Richard Long spoke at a gathering of leaders in Ottawa at the Aviation Museum recently. (that’s why you can see the airplane in the background.) Richard is the director of the city-wide gospel movement called “Love Ottawa”.
Let me tell you a little bit about the city-reaching movement in my own city. Actually a picture is worth a thousand words, so take a look at this Prezi below. Once you click on it, you just keep using the “arrow” bar to move through the whole presentation. It’s a cool way to present a big idea.
Each circle represents a team or a group. The circles that don’t have an blue arrow pointing to them, represent teams that we don’t sponsor, but whom we work with or are in the process of forming.
Bottom line: We have seen the Lord help us to create a lot of new teams since the Fall of 2012. See the article entitled “Team Up!” for more explanations.
One of the worst possible kinds of treatment is when an idea is dismissed as “nice”. It’s the same fate as the wonderful concept of “world peace”. Even perhaps the same as thinking it would be nice if the kids just all got along. Sadly, so many Christians have the same attitude to churches getting along. Nice idea – but it’s never gonna happen! A lot of leaders would even say, “It doesn’t need to happen.”
How sad that ministers of Christ would say that unity isn’t necessary. That they would argue that we don’t need to get along and work together. “After all, God will advance His Kingdom despite the lack of love among His children. Every church should just get on with doing things themselves and not worry about the others.”
A friend shared his grief with me a few years ago when his city fell back into this default position. As a community they had faced a devastating forest fire that threatened to wipe out many neighbourhoods. The pastors had gathered their congregations as one to pray for mercy. The wind shifted, rain doused the flames and the remainder of the city was spared from an conflagration. At their next ministerial after giving thanks together to God, my friend suggested that perhaps they should consider more opportunities to pursue this kind of unity in the Spirit. He was batted down with a rebuke, “Why would we need to do that? Let’s just go back to all doing our best in our own ministries. The crisis is over.” It was back to business as usual. This is what I have labelled “passive unity”.
That doesn’t sound like how Paul felt when he wrote to the believers in Ephesus. “Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” (Eph. 4:3) For the apostle Paul unity was not a nicety, it was a necessity. He had probably been told about Jesus deepest prayer the last evening he spent on earth when he interceded for his future followers and asked that they would “be brought into complete unity”. Paul, like all first century disciples believed that their unity was essential because the Master had gone on to pray “so that the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” (John 17:23)
Something so basic as the credibility of our witness is tied to unity. Time and again this is the practical testimony that is reported when onlookers see churches working together on a common project. “You mean you are from more than one church? Wow! Churches getting along. Incredible.”
The whole weight of the New Testament is behind the idea that unity is required for maximum effectiveness. It is described and prescribed. The same case could be made for the history of the people of Israel in the Old Testament. Disunity led to defeat. Tribal in-fighting meant disaster. In worship and in warfare no tribe was allowed to go it alone, because everyone knew that meant a collective crisis of the removal of God’s blessing. The Psalmist describes the opposite when he summarizes the beauty of unity with the words, “for there the Lord commands His blessing, even life forevermore. (Ps. 133:3)
I was in a meeting of leaders in my own city awhile back. We were reviewing the fruitfulness of a united evangelistic campaign among the youth of our city. Over 175 churches had officially supported the effort. The question on the table was, despite the large financial and personal costs, would we do it again next year? It was so heartening to hear one after another commit to the effort because they knew that there was no way that they could do it by themselves. It not only was better together, it was of necessity the only way to see the fruit among the teenagers of our city. The youth pastors testified to the anointing that came upon the event, when they saw their united prayers answered. It was agreed that working together had been a gift in itself because of the new camaraderie they were experiencing across the Body of Christ. They had learned that unity is not just a nicety. It’s a necessity.
One of the big points that is made in the book “To Transform Your City” by Eric Swanson and Sam Williams, is that unity in the Church must be unto a purpose. Unity for unity’s sake will eventually get stale and breakdown. I have seen this many times over the last 20 years in cities and towns across Canada. We have been given a “co-mission”. It is as we cooperate on this mission of sharing the Lord and his love with a lost world, that we are guaranteed the backing of all the authority and power of heaven.
Unity, then, is a means and not an end. This helps us understand why most ecumenical movements fail. If unity is our primary goal, we will never arrive at our destination. Phill Bultler, in a paper titled, “Fifteen Key Principles of Success in Kingdom Collaboration” writes, “Successful networks/partnerships develop in order to accomplish a specific vision or task. Cooperation for cooperation’s sake is a sure recipe for failure. Warm ‘fellowship’ is not enough. This means lasting cooperation focuses primarily on what (objectives) rather than ‘how’ (structure). Form always follows function. – not the other way around”.
God’s intention, as evidenced in the John 17 prayer of Jesus, is that we would be unified through a shared mission – helping people understand, through words and deeds, that Jesus is sent from God and that God loves every person on earth as much as He loves his own Son.
I like the way that the 3rd Lausanne Council has described “mission” in the newly released Cape Town Commitment.
The mission of God flows from the love of God. The mission of God’s people flows from our love for God and for all that God loves. World evangelization is the outflow of God’s love to us and through us. We affirm the primacy of God’s grace and we then respond to that grace by faith, demonstrated through the obedience of love. We love because God first loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.