A popular slogan in the world of sports claims, “Players win games. Teams win championships.” Of course, even non-sports-lovers can agree that some things require the contribution of more than one person. Westerners struggle to think and act in step with this truth, however. That’s because certain thoughts, habits and societal incentives have permeated our culture with imbalanced tendencies toward autonomy, self-sufficiency and (perceived) uniqueness—an unholy trinity of individualism.
How Individualism Corrupts the Church’s Mission
The trouble is that, like fish in water, we struggle to notice our own environment. When individualism is all we know, we filter everything we see or think through this lens.
“Cultural blindness is harmful to the church’s witness in the world.”
Consider something as basic as how we choose to describe ourselves. The typical Westerner draws on a cocktail of adjectives aimed at describing a unique self. “Creative, analytical, spontaneous,” and so forth. Very few of us are inclined to answer a question about our identity with a response such as, “I’m a faithful husband, a loving father and a loyal friend.”
But don’t give modesty any credit for that. For even in cases when the latter descriptions are true, they are still not the main way Westerners view themselves. In an individualistic culture, relationships are simply not the primary lens for understanding identity. And that’s a problem because individualism negatively impacts three areas critical to the Great Commission.
1. Individualism Removes Evangelism From Its Most Fruitful Context
Before his ascension, Jesus left his followers with several sets of instructions for continuing the work he had entrusted to them (cf. Matt. 28:18–20; Luke 24:44–48; John 20:21–23). Each facet of that work centrally revolves around this command: “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation” (Mark 16:15 CSB).