Church Unity is Not a Program

January 12, 2010

Tuesday Re-mix – This is a popular post from last year, updated and resubmitted for your consideration and comments.

Church unity is not merely a program.  The church in South Africa understands this.

That, I think, is the biggest difference I have noticed between the church in South Africa and the church in America.  From my very first trip there with a team of teacher/facilitators, overviewing the Five Principles of Unity, I noticed that the teaching was received just a little differently than we ordinarily experience.  That first trip, we did conferences in 14 churches in Cape Town, just like we often do when we take our conferences “on the road” into other countries.  The people were engaged and attentive, as is often the case.  But it was the discussion after the conferences that was different.

When looking into what our ministry does with churches, I often have pastors and church leaders ask something along the lines of “How does this program work?”  The implication is that it is some kind of well-contained magical seminar that can bring unity to a church in 5 easy steps.  And after a few hours of conference, there are often comments of gratitude and such for an entertaining, engaging conference.  All of this happens despite our warnings that the Bible’s guidance for preserving the unity of the Spirit is no easy task and cannot be learned in a 4-hour conference.  Rather, it will take a deliberate commitment on the part of the church body to make some significant changes in their lives and in how they handle relationships.

dietBut I often find that churches (and this is particularly true of the church in America) are not really seeking after changed lives.  They are seeking entertainment and maybe even challenging teaching, but they’re not really motivated to do any significant changing, because, frankly, they’re pretty comfortable how they are now. They are looking for an easy fix, much like we might look to lose weight by simply taking a pill rather than making any real changes.  They see church unity as just the latest, greatest program.  But there is no weight-loss program worth a dime that doesn’t require lifestyle change, i.e., changes in eating habits and in exercise.  Similarly, there is no right teaching on church unity which doesn’t require a lot of commitment and hard work over a long period of time.

But what I have experienced in the South African church is an intuitive awareness that Biblical unity is a function of Spiritual formation in individuals. They understand that it will take a great amount of work and commitment over a period of time to move from where they are today to where they need to be.  And so, at least in the churches who have already begun to address Spiritual formation (which is easily the majority of the churches I have seen there) through small group ministries or cell groups, they immediately understand that, for these Biblical principles to make a difference in their church, they need to be massaged into each other through small group Bible study over a period of weeks or months.  It is a long-term commitment and not just a one-day seminar…a marathon, not a sprint…a lifestyle change, not a get-fixed-quick scheme.

And so as I continue the privilege of working with the 600+ churches in the Baptist Union of South Africa, and as I begin making plans for our return there in 2010, I look forward with great anticipation to what God does in those churches.  Because they are in it for the long haul and are ready to be changed.

© Blake Coffee

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