It’s our job to protect the unity of the church. God deeply desires that we experience oneness & harmony with each other. How are we to do this?
-Focus on what we have in common, not our differences. As believers, we share one Lord, one body, one purpose, one Father, one Spirit, one hope, one faith, one baptism, and one love. -Romans 10:12. We share the same salvation, the same life & the same future—more important than any differences we could list.
We must remember God chose to give us different personalities, backgrounds, races, & preferences, so we should value & enjoy these differences, not merely tolerate them. We must stay focused on learning to love each other as Christ has loved us. Paul says, “Let there be real harmony so there won’t be divisions in the church. I plead with you to be of one mind, united in thought & purpose”.
-Be realistic in your expectations. Other believers will disappoint us & let us down, but that’s not an excuse to stop fellowship with them. They are our family even when they don’t act like it, & we can’t just walk out on them. We also must passionately love the church in spite of its imperfections. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German pastor who was martyred for resisting the Nazis, wrote Life Together, on fellowship. He suggests that disillusionment with our local church is a good thing because it destroys our false expectations of perfection—we admit then we all are imperfect & need grace, which is the beginning of real community. He adds “if we do not give thanks daily for the Christian fellowship in which we have been placed, even where there is no great experience, no discoverable riches, but much weakness, small faith & difficulty; if on the contrary, we keep complaining that everything is paltry & petty, then we hinder God from letting our fellowship grow”.
-Choose to encourage rather than criticize. When we criticize what another believer is doing in faith & from sincere conviction, we are interfering with God’s business. Paul adds we must not stand in judgment or look down on others whose convictions differ from our own—because “we shall be judged one day, not by each other’s standards or even our own, but by the standard of Christ”. When I judge another believer, 4 things happen: I lose fellowship with God, I expose my pride & insecurity, I set myself up to be judged by God, & I harm the fellowship of the church. Any time we spend comparing or criticizing other believers is time that should have been spent building the unity of the church.
-Refuse to listen to gossip. It is sad that in God’s flock, the greatest wounds come from other sheep, not wolves.
-Practice God’s method for conflict resolution. It’s a 3 step process Jesus offered us: “If a fellow believer hurts you, go & tell him—work it out between the two of you. If he listens, you’ve made a friend. If he won’t listen, take one or two others along so that the presence of witnesses will keep things honest, & try again. If he still won’t listen, tell the church”.
-Support your pastor & leaders. There are no perfect leaders, but God gives leaders the responsibility & the authority to maintain the unity of the church. They’re also given the impossible task of trying to make everyone happy, which even Jesus couldn’t do. We protect the fellowship when we honor those who serve us by leading.
Warren challenges us to accept our responsibility to protect & promote the unity of our church, asking us to put our full effort into it, which pleases God. Sometimes we will have to do what’s best for the Body, not ourselves, showing preference to others. Warren asks: What are we doing personally to make our church family more warm & loving? There are many people in our community who are looking for love & a place to belong. Everyone needs & wants to be loved, & when people find a church where members genuinely love & care for each other, you would have to lock the doors to keep them away.
Question to Consider: What am I personally doing to protect unity in my church family right now?
This is something I haven’t endeavored to do. Warren does provide me with a different train of thought—be realistic in my expectations & to support our pastor & leaders. Different pastors offer us different spiritual gifts, each having his own strength, either in sermon, mediation, humility to God, attentiveness/ closeness to his flock. Warren reminds me of all the functions a pastor is called upon to do, and how they need our encouragement & appreciation. Unfortunately, I have become the bunny hopper, moving to different parishes since our archiodese sees fit to move pastors around every so often, and I want continuity with one while in Athens. Warren challenges me to work within one church’s fellowship, which I did in NY & haven’t endeavored while in Athens. He asks me to be realistic in my expectations, because the church isn’t perfect—and I have forgotten this, criticizing instead all the weaknesses I see. This chapter has forced me to reevaluate my expectations of our church, and I believe that ultimately leads to my working towards the unity of my church.
* We will be writing about what inspires us from each consecutive chapter of Warren’s Purpose Driven Life. If you read along with us, please share your inspirations. There’s no need to catch up, just jump right in.