About 40 of us from a local high school had been on this journey together up in the Bella Coola wilderness in British Columbia. When the last backpack was lugged across the swinging bridge to the trailhead, we knew that we were only an hour and a half away from a paved road. Then another hour from hot water and good grub.
The students and some sponsors piled into the 15-passenger vans. I jumped into the one-ton with all the packs in the back of it, and we started down the road. About 25 minutes into our journey, I saw the brake lights come on, and we crawled to a stop. Doors started opening, and students began to pour out.
I got out of my truck and started walking toward the head of the line when I saw what everyone was concerned about. While we were on our trip, a boulder had crashed down the side of the hill that lined the road and blocked our way. It was huge. There was no way around it. We would have to move the boulder together if we ever wanted to get home.
At first, the teenage boys thought they could handle the task. They all ran over to the rock and tried to move it. There was lots of grunting, but the rock didn’t move an inch.
The girls laughed and said, “You boys need some real muscle?” They came over, and as many as could, all tried, with the boys, to move the rock.
A Shared Strategy
As we were all scratching our heads, a young man that the group knew to be a scrawny young man who was much more interested in math and science than backpacking and a social life said, “Why don’t you use a lever and fulcrum?”
All the jocks looked up and said, “A what and a what?”
We looked around and found an old telegraph pole, and with a heavy rock, created a lever and fulcrum. As we pushed down on the lever and others pushed on the rock, IT MOVED! Only a couple of inches, but it moved!
We were all cheering at the mere inches of progress we had made.
People started digging under the rock to get the lever in deeper. As this happened, one of the young ladies said, “Why don’t we use the jacks in the vans and truck to help move the rock!” Brilliant!
By now, every single person was of one mind. We must move that rock so we can get home together!
With the lever and fulcrum, the jacks, and a lot of other brain and brawn power, we worked together to get that boulder up on its side—teetering on the edge of the cliff, and went hundreds of feet down to a rushing river.
One Last Effort
With a huge last effort, the whole group sent that giant obstacle hurling down the side of that hill where it landed square on another boulder, and with an explosion, shattered into several pieces and landed in the river.
The group, all of us, jumped up and down, high-fived, and did happy dances. Together we achieved the impossible.
If it had been just me on that trip, I’d still be there waiting for the rock to move.
There’s an old African proverb that says, “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”
A wisdom writer who put pen to parchment thousands of years ago says it this way,
“Two are better than one because they have a good return for their labor: If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up. Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone? Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken” (King Solomon).
Fact is, we need each other. When a group of people come together in purpose and decide to accomplish something, there’s an almost mystical power that accompanies their efforts.
In biblical times, this coming together for a purpose was called ecclesia. That’s the Greek word for church.
In the early Christian experience, people came together to take care of each other’s needs, lift each other, and worship God with the fresh revelation of Divinity that Jesus had provided them.
There was power in their gatherings.
People were attracted to that power and the love that accompanied it so that thousands were baptized and joined these gatherings around the then known world.
It would have been unheard of for someone who wanted to change the world into the dream that Jesus left not to be a part of these gatherings. Individualism had no place in the early church. It was all for one and one for all. Full stop.
Of course, the logic and practice of the early church fly in the face of what we in the United States know as rugged American individualism. We’ve been duped into an “us and them” mentality. We’ve been led to believe that if there’s nothing good in it for me, then I should just take our toys and go home. Why be a part of a regular gathering when I can sit at home and watch my favorite preacher say all the things I like to hear while in my pajamas!?!
Why Bother with Gatherings?
Gatherings are hard. They are hard because when we come together and work toward a common purpose, all the individuals who make up the gathering are different. Each individual has unique opinions, gifts, and motivations. Worse yet, everybody in the gathering is an imperfect human being prone to making mistakes. So why bother?
Why? Because this is what God has ordained for faithful humans to save the world. That’s right. The power in assembling and working toward the common good is God’s plan for reaching a desperate world with the good news of the Gospel.
We are reminded by the author of another ancient book, “Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching” (Hebrews 10:23-25).
Rugged individualism should be reserved for those riding unicycles, playing Solitaire, and visiting bathroom stalls.
Yes, God calls us as individuals, but that call is a call into His church, His gatherings, with His people—working together for the salvation of many.
Mark Witas writes from the Pacific Northwest.
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