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3 Ways to Teach Your Family Community Instead of Individualism

How many times have you seen a refrigerator magnet, t-shirt, or bumper sticker printed with the expression, “follow your dreams?” This type of motivational rhetoric can be found in nearly any decor department and greeting card aisle you come across.

Full disclosure: As I write, my back is supported by a decorative pillow in my guest room with the phrase, “dream big, big dreams'' written in flowery script.

While certainly some benefits can be gleaned from the “you create your own destiny” jargon, it is important to recognize the connection of this worldview to Western culture’s obsession with individualism.

In contrast to Eastern values centering on tradition, heritage, and loyalty to family, the United States in particular trends increasingly toward Expressive Individualism, a philosophy with dangerous and counter-Scriptural implications.

Granted, God does value us as individuals. The Bible affirms the fact that we are each designed by Him with unique personalities, passions, and callings. “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb” (Psalm 139:13).

However, particularly in the West, we tend to exalt the value of the individual to the degree that we lose sight of the beauty another God-designed entity: communal belonging.

Christ came in order to claim and save His bride, the Church, which consists of individuals but is collected together as one Body. Even the Creator Himself is made up of a community as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit: three distinct beings within one Triune God.

The nuclear family was the first system created to reflect this concept of community: it began when God formed Eve for the purpose of partnering with Adam, and then later expanded when He sent them out of the garden with the instruction to “be fruitful and increase in number” (Genesis 9:7).

In Psalm 68:5-6, we see the value of family highlighted again: “A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in his holy dwelling. God sets the lonely in families.”

While the family unit is not the only means by which our basic human need for connection and intimacy can be met, it is nonetheless a God-ordained entity that can bring a special richness and power to bind communities together. It provides a practical picture of our greater belonging as fellow members within the family of God.

As this Biblical perspective becomes increasingly opposed to the currents of popular culture, read on for three ways to use your family in teaching teamwork over individualism.

1. Make Christ the Center

One temptation for families today is to glorify their own comforts, happiness, and welfare as the central goal of their existence. Sometimes this manifests itself in the form of the parent’s self-interest, and other times it is geared more toward that of the children.

Both are dangerous and rooted in the same problem of self-idolization. When personal happiness is the primary goal, the compromise and sacrifice that is necessitated by a shared life become a direct threat.

The natural tendency towards selfishness that exists in all of us can be remedied by shifting our gaze from an inward focus and lifting it upward toward Christ. When His purposes become ours, families can unite under a common goal that is greater than all of us.

This change occurs not from a sentiment of obligation or by force of will, but rather as a natural response to the goodness of our loving God. “Not to us, Lord, not to us but to your name be the glory, because of your love and faithfulness” (Psalm 115:1). 

Take a look at your schedule: whose agenda takes priority? Is Christ central in the way that you order your time?

If you find yourself running such a hectic life that you don’t have the bandwidth to invest in reading the Bible, communing with the local church, or honoring the Sabbath, take hope: Jesus is our fuel for the selfless love that transforms families from a group of self-seeking individuals into a cohesive team of kingdom builders.

2. Define Your Family Identity

With the glory of Christ as the central purpose of our families, we can then begin to see how He might deploy the strengths, passions, and opportunities of our unique family makeup in His work. Take time to explore with one another who God is calling your team to be, so that you can clearly say, “we are a family who….{you fill in the blank}.”

One simple way to begin solidifying your family identity is by considering the things that you enjoy together -- Do you unite around a shared passion for sports? Baking together? Hosting people? While your kids are young, brainstorm the interests that you and your spouse already share and can bring them into.

When they grow into teenagers with their own hobbies, find ways to come alongside them in their passions. These activities are certain to change over time, but the main goal is promoting togetherness and a sense of unity.

With these shared interests in mind, expand this question to a strategic and missional level: What character qualities do you hope will define your family for generations to come? “We are a people who… {Show up for each other? Respect one another’s feelings? Remain faithful to our commitments?}”

Once you have identified your vision, revisit it often. Let it inform the way you invest your energy, time and money. Create a family mission statement that you can post on your fridge and frequently remember your shared goal.

Ask yourselves, “How do we need to adapt our habits in order to further our calling as a family?” You may see big changes that need to be made, or small incremental ones. It won’t always be black and white--one individual’s calling may need to take the backseat for a season while your family makes room for the other’s.

“Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ” (Ephesians 5:21). Through prayer, humility, and shared surrendering unto the Lord’s will, you will encounter joy and purpose in your journey as a family.

3. Reach Outside of Your Comfort Zone

From this place of missional clarity, begin considering the specific places where the Lord can use your family to accomplish His good purposes.

Take a look at the community that you encounter on a daily or weekly basis: church, schools, neighborhood. Where might He be challenging your family to invite others in?

Throughout His time on earth, Jesus frequently sought out the people that others overlooked, and brought them right into the heart of His ministry: He gravitated toward the young, the sick, the sinful, and the socially outcast. None of these people looked like Him or matched the profile of his inner circle of disciples, and yet time and time again they became Jesus’ number one priority.

How might God be calling your family to use its particular placement in the world to reach those on the periphery?

Because we as believers seek to bring God’s kingdom here on earth, our communities ought to mirror the diversity of the wedding feast that we will finally see in heaven. If everyone in our daily life matches with our own socio-economic, cultural, political, and racial profile, we miss out on the beauty of that eternal vision.

For this reason, our families ought to serve as a platform for bringing people from all walks of life together to join the greater family of God.

As we pursue this calling, we can expect to stumble along the way. It may entail dinners filled with awkward silences and frequent apologies for disconnects in communication. Our kids might embarrass us, or vice versa. It most likely will not always feel good, look pretty, or accomplish the type of result that we were hoping for.

However, when the glory of Christ is our central focus, the importance of comfortability and worldly-defined success quickly fades away. “That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:10).

As we surrender our self-seeking nature unto the Lord and humble ourselves to His agenda, He will be glorified. So, let’s lean into the grace of the Lord, trust His hand over us and our families, and wait with expectation as He blesses us with the opportunity to partner with Him in this life.

“Being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 1:6)

Photo Credit: ©GettyImages/nicolesy

Julie Davis is a retired ballet dancer-turned-homeschool mom of 3 young daughters. Her passion is for walking alongside fellow believers and reminding them of the grace and power of the Gospel in their lives. She loves to ponder and laugh at the adventures of life and motherhood via her Instagram and blog. Julie and her husband George live in Richmond, Virginia and enjoy hosting friends, getting outside, and sipping on moderately priced bourbon.

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