By Joe McKeever
“(I ask) that they may all be one, even as Thou, Father, art in me, and I in Thee, that they also may be in us, that the world may believe that Thou didst send me” (John 17:21).
No one wants your church to be unified more than the Lord.
In fact, almost everything depends on unity.
On April 14, 2012, Pastor Charles McLain stood before his congregation, ready to lead his first monthly business session.
Before they got underway with reports and motions and votes, however, he had something to say which they needed to hear. His little speech would affect the course of that church for years to come.
He wanted them to know how their business meetings were going to be conducted.
What follows is his written message just as he gave it (which he gave me, alongwith permission to share)….
“Since this is my first business meeting as your pastor, I wanted to share my heart and my sincere beliefs about the importance of maintaining unity in the body.
“It has been my too frequent experience to leave a church business meeting sick at heart and wondering to myself, ‘What just happened?’
“All of us here could probably recite incidents of relationships being destroyed, members being lost, and sometimes irreparable damage being done to the witness and testimony of individuals or the church.
“When being right or getting one’s way takes precedent over relationships and maintaining unity we are on the slipper slope towards hurt, harm, and disunity. If not dealt with properly, disunity will create an environment of distrust and suspicion. And make no mistake. Festering conflict and disunity are sin.
“Jesus said some strong things about forgiveness, bearing with one another, and being kind to one another.
“When a pastor, staff, or congregation refuses to heed His words, we can hardly expect God to bless us with spiritual power and fruit.
“Does this mean we must always agree? No. But it does mean that we can do so without rancor and an ugly spirit or attitude. Genuine and biblical unity is found in the midst of real and passionate differences that we set aside in the recognition that the differences we have are nowhere as important as the Savior we serve.
“Knowing the damage that comes from disunity is perhaps why Jesus prayed for unity among His followers. That’s why maintaining unity is so important. It not only impacts organizational health; it impacts spiritual health and power.
“I cannot speak for you. But I will, as your pastor, do all that I can (to) promote and protect the harmony and unity of our beloved church.”
Then, Pastor Charles added to his written remarks. He told the congregation, “The moment a discussion gets out of hand and people begin misbehaving, we are shutting the business meeting down on the spot. I want you all to be clear about this. The meeting adjourns the moment we quit speaking in love.”
He added, “I know about Roberts’ Rules of Order. But I’m telling you up front this is what we are going to do.”
I asked how things have gone in the two years he has led this church. “We’ve not had a single instance of someone misbehaving,” he smiled.
This is one wise pastor. (Note: Pastor Charles McLain did not get that way overnight, nor was he born wise. He has pastored several churches and served in denominational positions. He came to New Orleans after Katrina to help us. Charles has earned his stripes and arrived at his understandings as a result of much experience.)
A wise pastor…
–places a great value on unity.
–takes a strong, loving stand for unity early in his ministry at a church.
–appeals to the better natures of his people, based on their love for the Lord Jesus Christ and out of obedience to Him.
A few texts come to mind here….
Ephesians 4:3 “Being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” (Note that it’s a unity of the Spirit. It’s a Holy Spirit thing. The Lord intends leaders of His church to be protectors of that unity.)
Ephesians 5:21 “Be subject to one another in the fear of Christ.” (There is to be no lording it over other members, not by the pastor or anyone else. See I Peter 5:3.)
I Corinthians 6:7 “Actually, then, it is already a defeat for you, that you have lawsuits with one another. Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be defrauded?” (I love these two questions perhaps above any other teaching on unity in Scripture. We should treasure the unity of the congregation far more than exercising our rights! Better to suffer wrong than to tear up the fellowship over it.)
The entire 4th chapter of Ephesians speaks of the unity of the Body. See verse 16 in particular.
John 17:21 (the text at the top of this article) Jesus prays that “they all may be one” in order that “the world may believe.” We must not miss this! Disunity undermines our attempts at spreading the gospel. If we expect people to believe on Christ, we must love one another.
Leaders of the Lord’s church should….
–keep the prize of unity before the congregation at all times.
–applaud God’s people when they are getting it right.
–find ways to promote unity
–pull aside a few key leaders to take action when the train begins to jump the tracks.
–always be on the alert for threats to the unity and deal with them immediately.
My friend Dr. Charles McLain* has done a wise thing in announcing to his people from the get-go that unChristian behavior will not be tolerated in church functions. His people want to do the right thing–just as yours do–but congregations need to be dealt with in a loving, firm manner, “as a father does his child.”
Paul said to the church at Thessalonica, “You know how we were exhorting and encouraging and imploring each of you as a father would his own children” (I Thessalonians 2:11).
Don’t pull rank on them, pastor. Be kind, but firm. Always keep before the congregation the love for the name of Christ, the need for obedience to His command, and the importance of unity within the body.
If you insist on unity from the very first, you will get it.
(*Charles McLain is the pastor of the First Baptist Church of Festus-Crystal City, Missouri.)
Joe McKeever is retired missions director for the New Orleans Baptist Association. Before that Mr. McKeever pastored churches in Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and North Carolina.