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Making an Impact: Our Unity
by Tom Goodman
August 21, 2008

With this edition of LeaderLines we'll wrap up our 4-week series called "Making an Impact."  We've been looking at the actions and attitudes that can make a powerful impact on the people around you.  We began by looking at the impact of your passion.  The next week we looked at the impact your prayer life can make on the lives of your lost friends and relatives.  Last week we looked at the impact of your generosity.

This week let's look at the impact of our unity.  Christians are like snowflakes:  Individually we're nothing, but together we can stop traffic.  (It's amazing what a bunch of flakes can do when we stick together!)

In John 17:23, Jesus prayed, "May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me."

When we are one, the world is won.

Now, what did Jesus have in mind when he prayed for oneness to develop between his followers?  First, let's be clear on what unity is not.

  • Unity is not the simple act of assembling together.  Billiard balls racked up on a pool table are assembled together, but they are not united.  One smack from the cue ball, and they scatter across the table.  The simple habit of assembling together in a church does not automatically ensure unity.  Oneness involves more than that.
  • Unity is not uniformity.  In our church we have unity, but not much uniformity in terms of educational background or income level.
  • Unity is not the mere absence of conflict.  The absence of conflict may signal apathy and complacency.
  • Unity is not unanimity.  Real unity is evident when 80% voted for blue carpet, but the 20% who voted for green carpet rally behind the final decision.  (For the life of me, I can't ever imagine a church wasting its time voting on something like carpet color, but you get the picture.  You can have unity without demanding unanimity.)
  • Unity is not weak-kneed acquiescence to opposition.  When some churches discuss a proposal, if there is any resistance to it at all, no matter how small the group, the proposal gets dropped.  Let's make sure we understand that the pursuit of unity is a very different thing than simply giving in to people resistant to change.
  • Unity is not strong-armed stifling of opposition.  Unity can never be achieved simply by cutting certain people out of the decision-making process.  Sometimes we can do that unconsciously.  In one church I served where a proposal was being discussed, a woman said, "Pastor, the church is just not in favor of this."  I was mystified, because most were enthused about the idea or at least open to it.  I finally realized that when she said "the church," what she meant was, "the people I spend time with."  With that mindset, she could sincerely say that "the church" was not in favor of the proposal, but her mindset was the problem.  Let's make sure we don't make her mistake.
  • Unity is not reducing every competing conviction to the lowest common denominator.  As liberalism began to take hold of some mainline denominations, and leaders no longer believed in things like the divinity of Christ or the necessity of a personal commitment to Christ for salvation, leaders began to say, in effect, "Not everyone holds the same conviction about these things.  For the sake of unity, we need a statement of beliefs we can all adhere to."  But uniting simply so we can say we're united was not what Jesus prayed for in John 17.

Now that we have a clearer picture of what unity is not, let's define what unity is.  Unity is what happens when a group is committed to a specific belief and a specific course of action.

When Jesus prayed for unity among his people, he was praying that we would always keep our mind on what needed to be accomplished and pursue it together.  In Acts, the first church was often described as being "of one accord."  That phrase shows up 10 times, and it means "of one mind and purpose."

Now, they sometimes had to struggle to reach that spot.  Acts 15 is one place in particular where you see strong disagreement and bitterness in the church as they struggled with what to do with new Christians from non-Jewish backgrounds.  But as they worked through it, they arrived at a solution that left them "of one accord."  That means they were thinking as people of one mind, they were moving as people headed toward one purpose.

But the fact that unity in Acts was something that sometimes had to be arrived at leads me to ask, "How is unity achieved?"

Jesus prayed, "May they be brought to complete unity."  Note that word, "brought."  Obviously that speaks of a process of growth.  Let's look at some things that will foster unity:

First, discipline yourself to make regular contacts with others.  Unity requires that we make deliberate, planned, systematic efforts to develop our relationships with other people.

Second, seek first to understand, then to be understood.  Make it a priority to truly hear others' opinions and not just expressing yours.

Third, write your opinions of others in sand, not in marble.  Stay flexible in your judgment of someone's motives or character.

Fourth, discern the ways God is at work in others.  When we look at each other with a sense of expectancy, wondering what God is doing in and through each person, a congregation becomes an exciting place to be!

These are some ways we can let the prayer of Christ for unity be answered in us.  And when we are one, the world is won.  I close with this beautiful story from a pastor in the Dallas, Texas area:

I have a son who was born without a left hand.  One day in Sunday school the teacher was talking with the children about the church.  To illustrate her point she folded her hands together and said, 'Here's the church, here's the steeple; open the doors and see all the people.'  She asked the class to do it along with her -- obviously not thinking about my son's inability to pull this exercise off.  Yet in the next moment it dawned on her that my son could not join in.  Before she could do anything about it, the little boy next to my son, a friend of his from the time they were babies, reached out his left hand and said, 'Let's do it together.'  The two boys proceeded to join their hands together to make the church and the steeple.   (The Connecting Church, p. 242.)

What a beautiful image of how people have to work together to make a church work!  As a leader, you can make a tremendous impact by fostering this kind of unity among the people you serve and influence!


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