“United we stand; divided we fall.”
This has been the motto proclaimed throughout history, by many a president, orator, and songwriter – and it’s not hard to see why. But have you considered it yet in the context of your church? The concept of unity within our congregations can be a tricky one. Often, pastors – in a quest to stand strong in our beliefs – inadvertently actually cause division. It seems like every other month I am hearing of another fellowship with God-fearing, good people splitting apart.
Seeds of Discord
As leaders of the body of Christ, we are called to love each other above all. But the enemy seeks to divide us and plant seeds of discord in the body. And the worst part? It works. The squabbling usually starts small… the worship service should be shorter (no, longer!); the music should be quieter (no, louder!); the teachings should be more contemporary (no, more traditional); the coffee is too strong (no, too weak!) and even the donuts aren’t exempt (they should be gluten-free! – no, vegan! – no, regular!). Some of those are said in jest, but it is true that these seemingly minor cracks take root and cause a split that eventually can turn into an abyss that looks far too wide to bridge.
The Road of Endless Churches
Highway 701 from Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, to Whiteville, North Carolina, is 38 miles long. It’s the road from my hometown to my dad’s vacation home, and it’s a road we traveled every weekend growing up since our church was in the same town as the vacation home. On the drive, there are no less than 17 churches. Along a 38 mile stretch of road. Am I the only one who thinks that’s crazy? There are less than 60 people in each church, too!
So instead of these congregations uniting and joining forces, there’s division. There’s isolation. There are walls. It’s no different than what we see in the secular world. But, Jesus said we’d be known by our love for one another. So where is that love? Love and division cannot coexist. What’s more, you can love and control something at the same time. And when we find ourselves arguing rather than being unified, we’re no different than a country club or PTO or other private, exclusive group. We have to be different; we’re called to do better.
Seeking Oneness, Not Sameness
I think we as Christians, and pastors more specifically, get confused about this topic. We think that unity means that everyone in our church has to think the same, has to vote all red (or blue!), has to all like country music (or jazz)… and so on. So we feel threatened by the idea that we have to be robotic or all be the same, and we fight it. But oneness is not the same as sameness. We must remember we are called to oneness, not sameness. This means we must act as gears that work together, not carbon copies of one another.
Consider 1st Corinthians 12:12-13, which says this: “The human body has many parts, but the many parts make up one whole body. So it is with the body of Christ. Some of us are Jews, some are Gentiles, some are slaves, and some are free. But we have all been baptized into one body by one Spirit, and we all share the same Spirit.”
In my church, our members all have varied backgrounds, some Pentecostal, some Catholic, some Baptist… and that’s an awesome thing because we are different, but we are united by the same God. We respect these differences and have a genuine desire to understand where others are coming from, rather than feeling threatened that someone feels differently than we do.
Major on the Majors
So, how do we shift from discord to unity? Focus on the main tenets of our faith. As Christians, we are saved by grace alone through faith and led by the Holy Spirit who distributes to each of us different giftings to be used. We are called to be salt and light to this earth and to remember that we live in it as foreigners with our minds set on things eternal. Let’s keep our eyes on these truths and not get bogged down by things that deter us from them.
Also, let’s remember to teach about 1st Corinthians 13 after we share the message from 1st Corinthians 12 about the body of Christ. Many pastors skip this famous chapter since we hear (or share) it many times at weddings. But it’s a crucial part of unity. Try reading that chapter and replacing the word “love” with your own name. Are you, as the pastor of your church, representing love as the bible represents it? If not, what can you do to work on your heart in this area?
Making the Weak Strong
And finally, unity requires that you do away with the idea of superstars in your church (whether that role has previously been filled by you or someone else or multiple people). After all, 1st Corinthians 12:22 says, “Some parts of the body that seem weakest and least important are actually the most necessary.”
With this in mind, I make a point of accentuating the positives about everyone in my congregation. I go out of my way to publicly uplift the people in my church who may not feel particularly valuable, so they know they are necessary to the body of Christ. This promotes the idea of oneness and goes a long in uniting church members and keeping the focus where it should be: on God.
So let me ask you this… How are you doing in the realm of unity? Have you been showing immense love in your role as pastor, and making an effort to create oneness within your church? Or have the seeds of discord started to take root, with cracks beginning to make themselves known? Either way, it’s never too late to become more united and stand together. Stay tuned for the next article on this topic, where I’ll tackle the issue of unity from a grassroots perspective that comes when we aren’t in the pulpit.