Is Real Unity Possible?





Yes--if we are willing to lay aside our own agendas and commit to core values that can make it happen.
Everywhere I travel around the world, the talk is unity. But in many cases it's just that--talk. Pockets of unity may spring up for a season, but most seem to die just as quickly. How close is the body of Christ to real and tangible unity?

Note these words from Ephesians 4:13: "till we all come to the unity of the faith" (NKJV). This is the prayer of Jesus (see John 17:23). But to many pastors, leaders and denominations today, Ephesians 4:13 means, "When everybody believes our way, then we will have unity." I know we wouldn't say it that way, but our actions, or lack of actions, reveal our true values.

Could it be our value systems undermine the vision of unity? Are we like a man who has a great vision to win the Olympic marathon but lacks the self-control to practice? His core value of laziness will never allow him to get to the vision.

Core values are deeply held beliefs describing the soul of a person or an organization that are consistently acted upon without compromise. Core values either enable or disable us getting to the vision. If a runner has the core values of self-control, endurance, patience and teachableness, for example, he has a good chance of getting to his vision. His core values enable the vision.

If our vision is community transformation or revival outside the church walls, we must have the core value of unity. Unity alone is not a vision--it's a core value that enables us to get to the vision of community transformation. It is a prerequisite to community transformation.

Without unity, the church is like the man who has a vision to win the Olympic marathon but never practices. His full potential will never be actualized. Unfortunately, this is the problem in the church today--unfulfilled potential and frustration. Part of this is caused by what I call the "achievement paradigm."

Much of the time, the conversation among church leaders revolves around issues such as: "How many people are in your church?" or, "How many churches do you have?" or, "What's bringing you growth?" or even, "What books have you written?" It seems, as indicated by our conversation and actions, that we don't consider ourselves as family but as competitors or unrelated institutions. Like Ford and Toyota competing for the best automobiles and the highest sales, we compete with one another.

This creates a dualistic paradigm of us/them, right/wrong, win/lose, good/evil, either/or, successful/unsuccessful. This dualistic paradigm comes from Western culture and is based on the philosophy of achievement as a higher value than relationship.

But we can't just blame Western culture. Much of this philosophy has come from seminaries, Bible schools or church teaching where the students were taught, "Our doctrine is the right doctrine; theirs isn't," or, "Our emphasis is God; theirs isn't." The students, fully trained by their teachers (see Luke 6:40), reproduce in their congregations, denominations or movements this dualistic, achievement paradigm. Competition and exclusiveness become core values of the churches and congregations they pastor.

The achievement-over-relationship paradigm impedes Jesus' vision of unity. Our competitive, success-oriented culture has moved most churches and church movements away from this very important and necessary core value of the church. The church can never be what it was designed to be without the core value of tangible unity. How can we change this?

LESSONS FROM ISRAEL

A close look at the nation of Israel throughout Scripture reveals some concepts that are significant to the church today in relation to unity. In the Bible we find that God has always thought of Israel as one big family with 12 sub-families. These sub-families were called tribes; together, the extended tribal families were called a nation.

When Jacob was near the end of his life, he gathered together his 12 sons and spoke to them of their unique destinies, distinctives and callings. At that point, the brothers became the heads of their own families, or tribes, yet they were still all part of the nation of Israel. Like 12 slices of a pie, each was a part of the whole pie. Together they formed the national government, not one brother or tribe individually.

It's interesting to note that Canaan, Israel's land inheritance, was taken by the nation of Israel, yet divided up and settled by tribes. Genesis 49 tells us that each tribe's uniqueness, emphasis and size was different yet totally necessary in the formation of the nation. For example, Judah's uniqueness was that he was called to praise the Lord and be a protector of Jerusalem, while Joseph was a "fruitful bough" that had a blessing to go to the nations.

The tribes of Israel had to think in terms of two citizenships: a national citizenship (Israel) and a tribal citizenship (for example, Joseph, Judah, Dan). Let me illustrate this in Numbers 10:2-4: "'Make two silver trumpets for yourself...you shall use them for calling the congregation and for directing the movement of the camps. When they blow both of them, all the congregation shall gather before you at the door of the tabernacle of meeting. But if they blow only one, then the leaders, the heads of the divisions of Israel, shall gather to you.'"

When both trumpets were blown (see v. 3), all the leaders of the 12 tribes and their families assembled at the doorway of the tent. If only one trumpet was blown (see v. 4), just the heads of the tribes came to the tent. You might say verse three speaks of a "general conference" and verse four of a "leadership conference."

The point is this: When the trumpet was blown, they were to come together on a national basis with their tribal distinctions becoming secondary in importance. They did not have to give up their tribal identity, but they did have to join together as a nation for a particular purpose. In effect God was saying, "There are just some things you can't do alone--you have to do them together."

How many "tribes" in the body of Christ today have tried to reach a city by themselves? How many churches, denominations and church leaders have tried to function by themselves? How many have called themselves "independent fundamentalists" or "independent charismatics"? In my opinion, that's not a badge of honor--it's a recipe for failure.

We can't live the Christian life independently; we live it corporately--especially when there is a big, common enemy confronting us. The truth is there are just some things in kingdom living that can't be done independently. They have to be done corporately.

The tribe of Gad can't drive out the Philistines--but Israel can. One tribe does not have the potential impact of a nation. Unfortunately, some churches operate under a "declaration of independence," whereas the nation of Israel operated under a "declaration of interdependence" principle.

It takes a functional community of churches to reach a community of people, even in small communities. Remember Matthew 18:20: "'For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them.'" Two or three must agree for their community (see v. 19).

Your church, denomination or network is just one of many tribes that make up a nation. Pastors, denominational heads and leaders of apostolic networks need to think in terms of both "tribe" and "nation." They need to think "vertically" (as a pastor of a local church, who is concerned with his particular flock) as well as "horizontally" (for example, nationally, realizing they are part of a larger family or nation, and that they are not independent). They need to be aware they have limitations and, for the benefit of the entire body of Christ, relate to the other tribes as brothers and as a nation.

When a tribal leader does not consider the horizontal aspect of the church and becomes an isolationist, the phenomenon of what I call "spiritual tribalism" takes root. Spiritual tribalism is when a tribe thinks it alone is the nation. The church is then interpreted through tribal eyes only, and that tribe tries to conform the nation to its calling, its distinctives, its doctrine, its language, and so on.

Spiritual tribalism has led to a multitude of doctrine-based denominations as well as "emphasis"- or "theme"-based churches. When spiritual tribalism sets in, eventually isolationism and exclusiveness sets in. The tribe then sets the standards for what it thinks is right and wrong, correct or incorrect, important and unimportant, or relevant and not relevant. The end result is isolation from the rest of the nation. They measure themselves by themselves and are without understanding (see 2 Cor. 10:12).

Spiritual tribalism renders Jesus' prayer of unity for the church unlikely if not impossible. As Jesus said in Mark 3:25, " 'And if a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand.'"

NEW WAY OF THINKING

As we get ready to enter what I believe will be the best years of Christianity, here are some practical thoughts on why we need to become better connected to one another and how to go about it. For some this will require a new way of thinking. I believe the following are prerequisites to the community transformation that all of us so desperately long for.

1. Heart for the community. Do you realize the church has the largest public relations problem in the world? The community sees us as divided rather than diverse. Perhaps it's time for us to demonstrate unity to the community in a real and tangible way through service to the community. We are here for the community--the community is not here for us. It's time we realized that it takes a community of churches to reach a community of people.

2. Areas of influence/areas of interest. The U.S. military has a strategic concept they call "areas of influence" and "areas of interest." The top general of the Army has direct influence over the Army, but not over the Navy or Air Force. However, the Navy and Air Force are areas of interest in that they are his partners in the military. If he's wise, he'll work with, cooperate with and recognize the importance of these areas of interest.

That's quite a lesson for denominational heads, network leaders and pastors in a community. We have areas of influence as well as areas of interest. It's called national awareness. Sometimes we get too focused on our tribe and become unaware of the big picture. Healthy living is a blend of focus and awareness. Focus without awareness is problematic to all.

3. Corporate cooperation. God designed us to be a family. He is the head of the nations, and we (denominations, networks and churches) are His "sons." We were created to be diverse but never divided. Our divisiveness has led to the collapse of our "family" and resulted in unfulfilled potential. We need to cooperate with one another.

4. National core values. Let's become aware of our "national" core values as well as our "tribal" distinctives and callings. The early Christians captured this concept in the writing of the Apostles' Creed and Nicene Creed. The core values and beliefs of Christianity are outlined in these creeds.

We all realize there are no perfect creeds, but endless additions, subtractions and re-definitions have led us to many different, long and difficult documents of what Christianity is. Most of these documents are really tribal views, not a national view. In other words, the nation has been defined by a particular tribe or thought paradigm.

The Apostles' Creed is a fairly accurate assessment (though not perfect) of our Christian "constitution." In my opinion, most anything outside of the Apostles' Creed is tribal. How about concentrating on what unifies us, not what divides us? It's time to connect the clans, not divide them in the name of "rightly dividing."

5. A national protocol. Bible schools, seminaries and churches need to have classes on how their particular tribe relates to the nation as a whole. Most pastors and church members have no idea on how to relate to the church down the street from them. Are they the enemy? Is their doctrine right? Are we really related? Why would I want to spend my time meeting them?

A good, well-thought-out class that is mandatory to all participants could be a major step forward in unity and in the understanding of the crucial paradigm of dual citizenship.

6. National ambassadors. God is raising up national ambassadors, or what C. Peter Wagner calls "horizontal apostles," to facilitate in the connecting of different tribes. The church desperately needs these "big picture" influencers and peacemakers to help the tribes in strategic events, tasks or services that only the nation can do. They are a necessary and strategic component in community transformation.

As the U.S. military discovered in World War II, there needs to be coordination and cooperation among armed forces or the result is chaos. The Army, Navy and Air Force needed Joint Chiefs of Staff, or "big picture" people, to reduce the tribalism of each of these departments and to facilitate the big picture of winning the war, not just winning the battle. In the same way, the various tribes in the church need "chiefs of staff," or national ambassadors, who lead and coordinate all the tribal leaders by influence, diplomacy and ambassadorial skills in a national effort to reach the community and nation.

Let me conclude by sharing a story. Recently, I rented a 15-person van to take some junior highers on a trip. As we were traveling, I looked in the rearview mirror and all of them had earphones on with their favorite CD blasting in their ears. No one was talking. Each was on the bus and in the family, but listening to their own tunes.

Just as those junior highers, we're all on the journey together and part of the family, but most of us are listening to our own themes, emphases and doctrines without even a thought for one another. Think of how much more the Lord could do for us if we came together. Think about the potential we will not realize until that happens. *

Seven Things That Will Hinder Unity

Unity between churches in a city will grind to a halt--or never even get off the ground--if any of the following dynamics are at work.

1. Lack of revelation. Some have not yet had a revelation regarding unity. Matthew 16 reveals the need for revelation for a shift in attitude and behavior to occur. When Peter declared, "'You are the Christ, the Son of the living God'" (v.16, NKJV), Jesus replied, " 'Blessed are you...for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven'" (v. 17).

2. Unity for the sake of unity. Some have tried to gather churches around the vision of unity rather than uniting around a common purpose. The result has been a year or two of meetings that fall as quickly as they rise. Unity is the starting point not the finishing point. Jesus prayed in John 17:21, "'that they all may be one...that the world may believe that You sent Me.'"

3. Spiritual independence. An attitude of spiritual smugness and independence that says, "Our church will take the city!" is widespread among certain types of churches today. This attitude undermines the vision these churches seek to accomplish. In essence they have declared that it's not God's will for any other church to be in their community. One cannot multiply. The gospel is a declaration of interdependence not a declaration of independence.

4. History of offense and doctrinal criticism. Many pastors and churches are afraid to get into any real and tangible unity because of a bad history of church relationships. Common are attitudes such as, "You hurt me," or "You stole my sheep." Unity is more than reconciliation. It's learning how to trust again.

5. Too narrow of a focus. Many churches tend to center on a doctrinal theme, a particular spiritual emphasis (for example, faith, prophecy, prosperity), ethnic or national groups (for example, Korean, college age, Greek Orthodox) or personalities. The end result is: "Why do we need to relate to other churches? That's not our emphasis." As a result, they become an inch wide and a mile deep. While they all have important contributions to make to church unity, their total focus on one area impedes real and tangible unity for the sake of the community.

6. Giving up. Many in the past tried to unite churches but it didn't work. Remember, it takes time to shift church culture.

Twenty years ago the subject of church unity was countercultural. Today there is increasing momentum toward unity for a purpose. If you tried it years ago, you were a pioneer, and pioneers get the most "arrows." Today unity is almost becoming the church's normal culture.

7. An attitude of, 'I'm too busy.' What is really being said here is probably true if unity is not a revelation and a priority to such a church or a pastor. The truth is, another meeting with pastors whom you may be uncomfortable with or where progress is sometimes slow is a stretch for most. Ask yourself: "Could the results be worth it compared to the costs?"

What Can I Do?

Five practical steps you can take to foster unity in your community

1. Pray for other churches in your area. Most pastors and church members know the other churches in their neighborhood. Ask the intercessors to pray for all of the churches to be relational and evangelistic. Use a small portion of time in Sunday morning services to pray publicly for one church and pastor each week. Prayer demonstrates the honoring of, the valuing of and your interdependence with other area churches.

2. Reach out. When one area church has a problem, visit the pastor and let him know you're for him. Rejoice with those churches that are doing well. Take a fellow pastor outside of your denomination or fellowship out to lunch. Pick up the phone and call another pastor to introduce yourself or to encourage him. Look for a way into, not a way out of, fostering church relationships.

3. Become a man of peace. In Luke 10, Jesus sends out His disciples with a message of peace to the community (see v. 5). He then instructs His disciples to look for the man of peace and to stay in his house. Our message is peace to the community and peace to one another.

David couldn't build the temple because he was a man of war. It's one thing to be in war; it's another thing for war to be in you. Because of hurts, doctrinal training and searching for significance, among other things, many pastors have become men of war with a critical, destructive attitude. This attitude moves the church away from unity while disqualifying the pastor for building God's way. Speak and act in ways that bring peace, especially with other pastors and churches.

4. Find a community need and meet it together. Do you realize servants can go anywhere? Recently, I've seen groups of pastors go to the mayor or city councilperson's offices and ask them, "What is a great need in our community, and what could we churches do to help you meet that need?" There's nothing like churches working together for the sake of the community that opens up the heart of the community to the church. The spirit of servanthood together is a cause higher than one's emphasis or doctrine.

5. Hold joint church services inside and outside the church walls. Once a quarter, coordinate several churches to meet together for a special service of unity or mutual ministry. For example, the churches of Kamo, New Zealand, hold a week of meetings together before Easter. The Cities for Christ group in West Phoenix, Arizona, holds a large Easter sunrise service together. In Nowra, Australia, the churches of that community hold a weeklong Christmas pageant in the town square. As pastors and churches get together, they begin to become aware of the amazing diversity in Christ's church, which can lead to unity. The real beneficiary of church unity is the community.


Ed Delph is president of NATIONStrategy, a ministry that encourages and empowers churches to partner with other churches and organizations, such as government, business and education, for the sake of tangible and lasting community transformation and enhancement. Log on to www.NATIONStrategy.com or e-mail This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

Your Turn

Comment Guidelines
Read the Vacation Bible School 2014 guide

Subscribe to Ministry Today

Ministry Today Digital

More from Ministry Today

http://ministrytodaymag.com/modules/mod_image_show_gk4/cache/banners.300x250MNT_Version2newsimage1.jpglink
http://ministrytodaymag.com/modules/mod_image_show_gk4/cache/banners.300x250MNT_Version3newsimage1.jpglink
http://ministrytodaymag.com/modules/mod_image_show_gk4/cache/banners.300 x 250 NICL Locations 3-18-14newsimage1.jpglink
http://ministrytodaymag.com/modules/mod_image_show_gk4/cache/banners.NICL Test 300x250newsimage1.jpglink
«
»
a