According to research, the more isolated you are the more self-centered you are. And the more self-centered you are, the more likely you are to live isolated. University of Chicago Professor John Cacioppo led a ten-year study on self-centeredness using a scale he called the “Chronic Self Focus Scale.” He concluded that focusing on yourself causes you to feel more isolated which causes you to focus even more on yourself. A vicious cycle of self-centeredness and loneliness ensues. To put it plainly — a focus on ourselves grows when we are continually by ourselves.
Theologians throughout history would not be surprised by the results of the research. Augustine wrote that pride is the commencement of all sin – that all sin originates with a focus on ourselves and a desire to exalt ourselves. Pride causes us to run from community, not to community because community inevitably confronts us with our shortcomings.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote: “Sin demands to have a man by himself. It withdraws him from the community. The more isolated a person is, the more destructive will be the power of sin over him, and the more deeply he becomes involved in it, the more disastrous is his isolation. Sin wants to remain unknown. It shuns the light. In the darkness of the unexpressed it poisons the whole being of a person.”
As I reflected on Cacioppo’s conclusions, I thought about why groups in a church are so important for the spiritual health of the people in the church. If you are a church leader, you must prioritize groups in your church, so that people can more easily be in community. If you are a Christian, get in a group! Here are three reasons why:
When we are not in biblical community, there are not people to confront us.
The more self-centered we are, the more senseless and stupid we are. When we are not in community with others, our foolishness grows. Community is always sanctifying and not being in community is to invite self-centered foolishness to grow in our lives.
When we are in community, we see God working in others.
We are reminded that life is not about us, that God is doing great things in others, that there is much to learn from others. Being in community helps us take our eyes off ourselves as we grow in awe of God’s handiwork in others and as we seek to encourage and help others.
When we are in community, we are more likely to walk in humility.
Pride grows when we are isolated, and as it grows so does our distaste for community. But the reverse is also true; humility increases when we are in community. We see a bigger picture of our world, a bigger picture of God’s grace, and thus we are more likely to develop an accurate view of ourselves. As we focus on the Lord and others, humility and happiness increase.