Over the past few decades, it seems the Church has been been more and more aware of the need for the biblical principle of unity. Youthwork can often be seen to lead the way in this, with ecumenical youth projects, and inter-denominational gatherings for young people now common place. However, we’d be foolish to think this is solely what unity in the Church looks like.
I once was in a gathering of youth workers where we were talking about unity and working together and what that meant for schools work. As a part of this I asked the question ‘how does this work in practice?’ ‘Do we advertise our own church groups when in school? – Do we point to other churches clubs? etc… One youth worker replied saying that he had recommended that a young person go to another church youth group as there were more young people their age and thought it might be a better fit for that young person. Straight away another youth worker was so shocked he immediately jumped in and said that this youth worker should be sacked and that his job should be to grow his youth not send them to another church.
I stood back for a moment shocked at the strength of the statement that this youth worker should be sacked for in my view having a bigger picture approach – a kingdom approach you could say. And yet the statement also in a tiny way reflected a part of my heart that wants my own ministry to succeed and grow before anyone else’s. Perhaps when it comes to unity the biggest problem is me.
Unity is a topic that we all know is a good thing, we know it’s biblical, but we all if we are honest like to have unity on our own terms or when it benefits us.
In Philippians 2 v 1-11 it says;
2 Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, 2 then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. 3 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, 4 not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. 5 In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:
In verse 2 Paul is basically appealing to us by saying if you’ve been in anyway encouraged by being in relationship with Jesus, any comfort from knowing his love at all. If you have known any closeness and compassion and mercy from Him. In other words – You all have had these things in abundance so come on please be like minded. The Greek here literally means “think the same thing.” Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit. Selfish ambition, self-seeking, and rivalry, which always lead to factions and division, must not rear its ugly head among you Paul is saying. The only way to counter things being done through selfish ambition or conceit is through cultivating “lowliness of mind” or humility. Your attitude – phroneo – In other words your think, feel, do should be the same as that of Christ Jesus.
So what are the blockages for us when it comes to unity? What things rise up in us and hinder us from true unity.
1. It takes longer to do it together
If I’m honest one of the main reasons I find unity hard is that it takes a lot longer to do it together. I just want it done now rather than having to deal with someone else and their churches processes and decision making. I get full of impatience and want things done my way. Our church runs a village fun day each June as an outreach to the village – Our church provide the majority of the set up and planning and delivery and so sometimes people say to me ‘can’t we just do it ourselves – we are virtually doing it all anyway!’ My simple response is “NO!’ We want the village to see that this is the churches working together demonstrating we are ‘One’ Church in the village – I’ll do all the work and they can get all the credit as long as the village know this is The Church reaching out to them.
2. They think and do things differently
I sometimes catch myself thinking ‘but we can’t work with them because they do things differently to us.’ The harsh truth is that this is simply Pride – What I am really saying is that I am better than them. Don’t get me wrong sometimes we need to not partner with people if it compromises our values but my experience is that we are quick to say No to partnership and Unity rather than to say an unreserved YES.
We often don’t do unity because we are harbouring unforgiveness towards others. They hurt or disappointed us before and so we won’t go there ag ain. It’s a good job Jesus doesn’t do that to me but I shamefully do think like this sometimes. This is not ok. We need to move through forgiveness to a pursuing relationship and unity again.
4. Writing others off
Sometimes as a result of previous experience we write others off. Maybe people didn’t turn up or didn’t pull their weight in terms of unity – maybe it’s someone in another church or maybe a volunteer in your team of helpers and so you have written them off – they won’t be involved again we think to ourselves. Paul had a similar experience with John Mark who he wrote off and later was reconciled too when he realised he was wrong. Who have we written off who God is asking us to show mercy to?
5. Low Priority
Maybe we don’t pursue unity because it’s not a high enough priority for us. At the end of the day it’s not on my job spec and so is an optional bolt on. Well it is Jesus priority – he cares passionately about our interpersonal relationships more than our activity I’m sure and so he wants us to demonstrate the unity of the trinity expressed in how we unite with one another. It is so important to Him that he chooses to pray for us before his arrest on this very topic.
6. Empire v Kingdom
In a world all about improving yourself, making your mark, being successful and even on social media promoting yourself it is so easy to be dragged into the worlds way of thinking on success in youth ministry. We make it about the numbers and comparison with nearby churches and projects instead of simply being faithful to what God has asked us to do. Jesus said when his disciples got wrapped up in this – ‘Not so with you’. A while ago a similar ministry to SWYM popped up not very far away from where we were based. My instant reaction was to feel competitive and want to work out how we kept people with us. I few days after I heard the news I was talking to someone who suggested that we were offering a far better product and I simply replied that I would be praying for God to use the other organization and grow it and bless it to make a kingdom impact. This person came back and said how holy I was to which I replied that No that was not true and in fact the truth was that I had to pray this every day to kill off competitiveness rising within me. It was actually partly self-preservation!
The truth you see is that we are called to be united but we often we settle for friendly – friendly isn’t united it’s keeping people happy. Unity means oneness! That means we are supposed to be pursuing opportunities for oneness and unity. Therefore we should also be resisting things that pull us away from one another. Resisting doing our own thing when we could do it together.
In conclusion let me ask you some questions;
- What is stopping/holding you back from throwing yourself at unity?
- Is there some Pride you need to repent of? Is there some jealousy you are holding on to?
- Is there some unforgiveness towards another or some resentment or distrust that you need to get rid of today?
- Who is God challenging you to work with more closely? Who is God calling you to unite with in your setting right now?
Paul as his main role heads up SWYM where he leads the team of 65 trainees plus staff as they seek to see every child and young person in the south-west encounter Jesus, get to know him and choose to live for more.