May They Be Brought To Complete Unity
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By Cory Swinderman
It was the night before Jesus went to the cross to die for our sins. He spent those last few hours praying for himself, for his disciples, and for us. In the section of his prayer directed towards us, he prayed: “May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me” (John 17:23b). If Jesus took the time to pray for the Church’s unity, then he must have known that there would be times when that unity would be tested.
Before I arrived in Chrisman, I was a children’s pastor in a much larger city with many churches. Unfortunately, in the four years that I pastored there, I observed limited unity or cooperation between those churches. In place of their unity, there was a territorial spirit of competition.
One day my Lead Pastor came into my office to share his frustration about these things. He said, “I feel like our churches are like mice fighting over an elephant.” He was right. We stood before the spiritual and physical needs of our city as big as an elephant, and we were selfishly fighting small battles of territory like starving mice. We were trying to create the most attractive church experiences to draw the largest crowds, but mostly we were just shuffling church people from church to church as they searched for the newest and best in town.
With this experience in my background, I am amazed at what God continues to be up to in Chrisman. It is a true blessing to sit with Pastor Ken, Pastor Patricia, Pastor Troy, Pastor Randy, and Pastor Josh each month to talk about and pray for our towns. Egos are left outside. Competition does not have a place. Our churches share different addresses, but also share the same purpose: that we might be brought “to complete unity to let the world know that (God) sent (Jesus) and (God) ha(s) loved them even as (God) loves (Jesus).”
About a year ago, an anonymous letter was placed in the door at our church. It’s writer shared concerns over Chrisman having four different churches. In this person’s mind, it would be far better if all of our churches combined to form one church. That would certainly be a picture of what Jesus prayed for, “may they be brought to complete unity,” but I don’t think that that would be best for Chrisman.
Parents who have four children are blessed. They do not secretly wish that they would suddenly have only one child – that would be tragic. These parents have the ability to watch their children grow, mature, develop, and make the world around them a better place. And it goes without saying, that raising a family is a much greater blessing if those children grow up with real unity that does not allow jealousy, unhealthy competition, and schism at the family table.
Four children serving their world bless the world four times as much.
When Chrisman has four united churches, it is like having four sets of eyes, four sets of hands, and four distinct visions to serve the needs that exist in our town.
There is a good chance that one Chrisman church would be unable to sustain the passion needed to serve our community the way four has done. If not for the hearts of one church, the beauty and compassion of the Philathea House would not have taken root along Route 1. If not for the vision and sacrifice of another church, the Chrisman Food Pantry would not have gotten off the ground, let alone served others as long as it has. (And perhaps the greatest testimony to unity in Chrisman, is the number of people from other churches who have sought to give to and volunteer at these ministries over the years.)
We are witnesses to God’s power at work through the of unity in the churches here in Chrisman. Jesus took time to pray for unity. But remember, unity is not automatic. We must remember that, if Jesus took time to pray for unity, unity will always be Satan’s bullseye upon the Church. Division will immediately weaken our witness and God’s work in and among us.
Here are some things that help me, personally, fight for unity among our churches:
1) Be thankful. If one church is growing, and it worships at a different address than mine, I’ve asked God to make my default emotion thankfulness. We are not in competition. When one church grows, the Church (the Body of Christ) grows, and I am a part of the same Church. Satan would love to poison good news and make it bad news in my spirit, and this is not bad news.
2) Be focused. We are not small mice fighting for an elephant’s tail. We are on the same team, and the needs of our communities are too large. Therefore, if a church does something that surprises you to reach the needs of your community (like start a second Bible School perhaps – you know, just using a random, non-specific example), think of the elephant of need that is being served. For me, this includes asking God to help me default to thinking the best of others intentions, especially when they are serving in my community as my brother or sister in Christ. This allows no room for suspicion or gossip, which will immediately hurt unity.
3) Be encouraged. There are no accidental churches in Chrisman or Scottland. Every single church has been placed at their address for a God-given purpose. We are each important and essential. He’s not done with any of us.
Our communities need each church’s set of eyes, set of hands, and willingness to serve for the purpose God has entrusted us with.
“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” (Ephesians 4:2-4).