Discerning Church Learning to discern the movement of God's Spirit

Church Unity

Most churches strive for church unity. This is not a bad goal. In fact, the early church was admonished to be of one mind. Paul seemed to continually press the churches in the first century toward unity. Paul wrote to the church at Ephesus:

(Ephesians 4:2–6 NIV) Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit — just as you were called to one hope when you were called — one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.

In recent years, churches have displaced the importance of unity in light of efficiency. The logic goes like this: If churches spend too much time trying to make sure everyone is on board, they will fail to be as effective as they should be. They will get bogged down in making sure that everyone is happy.

Many congregations have gravitated toward business literature that speaks in terms of “getting on or off the bus.” Leaders assume that those who are opposed to his or her ideas should “get off the bus” i.e. find another church. We spend more time casting our vision then seeking a unified direction.

Yet unity should be of high value to congregations. Certainly, we need to be careful to not acquiesce to the whims of complainers. Once a church has discerned God’s direction, it needs to move toward God’s mission without compromise. However, we often mistake God’s calling for our preferences. It has been my experience that when the Holy Spirit is involved, tremendous unity is a part of the mix. We spend less time trying to convince the naysayers when we have adequately discerned the movement of God’s Spirit.

In recent months, our congregation has made two major decisions. WE changed our worship times on Sunday morning; we hired an associate pastor. Such decisions have potential to produce discord. In fact, our congregation has experienced such infighting in past decisions. But this time, the congregation was able to emerge from each decision with considerable unity. It seems to me that the discernment process was a key factor. Sure, it took more time to arrive at each decision. We spent considerable time seeking God’s direction. But in the end, we have confidence in both decisions. We are sure that God’s Spirit was active in both matters.

Were there those in the congregation who disagreed with the outcome? Certainly. Not everyone concurred with the decisions. At the same time, over 90% of the congregation supported each decision. I would encourage church leaders to take the necessary time in decision-making. Before you encourage dissenters to “get off the bus,” make sure that you have adequately sought the Spirit of God. Struggling with church unity is normal. From the very beginning, churches have grappled with unity. In many Baptist congregations, we say “where two or more are gathered, there is disagreement.” Sadly, this is true and even celebrated in many congregations. May we be challenged to shift this mindset. May the Spirit of God bring our congregations into a unified vision. May we spend more time pursuing God’s mission, less time fighting with one another.