Tag Archives: unity

The Lies About Church Unity

Tuesday Re-mix –

“…being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” Ephesians 4:3

I am now more than a year past the half-century mark on this earth.  Quite the accomplishment, it seems to me.  When I was a teenager, I honestly never wanted to still be alive by this age.  It just seemed unbearably old to me then.  I have recently changed my mind about that.

I see a lot of things differently now.  I have developed a patience…a longer-term perspective on things.  I have learned that many of the things I thought as a young adult were just lies.  Here are some of the lies I have checked off my list as “learned” over the years:

If you can afford the mortgage payment, you can afford the house.

If you can afford the car payment, you can afford the car.

No matter how old you get, you’re never more than 90 days from getting back in shape.

You can work long and hard, or you can get lucky…lasting success can come either way.

When two good people get married, good marriages always result.

Lies, lies, lies…all of them.  In all these ways, I have learned that the same God who created the world in six days expects us to take significantly longer and work significantly harder to accomplish anything of real worth.

It makes perfect sense to me, then, that our job of “preserving the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” in the church is a tedious, difficult, long-term job which we cannot expect to happen overnight.  Because we are talking about real, human relationships, this job is messy and complicated and takes lots and lots of intentional effort.  In short, our responsibility of preserving the unity of the Spirit …

Does Church Size Matter for Unity Purposes?

Tuesday Re-mix –

Ever been in the Lego store at the World of Disney?  It’s amazing.  They have HUGE displays of things built entirely of Legos.  It is impressive when you think about the time it takes to connect each of those tiny little blocks together, one connection at a time.

It takes time to do that.  It takes effort to make sure each connection is secure.  But the result is impressive.  And in typical American spirit, the bigger it is, the better it is, right?

There is much talk these days about bigger churches versus smaller churches.  When I first ran this post, Ed Stetzer had just posted this article about Spiritual Transformation in smaller churches, compared to larger ones.  It is a compelling conversation, to be sure.  He encouraged smaller churches to “celebrate your significance”…after all, isn’t scripture filled with stories of a very big God using very little individuals and groups to accomplish world-changing things?  He also points out how important it is for our people to have opportunities to tell their stories of how God has changed them.  His point is that spiritual transformation is just as possible in the smaller church as it is in the large congregation.

But what about church unity?  Is it easier to “preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” in a smaller church or in a large one?  Is unity in any way tied to numbers?

Back to the Legos…

Unity in a church is nothing more and nothing less than having right, God-honoring relationships among the people of that church.  In other words, it is the individual connections between the people which end up reflecting either unity or disunity.  It is our ability to find Christ himself in one another which will determine how much …

The Fabric of Your Church

Tuesday Re-mix –

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 …

Unity is Not for Wimps

Tuesday Re-mix –

You may be aware that my ministry has an on-going relationship with churches in South Africa, where our teams go and teach unity principles.  Do you see the irony in that?  The irony is that anyone from the American church would be teaching South Africans about unity.  There are a great many things the American church has done well…but unity is not one of them.  In fact, our secular culture of democracy and Roberts Rules of Order, etc. have actually worked against us in that regard.  In matters of true Biblical unity, the church in America just does not demonstrate much understanding.  Now, if you want to talk about religious liberties and how the church and the government relate to each other in light of those liberties, we definitely have some answers.  Our 200 years of our cultural experiment in that area have put us way ahead of the rest of the world.  But in the area of unity, maybe not so much.

In a similar way, the South African culture has actually helped that church understand some things about unity.  A collection of many different tribes and people groups, South Africa literally had its unity hand forced by the breaking down of Apartheid and the building of a society in a post-Apartheid season.  It has been difficult and it has been painful.  I suspect most South Africans would say they still have a ways to go.  But they have been doing the hard work which unity in their country requires and they understand that it does not come cheaply.  Of all the lessons they have learned about unity, I am most impressed with that one. Unity does not come cheaply and it requires a great deal of hard work in order to preserve it. They get …

The Church Jesus Expects to Find

Tuesday Re-mix –

“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 …

Unity Through Diversity

Tuesday Re-mix –

There is a public park in Luhans’k, Ukraine where my ministry has gone to work with churches in the past. The park is in a “forest”. It is a beautiful place. But there is something eerie about it. You can’t quite put your finger on it, but there is something about it which just doesn’t seem right. You feel like you are out in nature, but not really. Then you learn the story…the “park” is a man-made forest built by the Nazis. The trees are all lined up! Then it’s not eerie anymore…it’s just funny.

I had a long conversation with “Thomas”, a church leader whose church was blessed with a diversity of people. The topic of the conversation was worship styles, but the principle at issue was much larger than that. When confronted with the reality that a variety of preferred worship styles (I usually refer to them as “languages”) existed in his church, this leader sternly refused to use any other styles other than the one they currently used, the one they had been using for many decades. His premise was this: in our worship we must stay unified, with a common “language” or style, because the more homogenous we are, the stronger we are…diversity only weakens us. Hmmm. It flustered me a little, because it was an entirely new argument for me. I honestly never thought anyone could make an argument against diversity among God’s people. Frankly, pictures of a Nazi forest came to mind.

I have always seen our diversity as an incredible strength. It challenges us, to be sure. It is difficult at times, to be sure. But it stretches our understanding of God and of one another. It is that whole “you complete me” thing. I actually am energized being …


Tuesday Re-mix –

“He who no longer is listening to his brother will soon be no longer listening to God.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer

If I am honest with myself, I must admit that my ability to hear God speak through you is directly related to how much “agreement” you and I have on issues which are important to me.  The more we disagree, the less we listen to each other.  In turn, the less we listen to each other as Christians, the further we get from experiencing unity.  But understand this: it is not disagreement that kills our unity…it is our inability to manage that disagreement.

Anyone involved in a peacemaking ministry to Christians will tell you that doctrinal differences are by far the most difficult differences for Christians to work through.  It is one thing to say “In essentials, unity; in doubtful matters, liberty; and in all things, charity” (a saying often attributed to Augustine), but we Christians cannot even agree on what is essential and what is not.  50 years ago, one’s millenial view was considered by many to be essential.  Today, one’s view of inerrancy of scripture is considered by many to be essential.  Who knows what the hot-button issue will be for the next generation?  And so, how you see certain “litmus test” issues of mine will determine my willingness to hear God speak through you on other matters.

For as long as I have been alive (and surely for much longer than that), peacemakers have struggled to get conflicted parties beyond their points of disagreement in order to agree on some other issues, i.e., in order to find some common ground elsewhere.  That, I suppose, is one of the real challenges to the global church today.  I am not talking here about some watered-down, ecumenical revolution …

Church Unity for a Social Media Generation

Tuesday Re-mix –

If you’re reading a blog (and you are, by the way), then you probably already understand that this youngest adult generation in the church, the “social media generation”, is learning to do relationships a little differently than relationships have ever been done before (and I should add here that social media has now made huge inroads into all the generations and no longer “belongs” just to the 18-35 crowd–the “social media generation”, therefore is not an age-label, but rather an era label for our time).  Between TwitterFacebookMy SpaceLinked In, and a host of other social networking worlds, this generation is more connected with one another than any generation before it.  Reportedly, more than 95% of American college students today are actively connected in one or more of these social networks.  Their culture has them receiving massive amounts of information about one another all day and night through steady streams of photos, videos, and text.  Never before has an entire generation been more “connected” with one another. Tony Steward of church.tv observes, for example, that the concept of a class reunion will be completely foreign to this generation, who will have stayed “connected” with each other throughout the years following their graduation so that a “reunion” will seem superfluous.

social-networkingAn older generation of Christians has stood back and observed all of this “interconnectedness” with varying responses.  While some of us have worked to embrace it and participate, others are more wary, calling into question the long-term ramifications.  The concerns range from “what does this do to intimacy in relationships?” to “what does this fast-paced, fire-hydrant delivery of information do to the brain?”  For purposes of my point here, I will not engage that debate.  But I will say it is more …

From South Africa with Love – Week 2

I am currently in South Africa with a team of trainer/facilitators from my ministry. For the names of the team members and our respective schedules, click here.  Please pray for us!

For my Thursday posts during this time away, I am featuring thoughts and writings from one of my favorite South African pastors/writers, Andrew Murray, who pastored churches in South Africa from 1850 – 1917.  Two of his works which I have loved are Abide in Christ and With Christ in the School of Prayer.

So You Will Have Power in Prayer

“If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you.” John 15:7

“Prayer is both one of the means and one of the fruits of union with Christ.  As a means it is of unspeakable importance.  All the things of faith, all the pleadings of desire, all the yearnings after a fuller surrender, all the confessions of shortcoming and of sin, all the exercises in which the soul gives up self and clings to Christ, find their utterance in prayer.  In each meditation on abiding in Christ, as some new feature of what Scripture teaches concerning this blessed life is apprehended, the first impulse of the believer is at once to look up to the Father and pour out the heart into His, and ask from Him the full understanding and the full possession of what he has been shown in the Word.  And it is the believer, who is not content with this spontaneous expression of his hope, but who takes time in secret prayer to wait until he has received and laid hold of what he has seen, who will really grow strong in Christ.”  A. Murray, Abide in Christ

In the mid-1980’s,

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 …