Every church I have served over the past 40 plus years have all sought unity. No matter the size of the congregation or the region of the country they were in, unity was something they all lacked and looked for. We talked about it all of the time. We tried a multitude of programs and methods to gain unity.
We hosted “fellowship” activities such as dinners, lectures, small groups, Bible studies, parties, game nights and movie nights. Invariable people from different parts of the church attended and sat with and fellowshipped with the people they already knew. Unity remained an elusive commodity. Is it an attainable thing? Probably. It depends on your definition of unity. For many, unity may mean uniformity, or comfort, or being familiar with the faces of the people who attend worship services.
Several years ago a church I served experienced growth in the worship service. In an effort to make room for more people in worship we proposed expanding to another worship service. There was, of course, push back from those presently attending. Their needs were being met and they didn’t really care about the people who did not yet attend the church. Generally speaking, people don’t care for change and church people especially don’t like change. Our worlds are changing around us and we are looking for something stable in our lives. And we believe our church should provide that stability.
One particular conversation I had with a seasoned church member sticks in my mind. She approached me in the hallway at church on Sunday morning. (As he or she is concentrating on delivering the morning message, Sunday morning is prime time to have a meaningful conversation with the pastor.) Her complaint about having two worship services was that we wouldn’t know everyone and we would develop into two separate churches. My first response was that we already didn’t know everyone. I challenged her to allow me to choose three families who attended worship seven out of eight Sundays, and ask her to tell me each family member’s name; where the parents work; what grades the children were in school and what was their greatest challenge they faced over the past year. She wasn’t willing to take me up on my challenge. But at the next Board meeting, during a discussion, she leaned over and asked me who it was who had just spoken. The man she didn’t know had been deeply involved in the church for several years and sat each Sunday within 20 feet of her. Point made. Recognizing a face is not the same as knowing someone.
Unity in the church is not about knowing everyone or having the same opinions on most subjects or voting for the same candidates or being the same race. Unity is about something very different and much more important. It is about unity of purpose. Too often churches try to rally around a political agenda that we try to make into a moral issue. We try to sell the idea that it doesn’t matter what one believes, everyone can be a part of this church. Of course, what one believes is of greatest importance. What I believe is what motivates me; what moves me. I do what I do because of what I believe. And what you believe motivates you and moves you. If we have very different beliefs, are moving in very different directions and are attempting to do very different things, we are not unified.
As a church and as individuals our theology is foundational to our purpose; it motivates what we do. We do much talking in our mainline denominations about our loss of membership and attendance and beat ourselves up because we must be doing something wrong. If we were doing things right, people would flood into our churches. We don’t stop for a moment to think about the profound effect our theology has on our growth, or lack thereof. When we slowly drifted into what I call “The Theology of Nice” we pulled the teeth of evangelism. In the name of nice we declared that it doesn’t matter what you believe, just so you are sincere. It would be mean and narrow minded to believe anything else. And the two worst sins have become meanness and narrow-mindedness. As one of our seminary professors said several years ago, “We aren’t nearly as good at evangelism since we canceled hell.” Duh, I wonder why our pastors and church members are no longer engaged in evangelism.
In The Pursuit of God, A. W. Tozer wrote, “Has it ever occurred to you that one hundred pianos all tuned to the same fork are automatically tuned to each other? They are of one accord by being tuned, not to each other, but to another standard to which each one must individually bow. So one hundred worshipers met together, each one looking away to Christ, are in heart nearer to each other than they could possibly be, were they to become 'unity' conscious and turn their eyes away from God to strive for closer fellowship.”
I propose we will never have true unity in the church until we are all seeking with all we have to follow Christ and to do all and be all He has called us to be and do.
Copyright © 2015, William T. McConnell, All Rights Reserved
Bill McConnell is Senior Minister at Lindenwood Christian Church in Memphis, Tennessee and is a Church Transformation consultant and a Christian Leadership Coach. He is a frequent speaker at Church Transformation events. His latest book on church transformation is DEVELOPING A SIGNIFICANT CHURCH and is available at Westbow Press. He can be contacted @ email@example.com. Connect with him on Facebook @ William T. McConnell or on Twitter @billmc45053 or visit his Amazon Author Page @ Amazon.