What does it look like to "be one"?
Having spent the last several years working with pastoral leaders, faith-based organizations and a smattering of other Christian leaders, I can tell you that the diversity of ideas that come from them are as varied as the people themselves. Some are passionate about prayer. Others are all about community engagement. There are those who are driven to work with the most desperately broken among us, and those who focus on ministry to leaders.
Unfortunately, it seems that there are plenty of issues that divide Christians. According to Christianity Today, “When it was published in 2001, the World Christian Encyclopedia counted 33,830 denominations worldwide; with the amount of debate and division over theology and orthodoxy since then, that number is undoubtedly higher.” [https://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/topics/d/denominations/]
This statement really causes me to take note of Jesus’ High Priestly Prayer in John 17: “Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one” (v 11b, ESV). Is it even remotely possible for the nearly 34,000 denominations to “be one”?
There is a movement underway to unite pastors and ministry leaders in prayer. New Mexico Prays aims to bring together people from all over our state. This organization says on its website, “Our call is to devote ourselves to unceasing prayer for our communities and our state. The Early Church was united in prayer, and a unified church is the most credible witness to the world that Jesus is Lord.”
Outside of prayer, are there activities that we might engage in to demonstrate unity? I wish the answer to this question were a simple “Yes.” However, as I’ve come to learn, even service projects can spark division. Some churches are unwilling to serve alongside others, and too many want to take the reins and lead rather than finding ways to plug in to support the others.
All those engaged in feeding programs, homeless initiatives, prison ministry, etc., bring their various approaches to caring for people in need. A prevailing attitude of “Our approach is better than yours” is far too common. There is no universal standard of care, and the ideas and motivations of each well-intentioned church have the potential to rub another church the wrong way.
So, how can we work toward unity in our very disconnected (yet hyper-connected) world? I suggest that we start by slowing down. In our culture of instant gratification, even though we can quickly plan and promote charitable events through social media, it may not be beneficial to the cause of unity or to the people we intend to serve. Fast action may be needed in the event of a crisis or disaster, but projects aimed at addressing long-standing problems would benefit from careful planning and analysis.
I would also submit that not everyone or every church needs to be on the front lines. Though it feels good to pass out the items or have measurable results from a food drive or other such program, the more entities engaged in distribution, the greater the need for researchers, planners, and follow-up connectors―all jobs that are difficult to fill.
I’ve often said that we are collectively called to be the Body of Christ, but not everyone gets to be the right arm. There will be a select few called to be the highly visible players. However, there are far more body parts that are hidden and yet crucial to a healthy, functioning whole. Just as the natural body with a malfunctioning pancreas or thyroid gets sick, so the Body of Christ functions poorly when the less glamorous roles stay unfilled or are poorly staffed.
If your motivation in serving or giving is visibility, I would suggest devoting some serious time to seeking the answer to this question: “Do I have a personal need to be noticed, or has the Lord equipped and called me to serve in this way?” If it’s all about self-promotion and measurable results, you have your answer.
We don’t value support roles as we should. From Hollywood to the Church, we celebrate the title roles and give little or no thought to the hundreds or thousands working in the background to make the “star” shine. Have you ever tried to get a team to sign up for a post-event cleanup, working in the nursery, or interfacing with the homeless? There is hardly an overflow of volunteers.
There is great diversity in the people who populate the individual churches, and it’s obvious how diverse the Church’s denominations are. There will likely always be doctrinal disputes and denominational divisions, but should these differences be grounds for broken relationships or an unwillingness to serve together? The more that people outside the Church see our dysfunction, the less likely they will be to walk into any of our doors.
Is greater unity among Christians possible? Absolutely! It starts with a recognition that God, in His infinite wisdom, has created each of us to fill a specific role to serve as part of the whole. When we are able to identify that role and live it out for His glory and our good, we will be unstoppable!
I encourage you to take a personal inventory, as well as conducting a congregational assessment, to determine your real strengths. You and your church may not be the ones to lead a new feeding ministry or clothing closet, but you may be the critical support needed to ensure that another’s program is successful.
In the end, only God should be getting the glory. It’s His name on the line and His resources we’ve been asked to steward. So, if you’ve been called to be the left big toe or the kidney, do it with joy and gusto! There is much to be gained as we find ways to walk in unity in this deeply divided culture.