Several years ago I was invited to a meeting of a church’s women leaders dealing with division caused by a minister’s wife who didn’t embrace their plans and started her own group. Their purpose for gathering was to determine where to go from there.
It’s not an unusual scenario—someone doesn’t like a decision made by leadership and decides to do as he pleases, taking along those who like and agree with him. New classes, churches, and ministries often result from such differences. Think of Paul and Barnabas disagreeing about Mark (Acts 15:36-41).
Does unity really matter? God says that it is essential for the gospel to flourish.
After all Jesus prayed for his followers “that they all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. . . . that they may be one even as we are one. I in them, and you in me, that they may become perfectly one so that the world may know the you sent me and love them even as you loved me” (John 17:21-23).
Does unity mean we must all agree?
Certainly not, but we can come to agreement as to how to move forward as one.
Hopefully that happened with Paul and Barnabas. (Don’t you just hate it when the story doesn’t give those details?) Although they couldn’t agree about Mark, perhaps they agreed to separate after much prayer and with love for one another, ending up with two mission teams rather than one, preserving unity despite disagreement.
So how do we strive for unity when we have different perspectives in our churches and our marriages—places where oneness is a priority for God’s kingdom work?
Paul’s words are pertinent: “I . . . urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:1-3).
If humility, gentleness, patience, and love are needed, it sounds like we need to begin with prayer for our own hearts, that the Spirit would bear fruit through us (Gal. 6:22-23).
If I really accept that I may be wrong because I have my own biases (humility), I will try to understand other perspectives. That means listening well and long. In the end I may still disagree and not win the final decision, but gentleness, humility, patience, and love won’t respond in anger, bullying, mocking, judging, or belittling others.
We’ve had way too much of the anger, bullying, mocking, and belittling in the political arena lately to prove to us that it only tears people further apart. It isn’t God’s way, and it can’t be ours either. God’s people have a bigger concern and a bigger purpose that isn’t furthered by acting like children—the gospel.
If I’m honest with myself, I know that I have a long way to go. I can’t always understand how others can see a church, neighborhood, or political issue differently. But I’ve been working at it. I’ve been searching for understanding with friends and through posts. Really listening has helped me grasp why people think differently about issues. I may not be swayed by their logic, but I’m always humbled by how little I really know about what it’s like to be someone else.
What was the answer for the women leaders at the meeting? To strive for peace and unity with the other group. To be one and not harbor anger or hurt against the others. To find a way to move forward as one.