The year was 2019 and it was our first Christmas in Aotearoa as a newly settled couple in this land of (dairy) milk and (Manuka) honey. Coming from a background steeped in Eastern work ethics and traditions, initially, it was a bit of a head-scratcher trying to wrap our minds around why a church might close its doors on Christmas day.
But as I remembered how burnt-out and tired some of my friends in full-time ministry were back in Malaysia and Singapore during the holiday season, I began to appreciate Gateway’s stance of giving their staff a break and to encourage families being together at this most wonderful time of the year.
In many Eastern cultures, the emphasis on community-building and collective celebration is prevalent, making even non-Christians more open to attending church services on Christmas. This ingrained sense of communal participation in significant events reveals how strongly Easterners feel about community ties but may sometimes lead to a lack of recognition for individual needs or personal boundaries.
Our reflection of how different Christian communities and cultures navigate the delicate balance between individual needs and communal values underscores the importance of understanding and appreciating diverse cultural perspectives in fostering inclusive and supportive Christian communities, where both individual and collective wellbeing are valued and respected.
While Jesus didn't explicitly address the concept of individualism as understood in contemporary terms, he promoted a balance between personal responsibility and communal wellbeing. He encouraged us to value others, to be humble, and to prioritise the needs of the community but he also placed great value on individual worth.
Both Western- and Eastern-thinking Christian communities of today have their unique strengths and challenges when it comes to community-building. Western-thinking Christians actively combat individualism by fostering deeper connections within their congregations, while Eastern-thinking Christians often excel in maintaining strong communal bonds through social events and constant group celebrations, though sometimes at the expense of individual expression.
Striking a balance between individual growth and community support remains a continual effort for Christians in diverse cultural contexts. That being said, we’ve celebrated the following Christmases in New Zealand with other Gateway members who have graciously invited us into their own homes. Plus, we were able to host a Christmas celebration at our flat with some non-Christian friends one year too.
The task of fostering a sense of community isn't solely incumbent upon the church; it equally rests on the shoulders of the individuals comprising the church.