The Perils of Group Think

When David became king of Israel, certain groups gathered around him, each faction precisely gifted in ways that contributed to his ability to rule with wisdom and integrity. Far from being threatened, David welcomed them. He held the position of king for the sake of the nation and wanted all the help he could get to encourage the wellbeing of his people rather than undermine it, as rulers can so easily do. 

One key group to join him were members of the Tribe of Issachar, described in the Bible as ‘men who knew the times and understood what Israel ought to do’. (I Chronicles 12:32) It’s worth remembering that Issachar’s mandate was not contingent on David’s willingness to listen to them. Even if he’d rejected their insights they would still have followed through on their specific, God-given aptitude to recognize and understand the times they were living in, and look for ways to influence the culture of the nation.

After David died, the people of Issachar with their uncanny ability to see what was really happening underneath the hype, were no longer valued or utilised by succeeding kings. 

Most of us are profoundly affected by the people group we belong to, leading to a phenomenon known as Group Think. Anyone stuck in Group Think mode has a vastly lowered ability to see the issues with clarity; they already know what to think because they’re enculturised by what their Group thinks. As my mother used to say: ‘My mind is made up; don’t confuse me with the facts.’ 

This means that, to our shame, we accept senior religious leaders excusing one national leader and excoriating another for engaging in the same kind of behavior, because they have conflated their faith with their politics. In many church circles Group Think appears as climate-change-denying, or gun-lobbying, or monarchist, or misogynistic, as well as many other fully-fledged but severely unsubstantiated dogmas disguised as theology. People may swallow it, but God remains unconvinced.

History shows that the staunch standards which one generation baptized as Christian quickly become irrelevant to the next generation. Just a few decades ago Christians didn’t play or work or shop on Sundays, didn’t go to the movies, didn’t dance. Multiple rules upon rules were adhered to as being tantamount to the Bible, yet those principles have fallen by the wayside as new generations grew up to realize the previous generation’s unchallengeable beliefs were just someone’s perspective which influenced an entire culture. 

We want to make God in our image, playing with words to make it work. The bad-boy preacher, Mark Driscoll, unwittingly expressed his fears and insecurities when he stated he wouldn’t worship a God he could beat up. He somehow forgot that being beaten and put to death was exactly what Jesus willingly suffered for the sins of the world…Driscoll’s included.

Making God in our image works for those who want others to tell them what to think, but it isn’t God’s way. He encourages us to reason with Him, asking questions and wrestling with Him as Jacob did. The people of Berea were called noble because they listened to the preachers and then checked out what they heard with Scripture (Acts 17:10,11) There’s nothing noble about taking your Group Think opinion as your own and then defending it to the death.  That’s just laziness, a mind unwilling to do the hard work of thinking about important issues.

The problem is, many people in churches are in need of saving, and at least part of what they need saving from is the idea that God sees the world the same way they do. Barbara Brown Taylor

We who are made in the image of God can’t afford to default to presenting a God who is the same as me, only bigger. We cannot afford to conflate our faith with our political party, believing them to be one and the same. Politics needs all the authentic Christians it can get, in every party, but at no time should we fall into the error of thinking that a certain party is ‘the’ Christian party.

No political or corporate entity is Christian. Only people are Christians. And people, even Christian people, make massive mistakes. (Note that trans-Atlantic slavery was endorsed, practiced, and ‘Biblically validated’ by Christians. Note that the great German faith preacher, Martin Luther, incited hatred against the Jews. The Crusades of the 12th century were nothing more than a blood bath against the Arabic nations. No human, no matter how much they love God, is immune to bad decisions.)

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The Tribe of Issachar still exists, living and working among us in every nation and society, and if there was ever a season the Church needs to understand the times and know what they should do, surely, it’s now. It’s more important than ever that we listen to people who, without a personal agenda, know the times and understand how to address the issues raging across our communities. The old textbook answers just don’t cut it anymore, and the Bible was never a textbook anyway. It’s a story of relationships between God and humanity. In order to grapple with the issues we need people who are prepared to think, wrestling with the pressures on society and finding a better answer than: ‘…because I said so’.  

Issachar were not just wise; they were also fighters, taking their place in David’s army to stand for what they believed in. They contributed to the cause, raiding their own storehouses to provide food for the nation that was rapidly expanding under David’s leadership. In other words, when the leader was willing to hear them, they responded with full buy-in. They believed in the cause and gave their all to fight for it.  

Any leader sincere about leading with wisdom and integrity must allow people of the Tribe of Issachar to join them, to influence their decisions, even though it means Group Think has to step back. This is how healthy and challenging thinking breathes new life into political parties, church denominations, families, charities, businesses, and corporations. Without fresh insights, we are doomed to repeat our old, stale solutions over and over until we cease to be relevant to the society we are trying to reach. 

The only way to be safe from Group Think is to look for those people who are discussing different ideas, processing new thoughts, wrestling with doubt and questions, those who are not afraid to have their thinking challenged. You don’t have to accept every new idea, but it’s vital to give think time to expanding the parameters of your understanding. Hang out with people who don’t descend into an ‘us and them’ mentality, adopting a ‘we’ approach instead.

That’s how we grow. That’s how we keep in step with the God who is ALWAYS doing a new thing. That’s how we represent Him among the people He cares passionately for. That’s how we take our place as change-agents for the Kingdom of God.

ska%cc%88rmavbild-2017-01-06-kl-21-17-02Pentecostals & Charismatics for Peace & Justice is a multicultural, gender inclusive, and ecumenical organization that promotes peace, justice, and reconciliation work among Pentecostal and Charismatic Christians around the world. If you like what we do, please become a member!

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