The 21st century is the age of hyperindividualism. We want what we want. Hyperindividualism is in the water we all drink, and its impact is pervasive in modern American life.
Before we make a major purchase, we develop a list of features. We make extensive lists of the features we want on cars and homes, prospective mates, churches and seminaries we attend. As Burger King said nearly 40 years ago, “You can have it your way.”

I encounter hyperindividualism when I talk with a church member resistant to modern trends in worship. 

They want to keep the hymnal and despise anything that requires a video screen. In essence, they say, “I want what I want.” Sometimes it is more emphatic: “I want what I want, and I don’t care if a local church dies.” 

Ministers are often caught in the middle of church conflict. While navigating short-term troubled waters, it is always important to have a clear sense of the deeper issues at work in congregational life.

It is important to name the demon, and at the end of the day the demon is hyperindividualism. It has taken deep root in us all.

I encounter hyperindividualism when I talk with my “postmodern” friends about worship. 

They of course want to reinvent worship and act as if they are the first to discover the Kingdom of God; apparently, it has been hidden in the New Testament amid a grand conspiracy among church leaders to keep people ignorant of it.

Of course, my postmodern friends are savvy. They see themselves as reacting against the entrenched imperial views of the church’s status quo. They want to free the Kingdom and the church from the shackles of small-minded traditionalists. 

They see themselves as those who ride white horses and have risen above the human condition, which pulled traditionalists into the gutter. My postmodern friends want what they want, and they don’t care if a local church dies.

Ministers know church members rarely argue about the real issue. The color of the carpet, the use of video in worship, or the use of a bulletin (or not) are tips of an iceberg. 

Neither traditionalists nor postmodernists occupy the high ground; we all are stuck in the mud of the human condition.

We want what we want. Traditionalists want what they want, and they don’t care if a local church dies. Postmodernists want what they want, and they don’t care if a local church dies.

I am not offering an antidote; I am not sure one exists, though good teaching and preaching have to help. I simply believe naming the demon may give us power to mitigate its influence.

Hyperindividualism. It’s in the water we all drink.

Ron Crawford is president of the Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond. This excerpted column first appeared on his blog.

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