No one wants your church to be unified more than the Lord. According to Scripture, almost everything depends on unity.
A few years ago, my friend, Charles, stood before his congregation, ready to lead his first monthly business session.
Before they got underway with reports, motions and votes, however, Charles had something to say that they needed to hear. His little speech would affect the course of that church for years to come.
The new pastor wanted them to know how their business meetings were going to be conducted.
What follows is his written message, verbatim (he shared it with us, along with permission to share):
"Since this is my first business meeting as your pastor, I wanted to share my heart and my sincere beliefs about the importance of maintaining unity in the body. It has been my too frequent experience to leave a church business meeting sick at heart and wondering to myself, 'What just happened?'
"All of us here could probably recite incidents of relationships being destroyed, members being lost, and sometimes irreparable damage being done to the witness and testimony of individuals or the church.
"When being right or getting one's way takes precedent over relationships and maintaining unity we are on the slippery slope toward hurt, harm and disunity. If not dealt with properly, disunity will create an environment of distrust and suspicion. And make no mistake. Festering conflict and disunity are sin.
"Jesus said some strong things about forgiveness, bearing with one another and being kind to one another.
"When a pastor, staff or congregation refuses to heed His words, we can hardly expect God to bless us with spiritual power and fruit.
"Does this mean we must always agree? No. But it does mean that we can do so without rancor and an ugly spirit or attitude. Genuine and biblical unity is found in the midst of real and passionate differences that we set aside in the recognition that the differences we have are nowhere as important as the Savior we serve.
"Knowing the damage that comes from disunity is perhaps why Jesus prayed for unity among His followers. That's why maintaining unity is so important. It not only impacts organizational health, but it impacts spiritual health and power.
"I cannot speak for you. But I will, as your pastor, do all that I can (to) promote and protect the harmony and unity of our beloved church."
Then, he issued a warning:
Looking up from his printed script, Pastor Charles told the congregation, "The moment a discussion gets out of hand and people begin misbehaving, we are shutting the business meeting down on the spot. I want you all to be clear about this. The meeting adjourns the moment we quit speaking in love."
He added, "I know about Roberts' Rules of Order. But I'm telling you up front this is what we are going to do."
As one who has done this very thing—shut down a business meeting when it got out of hand, without so much as a motion or voice vote or anything—I applaud this.
During a visit to his church, I asked Charles how things have gone in the years since he came. "We've not had a single instance of someone misbehaving," he smiled.
This is one wise pastor.
Now, I surmise that this pastor did not get that way overnight, nor was he born wise. He has led several churches and served in denominational positions. Charles has earned his stripes and arrived at his understandings as a result of much experience.
A wise pastor:
—Places a great value on unity.
—Is proactive, taking positive steps to safeguard the unity of the Lord's church in advance of problems.
—Takes a stand for unity early in his ministry at a new church.
—Appeals to the better natures of his people, out of their love for the Lord Jesus Christ and from obedience to Him.
—Has a plan on dealing with outbreaks of dissension and makes sure his people know what it is.
A few texts come to mind here:
"Be eager to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace" (Eph. 4:3). (Note that it's a unity of the Spirit. It's a Holy Spirit thing. The Lord intends leaders of His church to be protectors of that unity.)
"Being submissive to one another in the fear of God" (Eph. 5:21). (There is to be no lording it over other members, not by the pastor or anyone else. See 1 Peter 5:3.)
"Now therefore it is already an utter failure for you that you go to law against one another. Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be defrauded?" (1 Cor. 6:7). (One of the great tests of Christian maturity is whether a wronged individual is able to ignore a slight or offense for the greater good of the body of Christ.)
The entire fourth chapter of Ephesians speaks of the unity of the body. See verse 16 in particular.
In John 17:21, 23, Jesus prays that "they may all be one" in order that "the world may know that You have sent Me." We must not miss this! Our evangelism is directly tied to the unity of the Lord's people. Disunity undermines our attempts at spreading the gospel. If we expect people to believe in Christ, we must love one another.
Leaders of the Lord's church should:
—Keep the prize of unity before the congregation at all times.
—Applaud God's people when they do it well and get it right.
—Find ways to promote unity.
—Appreciate those who are slow to take offense and are kind to even their worst enemies.
—Pull aside a few key leaders to take action when the train begins to jump the tracks.
—Always be on the alert for threats to the unity and deal with them immediately.
A final reminder to the pastor:
Paul said to the church at Thessalonica, "As you know, we exhorted, comforted, and commanded every one of you, as a father does his own children" (1 Thess. 2:11).
Don't pull rank on them, pastor. Be kind, but firm. Always keep before the congregation the love for the name of Christ, the need for obedience to His command and the importance of unity within the body.
If you insist on unity from the very beginning, you will get it.
Joe McKeever is retired from the pastorate but still active in preaching, writing and cartooning for Christian publications. He lives in Ridgeland, Mississippi.
For the original article, visit joemckeever.com.
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