"Our Answer is God. God's answer is us. Through partnership we make our world better."
- Dorian Scott Cole

Transformation Article: The Individual and the Community

Copyright © 2009 Dorian S. Cole


What is a community? It is a boundless set of possibilities. It is people who have a common belief who come together to support each other, and to find others who can share in their efforts to address some need. It is people with the passion to help others find forgiveness and support, and do something greater than themselves that is outside themselves. It is people who look at today's circumstances and apply the message of love to them.

What does it take to create a vital and lasting religious community? What I have learned:

If only those people in our community would...

Religious groups are communities that are united by a religious ideal. Like any community, they are made up of a diverse group of people. The fact that "like attracts like" in human relations does limit the diversity to some extent. Intellectuals attract intellectuals. Zealots attract zealots. Youth attracts youth. Emotion attracts emotion. Security attracts the insecure. But each person is still a unique individual with a unique set of characteristics.

Some have a lot of talent and are very capable. Some have only a little talent and have minimal capabilities. Some are social movers, and some are socially inept. Some have very little time and have a very difficult time joining in. Some have larger roles in the community and have to leave church services largely to others. Leading and ministering to the community means not only addressing congregational and community needs inside and outside the church, it means addressing individual needs. It is easy to get discouraged in a church and think, "If only I could get these people working..." But leading and ministering largely means using the resources that God has given you... without burning people out.

In raw psychology, the emphasis of study is on the individual and the individual's ability to function within his world. The needs of the individual are the essential beginning and end of the individual. Other people are considered only to the extent that they must be addressed so that the individual can get his needs met in a reciprocity type arrangement. The idea that an individual might be selfish or egocentric or narcissistic is not an essentially taboo thought in the world of psychology. It is generally recognized in the world of psychology that a selfish or egocentric or narcissistic individual probably will not relate well to others and will probably have difficulty functioning in his world. But psychology does not have a "cure" for selfishness.

The fiercely independent person who can only consider his own needs is not likely to mix well in a community. Yet I know Christians who are more charitable, forgiving, and helpful than many who attend church every week. Who are we to judge?

Social Psychology, which is my frame of reference, recognizes the importance of others in an individual's world. We define ourselves by others, either making ourselves similar to them, or in opposition to them. We measure ourselves by the examples of others. We find meaning and purpose in our lives partly through the meaning and purpose of others. If others did not exist, our lives would have considerably less meaning and purpose. Our range of activities, behaviors, and challenges would be very limited. Having never known others, we would be reduced to animalistic urges. Our lives are vastly enriched and given great opportunity by the presence of others.

Whether we as individuals accept the enrichment, challenges, and opportunities given to us by others is up to us. If we want, we can choose to stand on the sidelines and only enjoy the crumbs of civilization.

Churches are places where people are welcome to come and stand on the sidelines or join in the community efforts. God shines his benevolence on everyone. The message of the church is first to the individual. The basic message is one of forgiveness: the love of God removes the guilt associated with mistreating others. That barrier is lifted so that the individual can continue to enjoy their lives. The transforming power of that message helps the individual in his relationships with others. That same care and concern that God gives the individual is then given by the individual to others.

The message doesn't stop with the individual. The message of Christ is transformative. Every individual can experience the power of Christ in his daily life, whether at work, at play, at leisure, or in relationships. Every individual can find a place of service in the community, whether it is helping straighten the chairs and hymnals after a service, maintaining contact, praying.... Once free of the burdens of the illusions that often become our vision quest in life, the individual is able to grow in so many ways and have much better relationships with others.

The danger to the community that I have seen in over 50 years of religious participation and service is the power of cynicism and criticism. It not only destroys the religious community from within, it destroys the religious community's effectiveness in the larger world community. It begins with, "If only those people would...."

Sometimes criticism is deserved, but the act of criticism does far more to destroy than simply being quiet. Criticism is not motivating for most people, it is simply de-motivating. It pushes people away. I can tell you from the point of view of attitude change that if you want to change attitudes, you never use criticism - it's a sure show stopper. It even de-motivates the one who is judging and criticizing. "If they won't work, why should I?"

How destructive is criticism? Companies hate negative comments. One negative comment in the media can take ten times as much positive advertising to overcome. Sometimes it simply can't be overcome, no matter how well intentioned the company... or religious institution. Politicians that are losing often turn to negative comments against their opponents, even if they are distortions or lies. Everyone loves to hate the bad in others. Negative comments change the conversation away from important matters to focusing on something negative.

Congregations that fail commonly have this characteristic: conflict. ( Hartford Institute study on Congregational Growth). In a church, the worst thing you can do is be negative and divisive about your church community or the larger community that you serve. I recommend you try to see and comment on one thing positive about your congregation every day. As the Good Book says in Proverbs 11:12 (NIV): "A man who lacks judgment derides his neighbor, but a man of understanding holds his tongue."

Congregations that succeed and grow, according to the Hartford study, have a sense of purpose, and their worship services are: "Joyful," "inspirational," and "thought-provoking." There is no substitute for very true but very positive messages and feelings. Criticism means death. Criticism is dead. Criticism de-motivates. Leaders must inspire congregants in positive ways.

Congregations must know what their purpose is. They must identify their specific missions. And then they must do a practical assessment and answer the question: "What must we do to move forward?" The assessment must not be critical. It must not look at people who stand on the sidelines or those who are very busy and ask, "Why don't they help?" It should ask: "How can we inspire others, and how can we find missions that fill others with joy while reaching out to our larger community?"

I remember one Methodist minister whose face always had a smile. No matter how serious the topic he was speaking on, between phrases he kept his smile. Everything in life can be changed and overcome through God. Nothing in life should keep us down.

When I was an active Pastor, my theme was, "God wants you to be happy." Sound simplistic? It comes from a complicated analysis and understanding of Christ's message. Christ didn't come to make people miserable. His message is not full of misery. He spoke to people with problems: childhood death, life-long infirmities, Roman soldiers who fit uncomfortably into their environment, religious teachers and leaders who were unsure of their answers, tax collectors who were despised by the people, prostitutes, thieves, foreigners who were hated in the land.... He didn't condemn or refuse a single one of them. He said to them that their lives would be better... primarily by following his ways. To those who were in difficult situations, he said in the Sermon on the Mount, "Blessed are those who...." By blessed he meant fortunate or happy. Even in our most difficult situations, God wants us to be happy and be assured of our future happiness.

That happiness or joy from God, with examples throughout history, brought people the ability and serenity to endure all that life can bring: loss, torture, unfairness, mistreatment, lies, ill health, uncertainty, fear, financial hardship, lack of opportunity, etc.

Suffering is still very real in Third World Countries, but in the US, suffering is a bit of an exception. We have the challenge of alleviating suffering around the world. But it isn't just about forgiveness of the things we do wrong, nor just about alleviating suffereing. We also have the promise of an abundant life. In the NIV, Matthew 10:10 is interpreted: "...I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full." Christ contrasts himself with a thief that robs you of your life through guilt and bad relationships (such as bad behavior that brings guilt and divides us from others). Christ brings the opposite: a full life. By the word full (Greek: perissos), he didn't mean simply "enough," he meant "beyond" abundant. Superabundant. Excess. Or in today's vernacular, "Life extreme - no limits."

When you have the power of good relationships supporting you, and you have the knowhow gained from doing things well (as for God), there are no limits on what you can do. For example, can we, as individuals and a community, alleviate suffering around the world? Yes.

There is nothing more positive and transformative than the message of Christ. People should be drawn to churches for the message. They should be inspired every Sunday and leave the services with joy in their hearts, certain that they can conquer all that life brings in the new week.

Communities are groups of people that have to learn to exist and work together. We are very unlikely to agree on everything - the early church didn't agree on much of anything. But we have to bury our criticism and encounter our challenges in the best way we can devise. We have to accept everyone. We have to support everyone. In doing this, we change people's lives, we change the larger community, and we change the world. Communities are a boundless set of possibilities. Extreme. No limits.

Yours in Christ,

- Dorian Scott Cole

Author's Books

The Prophetic Pattern: Discussion Guide for Ancient and Modern Prophecy

Are we all going to die on Friday, December 21, 2012? My new book critically examines that question. Available in print and ebook formats from various sources. Secure credit card purchasing. Description.

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On Friday, December 21, 2012, are we all going to die? Are there really signposts to the world's end? Does modern prophecy really merge with ancient prophecy? Will all of the Christians suddenly disappear? The answers may surprise you.

Millions of Americans are anxiously waiting for December 21, 2012 to see if the world will end. Despite the fact that signs seem to be everywhere in all ancient and modern prophecy and even science, the major sign pointed to by both Daniel and Christ is overlooked by prophecy interpreters. And interpretation of modern prophecy overlooks intent. Like a scary movie, prophecy is great fun until it starts affecting people's lives.

This book explores how to distinguish the intent of various types of prophecies and oracles, both ancient and modern. The five chapters in this discussion guide are rich in information, providing one legitimate point of view, and are intended to encourage discussion and additional research. A ten meeting discussion group is the minimum recommended.

Subjects to explore include:

  • History, and the situations surrounding prophecy
  • Types of prophecy
  • Other interpretations of prophecy
  • Are faith and prophetic belief blind?
  • Societies that go bad - are they destroyed?
  • Social change - saving ourselves
  • The challenges of the 21st.Century

Available in print and ebook formats from various sources. Secure credit card purchasing.

About the author: Dorian Scott Cole is an independent, cross-disciplinary scholar with education and experience in psychology, philosophy, religion, language, visual semiotics, and technology. He is a licensed minister with a mainline denomination with full time pastoral and counseling experience. His education in religion and psychology was through a state university (IU) followed by independent study. Other books and publications: Ontology of God, How to Write a Screenplay, Writers Workshop Script Doctor, www.visualwriter.com, and www.onespiritresources.com.

Reading type: Mainstream, nonfiction.

Ontology of God: The voices of the ancients speak.

My recent book, Ontology of God, looks at what we can learn through the ages regarding the history of several aspects of religious development as affected by the ancient societies they were in, including law, mercy, and love. Available in print and ebook formats from various sources. Secure credit card purchasing. Description.
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Echoing through time are the voices of ancient people telling us about God. From Mesopotamia and Egypt 5000 years ago, often from even earlier oral traditions, every civilization has been inspired to tell us about God. Their voices vary widely and even conflict. Is there a common message that they thought was so important that they had to pass it on? In this book, the ancient voices speak.

This study follows the thread of the basic religious concepts of law, mercy, and love that are prominent in many religions. Major religions around the world are investigated up to the launch of the Common Era when most religions had been developed, including religions that later developed independently such as the Mayan.

These are messages refined by the fire of experience through the ages. The repeated messages collectively bear the tests of validity.

This study also looks at the many methods we use to try to understand God and religious literature. Is the nature of God reflected in what he asks of us? The premise is that it is.

By understanding the nature of God, perhaps we can filter out the many competing voices that tell us that God stands for such things as the murder of innocents and destruction.

The very nature of religion is illuminated in the light of the voices from the ages. But is ancient religion a path that we have lost, or does history hammer out newer voices to bear the truth of new experience as people try to understand their relationship with God?

Available in print and ebook formats from various sources. Secure credit card purchasing.

About the author: Dorian Scott Cole is an independent, cross-disciplinary scholar with education and experience in psychology, philosophy, religion, language, visual semiotics, and technology. Other books and publications: How to Write a Screenplay, Writers Workshop Script Doctor, www.visualwriter.com, and www.onespiritresources.com.

Reading type: Mainstream Scholarly Specialist

Distribution notice:

You are welcome to make standard size quotations from this article with proper attribution (Dorian Scott Cole, One Spirit Resources Web site). This material is not public domain and may not be sold, mass distributed, published, or made electronically available in any form, without permission from Dorian Scott Cole


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Copyright © 2009 Dorian Scott Cole. Feedback and statistical corrections are welcome: Author, Webmaster, publisher.