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I haven’t always been the greatest at making huge decisions.
When I chose which college I would attend, the only people I really talked about it with were my other 18-year-old friends who were equally as immature as me. When I was in college, I dated girls without asking my friends, family, or church leaders what they thought. Yeah, those didn’t work out so well. In short, there have been many times in my life where I have made huge decisions with limited perspective, little encouragement, and no pushback, because to me, they were my decisions. I found that the process of making huge decisions is a lot easier and quicker if I leave out the consideration of my community.
However, God has shown me that this way of making decisions is not the best way. The best way to make huge decisions (other than reading your Bible, fasting, or praying) is to always consider the community God has placed us in. I suspect that many of us are handicapping ourselves from making the best decisions when we neglect the blessing of receiving input from God’s people in our lives.
In Joseph Hellerman’s enlightening book, When the Church Was a Family, Hellerman argues powerfully that the radical force of the New Testament’s teachings on the Church has been largely blunted by modern American conceptions of family and community. The culture of the ancient near east was very different in relation to familial and cultural norms, and it’s within that culture that Jesus and the New Testament writers were influenced. So we need to understand them so we can understand the force of the New Testament’s teachings.
Hellerman explains that unquestionably, the culture of the ancient near east was a strong-group culture, as opposed to ours, which would be a strong-individual culture. This means that “…for people in the world of the New Testament, the welfare of groups to which they belonged took priority over their own individual happiness and relational satisfaction.” When people in the New Testament world had to make major life decisions they didn’t think, “How can I advance my own personal plans and dreams?” They thought, “How can I advance the welfare of my group?” Which group did people most strongly identify with? The family.
Why is this important?
This is crucial, because as followers of Christ, the Bible explicitly and implicitly suggests over and over in the New Testament that we are all members of the household or family of God (Eph. 2:19, 1 Tim. 3:15, Heb. 3:6, 1 Pet. 4:17) . We are brothers and sisters of one another in the Church. When we came to Christ—as Hellerman suggests—we have switched our primary loyalty and identity of our earthly friends and family with a new family given to us in Christ.
As we understand the Church as a family in light of the culture of the New Testament world, it ought to cause lightbulbs to go off in the way God designed us to make decisions: as a family. As Hellerman states, “People in biblical times simply did not make major life decisions on their own.” When it came to decisions such as, “Who should I marry,” “Where should I live,” or “What career should I pursue,” they were decided by the community.
Am I saying that we should allow our small group leaders, pastors, or random brothers and sisters sitting next to us in our pew decide for us who we should marry? Nope.
But we have to be honest that making huge life decisions by ourselves can often have the effect of placing crushing anxiety and loneliness on our backs. The thing is, it should feel this way when we seclude ourselves from wise brothers and sisters in Christ who can help us, much like a quarterback should feel terrified if he doesn’t have an offensive line to protect him. It isn’t how we as a Church were designed to function. Hellerman explains,
God has not equipped us to operate as isolated individuals, especially where the most important decisions of our lives are concerned. God has created us for community, and it only makes sense to think that we will be healthier psychologically if we make important decisions in the context of a loving and caring church family.
When we approach making huge decisions from a place of community there are two glaring benefits:
First, all things being equal, we are put in a better position to be led by the Spirit when we are seeking out those who are filled with the Spirit. Proverbs 15:22 says, “Plans fail when there is no counsel, but with many advisers they succeed.”
Secondly, community takes some of the crushing weight off our shoulders when we realize that our decisions are backed up by godly men and wisdom rather than merely our appraisal of our own decisions.
The success of our plans should always lead to the glory of God and the benefit of the church.
This week, I want to encourage you to do 3 things: