We grow better with others.
A healthy living study revealed that 95% of those who started a weight-loss program with friends were successful, while only 76% completed the program who tried going it alone. Even more significant, the group approach was 42% more likely to keep the weight off. Being with others makes us better.
The Kohler effect, named for psychologist Otto Kohler in the 1920s, describes a human reality: we are more highly motivated in groups than when we try to go it alone. This is instructive given that our culture is proudly me-centered and promotes “I can do it myself” as the chief end of the twenty-first-century human. We champion individualism, but ironically that doesn’t help us grow as healthy people.
These sociological truths simply confirm the image of God we bear. Christians confess the mystery of God, who is one in community. There is only one God but revealed as Father, Son and Spirit. Jesus consistently lived his life on the way to the cross and resurrection from the source of this holy oneness. He prayed for us to live from this source too: “…that they may be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you sent me”(John 17:21). Jesus hopes for us to grow into the same “oneness” with the Father that he has. This community in communion is God’s desire for his people, for it is the Divine nature.
Jesus’ prayer then continues with a stupendous thought: “The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one” (John 17:22). The community of the disciples are not only called to the glory of Jesus and for the glory of Jesus, but they are the glory of Jesus in the world. The Church is the growing expression of the oneness of Father, Son and Spirit. Jesus’ followers in fellowship together, contending for the unity of the Spirit (Ephesians 4:3), mutually in submission to one another (Ephesians 5:21) become God’s glory, his reflection and beauty in an individualistic, conflicted, me-first world. The Church is meant to be the glory of Jesus (Ephesians 3:21).
This is a mind-bender to be sure, but it has a very simple implication: genuine Christian spiritual growth is never done alone. Spiritual growth can include solitude, but it is no solitary venture. We grow with his glory; with his Church. We are growing with others into the likeness and fullness of Christ (Ephesians 4:13). In truth, we need others to grow – as the Kohler effect demonstrates. If God himself needs community, so must we. To think we can grow without the glory Jesus shared with the Church is a fallacy.
So, take a moment and assess where you’re at in relationship with other Christians. Are you with Jesus’ glory? Are you with the Church? You won’t grow into the character and nature of God – who is a communion of oneness – without others. So, who really knows you, is spurring you on, calling you to the Good News life, teaching you how to reconcile and be reconciled, sending you on mission, loving you, and naming your gifts?
After you’ve assessed that, move in one of two directions. If you’re going alone, take an intentional step to walk more closely with other disciples and the life of the Church. This can take courage, but don’t wait for someone else. Your spiritual growth is not their responsibility, it’s yours. If, however, you’re loving the fellowship and mutuality of the communion of the saints, take an intentional step to seek out and come alongside a brother who needs to get with the glory of Jesus. Pray and ask the Spirit to show you a man riding alone. Then, don’t let him stay that way.