In recent years, a new vision of human flourishing has entered the church: self-care. “Self-care” is now one of the most common terms used to discuss personal and spiritual health, and it means different things to different people. It can be used to reference basic needs like sleep and exercise, or bingeing a new show, or prayer retreats in the woods.
On the surface, self-care seems like an unarguable commitment—of course we need to care for ourselves. But when cultural messages about self-care aren’t reframed by biblical principles of mutual care, this can negatively affect us personally, and a church’s culture corporately. The church that prioritizes care for self over care for others will suffer shallow relationships, a misunderstanding of sanctification, and complacency in evangelism.
Balance Self-Care and Mutual Care
The gospel’s beauty shines when we no longer live for ourselves but lovingly care for others out of a transformed heart (2 Cor. 5:11–21). After all, spiritual growth begins in the heart, but it manifests through intentional expressions of care for others (Col. 3:1–4:6).
There’s no either-or here. Our churches should prioritize the healthy development of the self but do so cautiously, lest we neglect the beauty and belonging that come when a local church practices the New Testament’s one-another commands.
Growth Needs Friends
Self-care without mutual care seldom produces deep and vulnerable relationships. It instead promotes isolation and self-protection. If this tendency is unaddressed, a church can become a place filled with individuals but not brothers and sisters. Church leaders must have a unified commitment to developing the whole body, not simply the parts. The development of a whole person happens in the context of the church’s whole-body life.
Belonging to a local church will mean being highly relational. Members commit not simply to attending services together but to engaging with one another’s lives (Heb. 10:24–25). This requires initiative and vulnerability, moving toward one another with the goal of mutual care (Rom. 12:3–13). Mutual care is an essential dynamic (Col. 1:28–29; 1 Thess. 5:14) because it’s required for spiritual growth. A church community catalyzes growth by helping one another understand and apply God’s Word (Col. 3:16). Mutual input, encouragement, and admonishment contribute to their corporate sanctification.
Preoccupation with self-care can lead a church to focus on individual markers of growth more than communal ones. While spiritual growth does happen in individual hearts, we can’t forget that this change occurs in the context of a community where others’ feedback pushes us to live outside self-imposed guidelines.
Not Professionalized Friendship
The self-care obsession of our culture can inadvertently make personal wellness the goal of every friendship. Some people today are tempted to avoid relationships that would cost them time and energy. Others pursue relationships with well-connected people and only vulnerably interact with professionals.
Professionals can play a strategic role in a Christian’s process of sanctification, but in the church, we have peer relationships built on a common commitment to biblical principles. Over the long haul, these ordinary friendships that both give and receive care are the most meaningful part of our growth and change.
Growth Needs a Joyful Outward Focus
The temptation to neglect mutual care influences our relationships not only with those in the church but also with those outside.
Ordinary friendships that both give and receive care are the most meaningful part of our growth and change.
Evangelism is often demanding and intimidating. Overemphasizing self-care could discourage evangelistic efforts that feel too demanding for the individual Christian. But counterintuitively, the spiritual growth and wellness of a Christ-follower are enhanced when he or she engages the lost world with the hope of the gospel. Avoiding evangelism (or simply trying to make it easier) won’t lead to flourishing inside or outside the church. Faithful evangelism, by contrast, leads to joy.
Our journeys of discipleship must be holistic. Don’t let excessive concern with self-care move your church off course. Cultivate the sorts of relationships in your church that will both develop the self and build up Christ’s body.
The Gospel Coalition