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by Tom Goodman
July 23, 2010

Abigail and Brittany Hensel live a unique life, to say the least.  They illustrate why unity is so important in a congregation.

The Hensels are, to use the medical term, "conjoined twins."  They were born with their bodies joined together.  They have separate necks and heads, separate hearts, stomachs and spinal cords; but they share the same bloodstream and the same vital organs below the waist.  Externally, they have one body below the neck:  There is a right arm and right leg and a left arm and a left leg.  Abigail controls the right side of the body and Brittany controls the left.

The survival rate for conjoined twins is rare.  But for the last nine years, Abigail and Brittany have not only survived but thrived.  They learned to walk at fifteen months, one controlling the left leg, the other controlling the right leg.  As they grew older, they learned to tie their shoes, one controlling the right arm, the other controlling the left arm.  They have even learned to swim, pumping their arms and kicking their legs as if one personality were controlling the motions.  In 2006 at 16, they both successfully passed their driver's license exam:  Abby controls the pedals, radio, heat, defogger, and other devices located to the right of the driver's seat, while Brittany controls the turn signal and lights, and together they control the steering wheel.  They are now in college at Bethel University in St. Paul, Minnesota.

Each girl has her own personality:  One is better at math than the other, one is more prone to colds and coughs than the other.  Each girl has her own set of sensations:  They can get hungry at different times and sleepy at different times.  Tickle Abigail on her side of their body, and Brittany can't feel it.

They have separate opinions, separate preferences, and separate dreams.  But in order to live and live well, these two persons have to operate as if they are one person.

Brittany and Abigail Hensel can teach us a lot about unity.  We all know the definition of a team: T-E-A-M, "Together Everyone Achieves More."  But the key word in that definition is together.  And we have all experienced times when some group we were in failed because the group failed to act together.  That's true no matter what our group happens to be: a family, a sports club, a civic organization, a business, or a church.

Paul had a church group in mind when he wrote about unity in tonight's text.  In his letter to his beloved Philippian friends, he stressed how important it was that they act as one body in order to live and live well:

Your life in Christ makes you strong, and his love comforts you.  You have fellowship with the Spirit, and you have kindness and compassion for one another.  I urge you, then, to make me completely happy by having the same thoughts, sharing the same love, and being one in soul and mind.  Don't do anything from selfish ambition or from a cheap desire to boast, but be humble toward one another, always considering others better than yourselves.  And look out for one another's interests, not just for your own. (TEV)

Part of our job as church leaders is to ensure unity.  What specific actions should we lead our people to perform to main?  I recommend five actions, built around the five letters of the word "UNIFY."  U-N-I-F-Y.

First action:  Understand your group's mission.  A few years ago Agnes Matlock sued the city of New Hyde Park, New York.  I'd say she had good reason to do so:  After Ms. Matlock reported a fire at her house, two fire departments argued over which one had jurisdiction to put out the blaze.  And while they argued, Ms. Matlock's house burned to the ground.

Now, even if we aren't professional firemen, we know what firemen ought to be doing.

The first way to protect a group's unity is to make sure everyone understands your mission.  The mission needs to be taught to all, understood by all, repeated often, and those who join the group should do so only if they understand and agree with the mission.  Group unity cannot even exist in the first place unless there is a purpose that brings the group together.  (Here is a detailed study of our church's mission, organized in an 8-day devotional format.)

Second action:  Negotiate toward agreement.  James 3:17 says that people who are influenced by heaven's wisdom are "first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere."  First pure, then peace-loving.  Wise is the person who can tell the difference between things that require a stand for purity, and those many, many things that require a negotiation for peace.

Someone has defined unity as the "inner desire to conduct oneself in a cooperative manner."  That's what negotiation is all about:  interacting with each other until agreement is reached.

Third action:  Intercede in prayer.  You should be in prayer that God will guide you and the group to make the right decision.  You should pray that God will protect the group from any division as you pursue his will.

Fourth action:  Fellowship around things you have in common.  Don't let your differences become the focal point of your relationship with each other.  Make sure that you are scheduling fellowship opportunities that remind you of all you have in common.

Finally:  Yield to the decision of the group and yield to the providence of God.  Have you ever met someone who just can't give up an issue even when the church has clearly decided not to do it that person's way?  They become resentful, they may even try to sabotage the route the church decides to take (at least they'll refuse to pitch in and try to make it work, and they'll uphold to ridicule any stumbling as the church tries to implement the plan).  That certainly doesn't lead to church unity.  When we've stated our case and the church as a group decides on another direction other than the one we've advocated, for the sake of unity we need to yield to the decision of the group.

Let's learn from Abigail and Brittany Hensel.  As leaders, let's work hard to U-N-I-F-Y those we lead.


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