Pride precedes a disaster, and an arrogant attitude precedes a fall. —Proverbs 16:18, God’s Word Translation
Many people hold to the adage that Christianity is best lived in community. After many years of working in men’s ministry, my paraphrase of that saying goes something like this: Men, beware! Christianity is best lived in community.
Beware of what? Many men seem wired to avoid community. This avoidance of community is spiritually harmful and must be challenged until changed by men who claim to be Jesus-believers. We quickly become spiritually dull unless we allow others to join us in our faith walk. The most-quoted scripture in men’s ministry is probably Proverbs 27:17 (NASB): “Iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.”
An Important Early Lesson
For 24 years, it was my joy to pastor Harrisonburg, Virginia First Church of the Nazarene. We were truly blessed to see that congregation grow from 120 parishioners to 1,200. A key factor in that growth was that men in our church began to recognize the importance of being in community. Though I left the local church in 2018 to become the district superintendent in Philadelphia, the new pastor recently invited me to help teach at the local church’s 25th anniversary of the “Keepers of the Light” men’s retreat. It was 25 years ago when the Lord gave me a vision to reach men and to connect them to one another, and so I planned a men’s retreat.
The first year, 19 men joined us. Now, over 100 men attend annually, including men from other churches. From the very beginning, the retreat has been more than just a three-day event by the sea. It became part of a lifestyle change in our church: men sharing life together.
The reason behind our growth was a mystery to me until I had been pastoring for about 10 years and heard Dr. H. B. London speak at a district pastors’ and spouses’ retreat. During one of the teaching sessions, Rev. London revealed a fact that struck me as the most practical reason for our local church’s growth: A recent study had revealed that if a man is the first in a family to come to Christ and the church, 94 percent of these men will lead their entire family to Christ and the local church.
To this day, whenever I am asked what is the first thing I would do if I were beginning a new ministry, I always say that I would begin ministry by calling men into community and plan a retreat! I have already put plans in place as a district superintendent to make sure we have men’s retreats on the Philadelphia District. I have learned that in our culture, when men embrace community, everything changes. And often, women are among the most excited to see this embrace of community happen among men. When we as Jesus-believing men avoid community, we run a high risk of becoming something altogether different than Christian men. If we as men choose to foolishly go it alone, we can expect brokenness and pain. Christianity is best lived in community.
Here are a few reasons why I often begin my emphasis on community to men with a notation to “Beware!”
#1: Beware: Isolation can be the first step down the staircase to destruction.
Indeed, isolation may seem safe at first, and in certain seasons of our lives it can offer holy solitude to our souls, but isolation overdone can eventually turn to darkness.
Pastors and other leaders who spend too much time alone, even in study, may seem spiritual. However, it becomes easy to hide from a congregation who believes their pastor is too busy to be bothered. Close community can be frightening, even (especially) to pastors. Most of us (like me) are introverts and prefer our times alone. In fact, I dreaded getting ready and driving to the first gathering of our life group. But after a few sessions, it became the highlight of my week. I learned that hiding behind titles like “pastor” and “introvert” are not proper justification, because God has called us to life together in relationship with Him and also with others. God knows that too much isolation that can lead to destruction, drifting, and bad, self- centered choices.
#2: Beware: Ignorance can be the second step down the staircase to destruction.
Isolation overdone can lead to ignorance. This is because, as Ken Blanchard, author of The One-Minute Manager, has said, “None of us is as smart as all of us.”
“Lone Ranger” leaders miss out on the depth that community can offer. Years ago, our son attended a Nazarene Youth Conference in Houston. Our local church was experiencing some growth at that time, and so my son was asked by several pastors there, “What is the secret to what your dad is doing there?”
He answered: “My dad knows how to get good people around him!”
This was humbling, yet true. I have never referred to those who minister alongside me as associates, only as partners. I have never been intimidated by talented and godly people that God sends my way. They actually inspire me. When I chose to reject being a one-man show, the Lord entrusted me with faithful ministry partners. When we refuse isolation and open ourselves to true community, it combats our ignorance and allows us to experience the fullness of God’s gifts.
#3: Beware: Idolatry can be the third step down the staircase to destruction.
Too many times in the lives of my friends and colleagues in ministry, I have observed that a love a affair with isolation can lead to spiritual ignorance and even idolatry. Isolation overdone can slowly but surely do away with integrity and erode accountability. When God sends others to correct us, our isolation allows us to delay them with excuses about how busy we are. The words of Oswald Chambers warn us about this: “Beware the barrenness of a too-busy life.”
If we are too busy, we surely are not living a Christlike life. Jesus made time for others, and though we nd Jesus seeking alone time, it was always to regain power and perspective so that He might reenter community and truly minister to the needs of people. The Father was the focus of Jesus in His alone time. That is not isolation; it is intimacy. Sadly, too much alone time can become isolation and ignorance, and pride can creep in, causing us to lose sight of God. The pride that can creep in is a form of idolatry: trusting our own ways over the ways of God—including godly wisdom from others!
Isolation as a Doorway to a Multitude of Sins
Finally, isolation overdone can lead once-godly men (and women) to an arrogance that convinces us that we are the source of all wisdom and power. This attitude has led even holy people to adultery, abuse, and even addiction.
Let us come out of hiding and rejoin community for the good of the church, for the good of our families, and especially for the good of our own souls. Christianity is best lived in community!