of our passions have God’s story for other people in its scope? It seems there should be at least one. I was asked recently to identify my greatest passion. My life verses instantly came to mind: We proclaim Him, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone perfect in Christ. To this end I also labor, striving with all His energy working powerfully within me. (BSB)
As I make decisions about what to do with my time and life, I aim to consistently contribute to maturing, growing and preserving the Bride (the church universal — all Christ followers on the globe). I can’t live out that passion thinking only about myself. Therefore, this passion reveals a collectivistic lean within a girl who lives in individualistic America.
By God’s grace alone, each of us can contribute to the collective body of Christ as we live our individual lives. We need to decide to do so and then strive with all His energy working powerfully within us.
Picture Explanation: St. Patrick’s day gets celebrated in our Irish family, and we have the doodads to prove it!
Speaking of living with a collectivistic viewpoint:
If you are interested in being contacted to participate in a One Gritty Blink Bible study in 2023, click on the Oaks Ministries link below and contact me by email. PEOPLE ARE SIGNING UP! There are plans for an evening online study April 4-May 9. There are also plans for a face-to-face study this summer starting June 7. Let’s focus on things that count for eternity!
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