And he told her all his heart, and said to her, “A razor has never come upon my head, for I have been a Nazirite to God from my mother’s womb. If my head is shaved, then my strength will leave me, and I shall become weak and be like any other man.” Judges 16:17
I in them and you in me,that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me. John 17:23
I remember Samson (of the Bible) holding “superhero” status in my mind as a child. Studying his tragic story now as an adult, I realize his character flaws throw a very different light on his super-human power. Isn’t that what intrigues us about God’s story? It is told through the lives of so many horribly flawed–even dysfunctional–people.
That is one of the ways of God: to use markedly flawed people to accomplish His will. It is intriguing about Samson and it is intriguing about the church. We are all flawed, and yet (like Samson) we, the church, are filled with God’s Spirit and collectively empowered to represent His spiritual authority in this world. Samson was a tragically flawed hero of God’s story, and Christ’s eklesia is likewise embarrassingly flawed. I’ve written about that here.
But also like Samson, the church has a peculiar source of its strength…a “lynch pin”, if you will, to all that empowerment God promises us. For Samson, it was his hair. But for the church, it is our relationships with one another.
We can talk about the power of prayer (if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven); we can talk about …
“I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” John 15:5
“I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word,that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” John 17:20-21
No matter what kind of car I drive, no matter how expensive, how amazing, nor how reliable it is, if I cannot see out the windshield, it is worthless to me. It’s ironic. A $20 part (a windshield wiper blade) can make all the difference in whether an otherwise amazing vehicle is of any use at all. The windshield, you see, is the only lens through which we, as drivers, can see the road ahead.
Jesus spoke of a similar concept in John 17. At a moment in time when Jesus was considering the global revolution He and his followers were about to start (we call it “the church”), he lifted his eyes toward heaven and prayed. Understanding the challenges the future church would face in bringing a lost and broken world to see and believe in Christ, he asked his Father for the one thing we would need most in order to accomplish our mission: relationships which point to Jesus.
Here is what Jesus understood and a truth we must grasp as well: if the key to a fruitful church is “Christ in us”, then the key to the world seeing Christ in us is relationships in our lives which point to Jesus. In short, our ability to show this …
“My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” John 17:20-21
I don’t know how you feel about prayer and its power…or God and His willingness to answer prayer. But if you are a follower of Christ, I know this about you: you are pretty sure that God will at least answer Jesus’ prayers. Right? Yes, me too. So it is with great interest that I watch the church today to see how God answers Jesus’ prayer for unity in John 17. I watch, fully expecting that God will work to bring it to pass…the unity of His people, that is.
I have spent the better part of the last two years on a “communications task force” for my church, charged with the responsibility of mapping out a course for our church to update, renovate, and (in some cases) completely re-think how we communicate both outside our walls and within our congregation. I have loved it. It is one of the most rewarding assignments I have ever had at my church. The discussions have been rich as we contemplate an infrastructure for virtually every level of communication.
While much of our focus thus far has been on how we communicate outwardly (I call that “branding”…see, I am not a marketing professional, so I get to use that word any way I like), I remain primarily concerned with how we communicate within the congregation. I feel strongly about that, because communication is the currency of relationships, and relationships are the …
Your church is not just comprised of people. It is comprised of relationships among those people. That’s an important distinction. It is the difference between a pile of bricks and a building made with those bricks. It is the difference between a jumbled wad of thread and a fabric woven with that thread. It is not just the people who make up the church…it is the specific ways in which those people relate to one another that either make them a New Testament church or not. More specifically, it is the Spirit of God living in those people and moving them into relationships with each other which make them a church.
I often describe the church as a fabric. Each of us is a single thread in that fabric. Every place my “thread” touches another “thread” is a relationship. And all of those relationships, together, form my local congregation.
There are always things putting pressure on that fabric…weighty objects (“issues”) which God permits to fall into the fabric of your church. Some of those issues are heavy and others are pretty light. But when one of those issues tears the fabric, it is not just a function of the weight of the issue. It is a function of the strength of the fabric. Churches which teach and practice Biblical interpersonal relationships constitute strong fabrics. They can handle lots of challenges. But churches who do not teach good relationships will eventually become littered with broken or damaged relationships, i.e., weak fabric. And where the fabric is weak enough, it doesn’t take much to tear it wide open.
Another metaphor that works here is thinking of your “fabric” as a latex balloon. When you inflate it and then hold it up to the light, you can actually see where …
“The unity of Christendom is not a luxury, but a necessity. The world will go limping until Christ’s prayer that all may be one is answered. We must have unity, not at all costs, but at all risks. A unified Church is the only offering we dare present to the coming Christ, for in it alone will He find room to dwell.”
Bishop Charles Henry Brent
I had a walkway installed on the side of my house. It had been a bunch of mud and dirt and was never going to grow grass, so we spent one Spring dressing it up. The first major piece was a lined walkway. I explained to the contractor what I had in mind and he seemed to understand pretty well. “Crushed granite”, he said…”That’s what you’re looking for, right?” Well, I had no idea. I knew the look I wanted, but I didn’t know the name of the material. “Yes,” I answered in complete ignorance. I should have pressed for more clarity.
It was all installed in a day…while I was gone. As it turns out, it was not what I had in mind at all. It was a different color, a different consistency and pretty much completely different than what I envisioned. But I have learned to like it. I also learned how important it is to see the materials before you start building with them, because the materials matter. In fact, in this case I strongly suspect that the materials I had in mind were not nearly as practical nor as useful as what I got. So I decided to like it.
When Paul talked about the “materials” for building the church in I Corinthians 3, he also concluded that the materials matter. He said some of us would …
“Where there is no vision, the people perish.” Proverbs 29:18
I love Zechariah 8. It is a beautiful picture of how God gives His people a vision of what is to come, so that they will be encouraged and motivated.
That is what God-given vision does for a church. When a leader is able to hear from God and then paint a vivid picture of the future, i.e., a clear image of what could be, the people are suddenly much more capable of working toward that end. The vision of the distant future (e.g., 5 years out) gives hope. The vision of the intermediate future (e.g., next year) gives perseverance. But it is the vision of the immediate future (e.g., next week) which motivates us to take our next step. All three levels of vision are important for different reasons.
Casting vision for the immediate future (e.g., next week) is a little like the arrows on the bowling lanes. It may feel intimidating to aim at something far away (like a 5-year plan for a church), but aiming at something nearby (like next week) seems do-able. So, good vision-casting includes not only the encouragement of a picture several years down the road, but the motivation of a picture we can accomplish for next week.
Churches around the world are struggling with unity because they do not have a working vision of what true Biblical unity looks like in the church. The New Testament is filled with those pictures but, for some reason, we have not always done a good job of putting those pictures in front of our people. Churches often don’t really know what genuinely healthy relationships are supposed to look like. Our people think that unity means not having any disagreements or being silent when …
This is the third in a series of posts about Cultivate ’09, a one-day conversation held at Park Community Church in Chicago about church communication. Born out of conversations among some respected consultants in this field (Dawn Nicole Baldwin, Tim Schraeder, Kem Meyer, among others), Cultivate was the first of what I hope will be many similar gatherings.
In my mind, there is an obvious connection between church unity (my calling) and church communication. Church unity is all about relationships. Relationships, in turn, are all about communication. You can do the logic from here.
There is an element to church communications which is not so much about PR or marketing or branding or logos. A critical part of the ministry of church communications is how a church communicates within the body of believers. The ministry of church communications necessarily must include some strategies about how to facilitate conversation among the church itself. Sitting and talking with Cultivate participants, it was clear to me that many of these communications professionals at least have a glimpse of what this means (actually, some have much more than just a glimpse). There is power in formatting how a story is told. More importantly, there is responsibility in using that power to bring about God-honoring results.
In a session with Kent Shaffer (of Bombay Creative and churchrelevance.com), he said it this way: “Communication [in churches] is more than just sending the right message…it is evoking the right response.” When we begin to take seriously our objective of “evoking the right response”, we begin to see that we can actually empower how people see each other. We can facilitate conversation among them, strengthening relationships. We can help bridge communication gaps within a church body, and thereby “preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond …
Tuesday Remix – This is a popular post from last year, updated and re-run.
I wish I had a dollar for every time a pastor or church leader has commented to me, “I’m all for unity, but at what cost?” It always makes me smile. I know what he or she means—that agreement with each other is a good thing, but not the most important thing. I can’t argue with that. But agreement and unity are not the same thing.
Unity is not about agreeing all the time, it is a state of the relationships among a group of people. Biblical unity is a right state of relationships among Christians. And this, I believe, is the highest priority in the church. I believe it is more important than any of the issues which divide us. I’ll explain below why I believe that.
What is at stake in this discussion is the value of Christian relationships. For most of the conflicts I see in the church today, the real heart of the matter is the relationships among the players. How much do these parties really value their on-going relationship? How interested are they in healing the broken relationship and what are they willing to sacrifice in order to do so? If you have ever been involved in marriage counseling, even informally, you have seen this at play. People talk about wanting reconciliation, but when it comes to making that happen, they often are not willing to do the things it requires, because (the truth is) they don’t really value that relationship that much. They would rather be right than be married. Or they would rather be free, or be any of a number of other good things, than be married. Unfortunately, that happens with relationships in the church as well. Lofty …