Jesus prayed that you and I in the church would be unified. This is His prayer on the night of His arrest –
I pray that they will all be one, just as you and I are one—as you are in me, Father, and I am in you. And may they be in us so that the world will believe you sent me. (John 17:21)
Simply stated, God’s people are called to have unity. It’s something Jesus prays for.
A step more serious is that leaders of God’s people are called to have unity. A reason it’s important for church leadership to be unified is because:
If the leaders in the church aren’t unified, then the people in the church won’t be unified.
What we see historically, and sadly too often today, is that when division happens in the church it’s not because people know or vote based on facts and data, or even rely on prayer, rather, they weigh in based on whether or not they like the person.
Their decisions aren’t objective, they’re subjective.
I liked this person, so I’m taking their side. This person has served with me, so I’m with them. I’ve known this person longer, so I’ll join them. And what can begin as a personal issue quickly spreads into a division in the church.
Another reason why unity is vital in the church, from leadership down, is because it keeps the entire church focused on what’s important – Jesus and loving others.
If there is division, then the conversations aren’t about Jesus, they aren’t about God’s vision, they aren’t about loving others. Instead, they’re about: Have you heard this gossip lately? Well, I heard this. Well, I believe this person did this. Well, they must’ve! Here’s my opinion, here’s how I think it’s going down.
And all of the sudden, because of a distraction and a divisive spirit, loving Jesus and loving others exits out of the conversations and out of the church’s mission.
Just as there are things that help unity, there are things that harm it as well.
Sometimes it’s obvious, visible sin like sexual sin, or stealing money, or what led to divorce, or laziness, or complaining. Many times it’s deceit.
Sometimes the sin that kills unity is more subtle, like bitterness or jealousy towards others. Many times it’s pride.
Sometimes division is caused by heresy (teaching truths outside of the Bible to be as authoritative as truths in the Scriptures).
Sometimes disunity is caused by legalism, where people make a list of rules, judge others by those rules, they show up in a black and white striped shirt and a whistle – you’re religious. Sometimes division occurs when there’s confusion between what is a primary issue and a secondary issue.
Another reason for division is distrust. The larger a church gets numerically the more she’s going to have to trust one another.
Leadership has to trust their small group and ministry leaders. Leadership needs to train and trust that each small group and ministry are staying focused on Jesus. Leadership must trust they are encouraging people to lean on God and not on self, to hold people who are in sin accountable to God.
When anyone teaches a class in the church, the leadership must trust that the teacher has diligently prepared and prayed over their lesson. When a new person or a new couple bravely walks into the lobby and into this big scary room, I have to trust that they will be loved on, talked to, sat with – by you.
In any type of church, if we don’t have trust, then we don’t have unity.
Visible sin, subtle sin, heresy, legalism and distrust are places where unity won’t be found.
Unity in the church (and anywhere else) is something that is gained slowly, and lost quickly.
So what is unity?
If we don’t have a working definition of unity, then we can’t work towards it as a church.
I’ve learned to define unity in the church 4 ways –
This means we agree on the things of God that matter.
There are things that Christians (especially Christian leaders) will have to fundamentally agree on, go to battle for, not let go of, ever.
We fight for the Bible as God’s Word. We fight for the two sacraments of baptism and communion. We fight for the God Who is Three in One. We believe Jesus is God, born to a virgin, lived with no sin, died on a cross, that He rose from death, is alive today, is coming back soon and is the only way to salvation. He’s good, we’re bad, hell is hot, forever is a long time, and you should have a good sense of humor (not an exhaustive list).
These are the things that we’re going to fight for. These are very important to have unity on.
And then there are things we won’t fight over or for.
Any conversation about the rapture, how old the earth is, home-schooling vs. public schooling, Democrat vs. Republican, speaking in tongues, women in leadership, etc.
We’re not going to fight over some things.
The earth didn’t come with a birth certificate so I don’t worry about how old the earth is. We can argue about it, that would be a cute waste of time. I would rather hold fast to things that matter.
We’re not supposed to fight for everything. Our identity is in Christ not in winning arguments that the Bible isn’t concerned with.
Secondly, as a church we must have,
This typically comes down to style and what are the best methods for each local church to reach the culture they are providentially placed in.
At a previous church I was grateful to serve in, I had a couple new to the church meet me in my office and inform me that they would join the church on the condition that their kids would be able play their hand choir bells before service. Every week. I told them that wasn’t our church’s philosophy, that we want people to join the church – not to uplift their kids but – to uplift Jesus.
And they left. Not just my office, but the church.
A church’s philosophy when it comes to singing could be contemporary it’s not hardcore, it’s instrumental, there are hymns sometimes. Sometimes it’s too loud, sometimes they go acoustic.
Sometimes a church’s philosophy when it comes to the next generation is to keep them out of sight, out of mind, in their own section of the church building, stating, they’re the church of tomorrow. Or, a church’s philosophy could be to let God work through children right now; letting them be the church at their current age.
A church’s appearance could be come as you are. It could be dress fancy. It could be hosting online services where you worship in your underwear. If you want to wear a suit and tie or a dress to church, please do. And if you want to wear a t-shirt and jeans with flip-flops, please do. Just be sure your toenails are cut appropriately.
I believe diversity in the church is a great thing, but some people want to go to a church where everyone is Republican, married and dressed in robes. And there are churches like that. I’m not sure that’s the church Jesus is praying for in John 17.
A good philosophy I recommend is being serious about God and the Bible and the next generation and being relaxed about music and attire and political affiliation.
The church should hold onto big things like saving the lost, maturing the saved. She should host fast to arguing over little things, like, what people wear, what color the carpet is in the nursery, did Adam and Eve have belly buttons or not.
In the church, we need to find unity in one another. It’s there, we need to seek it out.
This means we are kind to one another, respectful, uplifting. We don’t tear each other down on a serious, condescending level. We might poke fun at ourselves and our sensitive to how our comments about others come across.
We’re family, so we acknowledge each other when we walk into the room and we love and reach out when needed. We reply to texts/voicemails/emails promptly and prayerfully.
We forgive one another, and, by one another I don’t just mean the people active in a church, but we also forgive those who have left a church with a sour taste in their mouths. We also seek out if there’s anything we can humbly apologize for.
At every core of families, companies, sports teams, and churches, they all only care about one thing. They all focus on one particular thing. Their one thing is something they’re passionate about. Something they can’t stop thinking of.
What is your one thing going to be?
Is your one thing in life making money? Is it appeasing customers? Is it winning? Is it raising godly kids? Is it obsessed with being in shape? Each person and leadership has their one thing.
Hopefully each church’s one thing is to be Jesus. That’s it. At the end of the day, the reason why your local church exists is because they should want people to fall in love with Jesus, grow to be like Jesus, worship Jesus, follow Jesus, trust Jesus, talk about Jesus, die for Jesus, and live with Jesus forever. That’s what Christians must be all about. Jesus!
We need to find unity in this, because the rest of what happens in church leadership is secondary. Not unimportant, but secondary. If we lose sight of loving Jesus and loving others as our mission, there will be division. If we’re going to work towards unity, we have to work on all those fronts – Theologically, Philosophically, Relationally, and Missionally. And if we are united on these things, then our family, this thing we call church, it will be a God-honoring, life-changing, kingdom-building, very exciting experience.
To repeat, unity is gained slowly and it is lost quickly. If it’s something Jesus prayed for each Christian and each church leadership to have, then prayer and conversations and focus on unity should be continual.
It might be a good idea to ask gentle, inquiring questions of how your local church grooms new eldership, hires ministry staff, vets out and trains volunteer leaders and how they handle conflict in their meetings. If forgotten about, quickly or haphazardly done, it’ll damage unity.
Feel free to reach out to your church leadership to make sure they are unified on these four areas and, at the same time, pray for unity for them as Jesus does.
Thanks for reading. You are loved.