Dear Fellow Shepherds and Leaders of Christ’s Church,
I hope this finds you standing in the grace of God, and believing God for great things for our Coastal community in the days ahead. I have put a lot of time and prayer into the material you are about to read. It came out of a six week series I did in our church on Biblical unity. Actually it has come out of years of seeking God on this subject. I know you are busy especially at this time of year. But I urge you to give some prayerful consideration to the thoughts below. In all humility I strongly believe our response to these scriptures and principles will have great bearing on the health, maturity and impact of Christ’s church in the days to come in our region.
Having grown up in a sports driven family, I learned early on what it was to engage in bitter rivalries. We literally grew to hate the athletes and in general the schools that were in our league in East Tennessee – especially the high school closest to us. Rivalry starts with siblings as early as one’s first year of life, and especially in the world of sports can continue to be a big part of our consciousness throughout adulthood.
Unfortunately this attitude or spirit of rivalry has affected the church much more than most of us are aware. For as long as God has been seeking to form a people among whom He can dwell and reveal Himself through – – leaders and their core leaders have struggled with insecurity and ill feelings and attitudes towards others outside their immediate group – in a nutshell rivalry. Where leaders give in to this rivalry, God is grieved and His presence and power in our midst is diminished. Where leaders resist it, God’s kingdom thrives.
Moses was one of those leaders who resisted it. Joshua and some other young man tried to get him to restrain two men who were prophesying, but who were not (in their mind) a part of their group. Moses’ classic response was “Are you jealous for my sake? Would that all the Lord’s people were prophets, that the Lord would put His Spirit upon them!”–Numbers 11:26-29
The 12 disciples of Jesus almost got in a fist fight over which one of them was the greatest in Luke 9:46. Jesus used a child nearby to help adjust their thinking on greatness and deal with their rivalry. Then immediately after that (vs. 49) John informed Jesus of how they tried to stop some guy (who was not part of their group) casting out demons. Jesus’ classic response was “Do not hinder him; for he who is not against you is for you.”
Paul seeking to allay the believers’ concerns (in Phillipi) about his welfare, and perhaps the wide diversity of preachers out there, and the durability of the gospel work in light of that diversity told the Philippians, “What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed; and in this I rejoice.” Phil. 1:12-18
Because the unity of the church or body of Christ is something that the Father ordained, the Son died for, and the Holy Spirit is incessantly stirring up, we need to keep asking Him to search our hearts and sanctify our minds so that we can get in touch with and free from the things that are preventing this unity from taking root in us and flourishing through us. We need cleansing from this deep rooted rivalry that is in all of us. I submit the following self evaluation for that purpose.
I. Romans 12:5, 15 “so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.” “Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.”
Reminder: This letter was addressed to: “..all who are beloved of God in Rome.” Romans 1:7 That would therefore mean every believer in Rome.
Questions: When you think about the folks who gather at the Baptist church, or the Nazarene church, or in Charley Christian’s home church, do you think of them as having been supernaturally bonded and connected or joined to you in Christ? Do you see your self as a part of them and them as part of you? When you are excited about something you have seen God do in your life or in your ministry, do you ever wish you could tell them (folks in other fellowships) about it? When you hear about something great having happened to or through another fellowship or the leader (s) of another fellowship, can and do you rejoice with them? When you hear about something bad or grievous having happened to one of the members of another local fellowship or perhaps to that fellowship as a whole, do you feel like weeping with them? Or are you kind of glad that things are not going so well for them? When you do weep or rejoice when another fellowship/congregation weeps or rejoices, do you tell them so?
II. Romans 15:5-7 “Now may the God who gives perseverance and encouragement grant you to be of the same mind with one another according to Christ Jesus, so that with one accord you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, accept one another, just as Christ also accepted us to the glory of God.”
Questions: Is it possible to be of one mind with someone that you never even talk to or know anything about? If God has called the leaders of His church in this Coastal Region to “be of the same mind with one another” – setting an example before those whom we lead – and being a witness to the lost (see John 17:11,21,23) shouldn’t we be investing some time together to allow that to happen? If our ability to glorify God is dependent upon our willingness to be of the same mind and accord with the rest of His shepherds, what am I doing on a weekly (or daily) basis to see this come about?
Disclaimer: When we talk about unity we are not saying we can not have our distinctives and belong to our denominations. Nor are we saying that pastors have to go to every unity type event that someone plans. What our Lord is after is the attitudes and inner spirit that embraces the Holy Spirit’s work of unity in our hearts towards the people in our own congregation and towards all the true believers in our cities and in this Central Coast Region.
III. I Corinthians 1:10 “Now I exhort you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all agree and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be made complete in the same mind and in the same judgment.”
Reminder: This letter was addressed to: “..the church of God which is at Corinth, ….with all who in every place call on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ…” I Cor. 1:2 That therefore would include every believer in Corinth.
Questions: Do you lead your church/ministry in such a way that everyone knows what the major doctrines are that all born again believers should and usually do agree on; and what the minor doctrines are that equally committed Christians differ on? Is there any spiritual pride or contentiousness in your spirit that could cause division in the body of Christ in your congregation or among the church in your city? Do you ever make comments in private or from the pulpit that could cause your congregants to think ill of other believers outside your congregation, and to think too highly of those who belong to your fellowship? Are you living in moment by moment obedience to the Lord Jesus Christ regarding your attitudes towards others in the body of Christ? Have you come to terms with how your commitment to unity is intimately connected with your growth in maturity (“complete”) from this passage? Do you see from this passage that we are not only to absolutely resist taking part in any division; but we are also to pursue completeness through unity (“same mind & same judgment”)?
Are your inner thoughts towards the believers in other congregations or fellowships in your city such that would stimulate and foster unity instead of division? (By the way division is merely the lack of being of the same mind. It is not always a big split with two distinct sides warring against each other).
IV. I Corinthians 12:12-27 “For even as the body is one and yet has many members, and all the members of the body, though they are many, are one body, so also is Christ. For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit. For the body is not one member, but many. If the foot says, “Because I am not a hand, I am not a part of the body, it is not for this reason any the less a part of the body. … And the eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you…..”
Questions: Do you ever remind those you minister to and are responsible for that every born again believer in our coastal region – no matter what their ethnicity, religious heritage, economic status, form of worship and philosophy of ministry were baptized by the same Holy Spirit into His body and that we all drink of that same Spirit day by day for our very spiritual sustenance?
When is the last time you encouraged a leader of Christ’s church outside of your sphere of influence who felt that he was not cutting the mustard and felt that he was a failure (because of lack of numbers usually) in their ministry? When is the last time you were used of God to help him or her see that just because they are not “a hand” or perhaps not a leader over hundreds or thousands of people, that they still have a crucial role to play in God’s kingdom in this region?
Would the way you relate to other leaders of Christ’s church in our region clearly prove that you believe you need relationship with the other leaders/shepherds; or does your use of time and energy throughout the week seem to indicate that you believe you “have no need of” others??
Do you have a healthy trust in the sovereignty of God (vs. 18) as to where He chooses to place the members of His body?
Implications from these passages and others re: God’s call to unity
1. We the leaders of Christ’s church in our cities must get in touch with the divisive attitudes in our hearts (e.g. jealousy, covetousness, insecurity, spiritual pride, etc.) and allow the Holy Spirit to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
2. We must train the members of our congregations to esteem the members of other congregations as “better than ourselves.” Phil. 2:3
3. We must train the members of our congregations to never encourage a believer in another Christ honoring fellowship to leave theirs for ours.
4. Those of smaller congregations need to guard against jealousy and resentment of larger ones; and those of larger ones need to guard against spiritual pride and arrogance towards the smaller ones.
5. We all need to increase our prayer for and with one another. For “it is only families that pray together that stick together.”
6. Church leaders and their wives need to help each other with the daily battles of unbelief, fear, spiritual pride, insecurity, resentment, fleshly comparison, etc. Pastors need to help their wives better appreciate the wider body of Christ.
May the Holy Spirit cleanse us from any and every attitude or spirit that has caused rivalry between us. And may the fruit of that cleansing be a great harvest in our region for His glory and name’s sake.
Yours in Christ,