We all want unity. But are we willing to lay down our own agendas to see it happen?
In many cities ministerial fellowships are springing up to help defeat obstacles to unity among pastors. As a result we are experiencing a cohesiveness that is revitalizing our individual churches and ministries. The body of Christ needs to see pastors simply loving and supporting other "gatekeepers" of the same city they have been called to serve.
Some pastors are starting to talk openly about their attitudes toward each other. Once a shepherd develops the right attitude toward other leaders, the membership will follow their example. But repentance is the key to healing old wounds inflicted by the tongue--these offenses don't fade easily.
The apostle Paul recognized the importance of genuine fellowship. He speaks of his deep desire to have this type of association with other believers when he says, "For I long to see you" (see Rom. 1:11-13, NKJV). Paul even describes his relationship with his brothers and sisters at Philippi by using the term "yokefellow" (see Phil. 4:3, KJV). This word describes people whose lives are bound together for a common mission. But if pastors want the same unity in their cities that the early church experienced, they must be willing to make some changes.
Here are a few challenges we face on the road to unity:
Pastors must reject the temptation to lift themselves up while putting others down. Mature Christian love repents, forgives and bears burdens. Forgiveness washes our culture of yesterday's debris.
As we bend our knees in humility, God is healing the land beneath our feet. There is an ideal Scripture which pastors can pray to help facilitate this: "If My people who are called by My name will humble themselves, and pray...[I] will forgive their sin and heal their land" (2 Chr. 7:14, NKJV).
Ministerial fellowships should not be "clone" reunions. Pastors can retain their uniqueness without bringing each other into bondage based on tradition. People in the church have too often felt threatened by each other's strengths, and Satan has not only divided us--he has made us proud to be separated.
Pastoral fellowships should not be in too big of a rush to sponsor citywide events. The enemy always divides weak, surface relationships. Huge events should not be attempted before trusting relationships are developed. Shepherds must be committed to one another before they reach out to their city.
Some pastors avoid ministerial fellowships in their cities because the groups are not impressive, popular or sophisticated enough. Remember, Jesus was born in a manger and John the Baptist's ministry was outside of town on the wrong side of the tracks. As never before, pastors need to seek God for humility of heart and for a spirit of reconciliation.
God will not excuse pride--especially religious pride. Religious pride is the worst kind of idolatry because it seats mankind in the place of God. Unfortunately, the church has accepted the worldly principle that "big" is the only proof of success. How many conferences have you attended lately that included speakers who pastor churches with less than 100 members? Yet the average church in America falls into this category.
Ministerial fellowships must operate under the premise that true fellowship requires a burden for others. We need to have a deep desire to share personally with others. There is something amiss when we say we are in fellowship with each other but don't make any effort to spend time together.
Fortunately, as we commit ourselves to each other through true fellowship, we will be enriched by the gifts that we all possess. Proverbs 27:17 sums it up nicely: "As iron sharpens iron, so a man sharpens the countenance of his friend."Tyrone Sweeney is an associate minister at New Mount Moriah Missionary Baptist Church in Pontiac, Michigan. He and his wife, DeLisa, travel the country ministering at conferences and churches.