The Power of Community in Shaping Identity
The Nature of Community
At some point, children begin to develop an understanding of the nature of a community. A community is different than an individual and is more than a mere collection of individuals. A community has its own identity that can be shared and acquired by the child. A community typically has values, convictions, expectations, and may have the power to enforce those expectations. In short, the community has a “life” of its own that transcends the individuals in the community. This is important because it points to the power of community in shaping identity. The community has the power to function as a separate “thing” in shaping the identity of a child.
The first community that a child encounters is most often the family unit where he or she has the opportunity to form attachments with parents, siblings, and extended family members. And while we are going to treat the family and its members as extensions of the individual (see The Power of the Individual), it’s important to note that the family also acts as a form of transitional entity between the individual and larger, non-family communities. The individuals in the family help train the child to relate to the communities it encounters “out there.”
A child will certainly encounter other communities in the course of their early lives. From a biblical perspective, however, we cannot overlook the divine calling to be part of a community of faith; God’s people. In the Old Testament, this would have been found in the villages and cities where the people of Israel lived. In the New Testament, we see the Israel of the Old Testament redefined to become the church of the New Testament. The New Testament Church finds expression in the local church. But while the notion of what it means to be the children of Abraham has been transformed, the roots of the New Testament community of faith (the Church) are firmly buried in the soil of the Old Testament.
This soil is rich with instruction and inspiration for how God’s people are to live as members of the New Testament Church AND how the church can influence a child’s identity. It’s important, therefore, for the local church to understand that it has significant power to shape the identity of a child and that both the Old and New Testaments have much to say about how to do that. More will be said about HOW the church can do this in subsequent articles.
This article is one of a series related to identity.
Author, Speaker, Bible Teacher
See a list of other articles by Rick Edwards.