Tag Archives: unity

Casting a Vision for Unity

Tuesday Re-mix –

“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 …

Forward Progress Toward Unity

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

cyclingThere was a season in my life when I did quite a bit of cycling.  Triathlons, actually, were a bit of a hobby for me, so spending countless hours each week on a bike, riding through the country side was just a part of the lifestyle.  I was pretty bad, by the way.  I’m certain I never even finished a triathlon in the faster half of the field.  So, it was no big surprise the afternoon I was out on a long ride and pulled into a rest area only to get my feet stuck in the pedal clips as I pulled to a stop, causing me to basically roll over in the parking lot in front of a large crowd of people.  It was a humiliating experience.  It seems that bicycles were not designed to stand up straight unless they are actually moving forward.

I have always held that church unity is a function of Spiritual formation in the lives of individuals.  That makes it much more a journey than a destination.  And preserving the unity of the Spirit is work…lots of work.  On  one of my trips to South Africa, this point got driven home for me.  There, I encountered a church who seemed to understand intuitively the amount of work involved in genuine Spiritual formation.  Rather than my having to encourage them to  continue learning about unity despite having just completed a 6-hour conference on the topic, they came to me during breaks and after the sessions telling me all the ways they were considering to further develop these ideas about preserving the unity in the church.  They realized (perhaps more so than any church I have been …

Church Unity is Not a Program

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 …

Ubuntu

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

“Ubuntu is the essence of being a person.  It means that we are people through other people.  We cannot be fully human alone.  We are made for interdependence, we are made for family.  When you have ubuntu, you embrace others.  You are generous, compassionate...You are rich so that you can make up what is lacking for others.  You are powerful so that you can help the weak, just as a mother or father helps their children.  This is God’s dream.” Arch Bishop Desmond Tutu

It never fails.  I go on mission to a faraway place in order to teach, and I become the student.  My ministry is currently working in partnership with the Baptist Union of South Africa to do unity conferences and pastors’ conferences with churches there.  We have made several trips there already, with another one scheduled for this year.  I have treasured my time in South Africa and, oh, how I have learned from my brothers and sisters in Christ there!

How ironic that God would allow me to teach unity principles in a country so rich with words and symbols for unity.  The majestic white lion is one of those symbols.  And ubuntu is one of those words.

With its origins in the tribal mentality of the very diverse people of South Africa, ubuntu describes the clear sense of living in community with others.  It connotes an interdependence, so that when one member of the community suffers, everyone suffers.  It includes a strong sense of loyalty, such as to family.  It involves belonging to others, and others belonging to you.  It is a word which is so very descriptive of the Biblical concept of unity.…

Unity and Uniformity…Two Very Different Things

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

Biblical unity is not about agreeing with each other all the time.  In fact, the more I read about the New Testament church in Paul’s letters, the more I see that disagreement played a fairly significant role in the early church and I believe it still does today.  There has always been disagreement in the church.  As long as we “see as in a mirror, dimly”, there will be disagreement in the church.  That disagreement grows us, stretches us, humbles us, and keeps us accountable.  It is a positive thing.  It is not something to be feared.

In that sense, the diversity in the church may well be one of our true strengths.  Our ability (or inability) to embrace and manage that diversity will either grow us and move us forward or it will end us (locally, I mean, not globally…not even the gates of hell will prevail against the church globally).  Biblical unity assumes there will be disagreement and insists that we find healthy ways of processing it.  It assumes you and I are living in relationships where your understanding of God actually informs, shapes, and (gulp!) changes my understanding of God.  We live so as to be intentionally influenced by one another, especially by our differences.

Yes, scripture calls us to be “like-minded” and yes, there is a place for doctrinal purity and truth and a clear sense of right and wrong.  Unity doesn’t compromise the truth.  It just calls us to a level of humility in our grasp of truth, a healthy understanding of what it means to “see as in a mirror, dimly”.

But despite the value of doctrinal purity and truth, in talking about the church, …

Unity is the Pathway to Doctrinal Purity

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

Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming. Ephesians 4:14

Over the years, as my passion for unity in the church has intensified, some of my more conservative brothers and sisters in Christ have expressed concern that too much emphasis on unity could actually hurt the church, especially in the area of doctrinal purity.  The premise is, I think, that we can have complete unity or we can have doctrinal purity, but we cannot have both, i.e., that the two concepts are somehow mutually exclusive.  That concern is understandable, even predictable…but badly misplaced.  The call to Biblical unity is not a call to some sort of compromise in order to get along.  Moreover, maintaining doctrinal purity should not mean constant pushing and shoving to keep people in line.  Some in the church believe that, in order to keep our doctrine pure, we’ve got to step on a few toes and bang a few heads.

As confrontational as he was capable of being, I believe Paul would disagree with this “bang a few heads” mentality.

In Ephesians 4, Paul writes one of his most complete lessons on unity in the church.  He calls us to live a life worthy of the calling we have received, he reminds us of some things we can all agree about, he teaches us about Spiritual gifts, and he gives some very practical counsel about our life in community with each other.  He paints a clear picture for us of unity, and in the middle of that discussion, he …

The Spiritual Gift of Blah, Blah, Blah

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

If I speak in the tonguesof men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing. I Corinthians 13:1-3

You really cannot have a complete discussion about unity in the church without talking about Spiritual gifts.  They are, after all, an essential piece to the puzzle.  The Spirit of God Himself, manifesting Himself through the believer, is a huge promise from Him…a promise upon which unity rests.  Without the Spirit of God working in and through us, there would be no hope for unity because there is no other provision for unity other than the Spirit.  How He chooses to manifest Himself, then, through believers (i.e., what we call Spiritual gifts) is a critical cog in the machinery of the church.

Paul begins his discussion of Spiritual gifts in I Corinthians 12 with these words: “Now about spiritual gifts, brothers, I do not want you to be ignorant.” He then teaches the concept of Spiritual gifts wonderfully, including the whole metaphor of the church as a body.  But then at the end of that chapter, he segues from that discussion with these words: “And now I will show you the most excellent way.” In other words, now he is going to paint a picture of how it all looks in a very practical, understandable way.  And with that …

Cultivate ’09: The Power (and Responsibility) of Church Communication

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 …

The Barrier-free Church

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

For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility…” Ephesians 2:14

Bob Deffinbaugh, a favorite Bible commentator of mine over at Bible.org, has a wonderful illustration for the cultural barriers which still existed in the New Testament church between the Jewish Christians and the gentile Christians. In this article, Deffinbaugh compares the Jewish response to the gentile influx into the church with Jacob’s response when he woke up to find that the marriage he had consummated was not to Rachel, but was to Leah, her sister. For Jacob, it was surely a “WHAT”S GOING ON!?” moment. Similarly, it had to have been a complete shock to the system of the traditional Jewish person that the very people God had told them not to intermarry with were now receiving a carte blanche invitation into God’s family. In short, the cultural barriers which existed between Jews and gentiles were enormous, but nonetheless came crumbling down in the name of Jesus.

Building barriers is nothing new to the human condition. We are, by nature, a “tribal” kind of being. I have a tribe, you have a tribe. We build barriers because it makes us feel safe or perhaps because it gives us an identity. My “tribe” may be my country, my family, my political persuasion, my vocation, my neighborhood, my church, etc. We retreat into our “tribe’s” boundaries and then erect barriers to protect us against unwanted elements.

But Jesus changed that. You have probably heard it said, “the ground at the foot of the cross is level.” In other words, none of our tribes will get us …

The Principle of Focus

…fix your thoughts on Jesus, the apostle and high priest whom we confess. Hebrews 3:1

The Principle of Focus: My focus should be on Christ.

Picture a buzzard and a hummingbird flying side by side over a desert.  The buzzard looks down and sees nothing but dead carcasses.  The hummingbird looks down on the same desert floor and sees nothing but desert flowers.  Why is that?  It is because that is what they are each looking for.

If you come to your church’s gathered worship looking for problems in people, you will never be disappointed.  As long as there are people, there will be problems, because people are flawed.  It doesn’t take a Spiritual gift of discernment to find people’s flaws.

But if you come to your church’s gathered worship looking for Jesus, He will meet you there every time.  Bad preaching won’t prevent it.  Bad music won’t prevent it.  Bad people won’t prevent it.  If you are really looking for Jesus, you will find Him.

This is an especially important leadership principle, because as a leader, you do establish the focus of your congregation.  It doesn’t even matter whether you’re a good leader or a bad leader.  It is just the way we are as people.  We look where our leaders are looking.  Leaders establish focus.  That’s always been an interesting phenomenon to me.  No matter what kind of leader you are, no matter your style nor your effectiveness, people will tend to focus where you focus.

From the perspective of a church consultant, that means that I can spend a few hours visiting with a congregation and noting their apparent focus and immediately learn something about their leadership’s focus.

So, as you gather with your congregation this next time, where will your focus be?  To what (or to …