01 Feb, 2024 How is the strength of unity to be measured?
How is the strength of unity to be measured?
What if we dared to measure by more than our good appearances?
It’s hard to break free from the traditions we’ve been discipled into!
In this very simple article my suggestion is that the current strength of a pastors’ group isn’t necessarily a good measure of the strength of the unity of God’s Church in a place. This is because the current level of active relational connection can fluctuate a lot both when pastors have been in a place a long time – and when pastor change.
A better measure?
I suggest that a better measure is the strength of trust that exists amongst the various pastors – along with other key church and Christian business leaders. However this is a difficult measure to see.
A more important measure?
As an alternative, how about the measure being the ability of the pastors / churches to work together when it is needed? I suggest this is our best measure! We don’t pursue unity for unity’s sake.
- We aren’t united because we meet together.
- We aren’t united because we have relationship, and maybe even like each other in addition.
- I’d say we’re not really yet properly united when we pray together – though we’re definitely getting close. (That’s a hard one to define)
- The point is maybe that unity is instead about ability to fulfil a wider function (‘that the world would know’ – John 17, working ‘as one, in one Spirit for the faith of the gospel’ – Philippians 1)
- Unity is therefore more about a belief system, an attitude and a perspective set – which enables united endeavour when it is needed or beneficial.
- Unity is about an understanding that there is only one Church in any location – which then informs our understanding on the function and accountabilities of individual local congregations – which are each a subset of that (united) Church.
- There are things churches can and need to do together – and we demonstrate most clearly that we are united when we can see and do some of these things.
- There are likewise things the people in the various churches can and need to do together – uniting in their areas of employment, education, interest and expertise.
But what about this even greater measure?
As a thought, I suggest the last statement there is the greatest measure.
- Unity isn’t measured ‘merely’ by what pastors can do together. Where it is, it puts lid on unity.
- Unity is maybe most truly measured by what the MEMBERS can do together – being connected and released to engage in their spheres of employment / education, interest and expertise.
To give it a vocabulary – what I’m suggesting…
…is that we need to ask the question, ‘Unity in what?’
- ‘Unity in being friendly’?
- ‘Unity in belief’? Hopefully we have that in the important areas. But I suggest God’s call to unity is a call well-beyond the starting point of unity in belief.
- What about ‘Unity in prayer?’ Again – a great starting point, but Jesus deeply-felt prayer in John 17 wasn’t a prayer for a praying Church – as important as that was.
- I suggest it is ‘Unity in action!’
This is also – to make a point which I’ll soon elaborate on briefly – not ‘pastors united in some action’ – but instead ‘God’s people released to be united in action’ – and I suggest there is a difference!
For a couple of examples of how we measure
- …Here in Tauranga the past few years few would disagree that our monthly pastors’ lunches have been only moderate in attendance – even if enjoyed. The weekly pastors’ prayer gathering has been only moderate in attendance – even if important and meaningful. Yet, where it is needed, there is no question that our churches are capable of working together when it counts. In addition, there are a range of initiatives in our city that are run by outstanding church leaders – who aren’t pastors, who lead teams that include people from various of our city’s churches. Certainly, a more robust fellowship amongst our pastors would be a good and helpful thing. But for the point – the appearance of unity that would create isn’t the actual measure of unity.
- For a comparison – I could (but will not) point to places where pastors are all very friendly right now, yet where very few applications of unity exist. In some places I suspect almost no application is possible, but for an occasional (token) event. There isn’t any true unity in vision for the city! This is maybe like ‘keeping up appearances’ – with these occasional efforts even being applauded by others because the measure we use to assess this as church leaders has now become so low. (Is it possible that we are justifying each-others’ neglect?).
- Another example would be a rural town in which, at one point, the pastors of the 4 main churches were all in their mid to late 60s. The fact that they didn’t meet together regularly didn’t reflect a lack of unity. It was pragmatic. They didn’t feel a need to meet together – as if just to tick a box. Yet if a reason for uniting were proposed, they were more than content to meet and work together on that. So, that’s the better measure, right?
As a final point: Our need of a vision for the unity of our MEMBERS, not merely of church leaders
As noted above, I actually think this is the best measure. The role of pastors is therefore to establish a culture in which the MEMBERS are trusted and released to united in THEIR areas of influence and interest.
This alone will unlock the capacity of the united Church – and the Devil will work hard to keep us from seeing this simple vision, because it is so immeasurably profound!
In application: Wise church leaders will therefore work to build a culture of unity amongst their various leaders – so as to then enable the unity of their members. Through the sharing and releasing of vision, and the connecting of people, members could then unite around their areas of shared influence and interest, to INTENTIONALLY ENGAGE in their community.
The UK experience – as shared with NZ pastors’ groups by Roy Crowne (HOPE Together, UK) – certainly demonstrates this. With the movement ‘springing’ into life in 1500 separate regions of the nation in 2008, they now have 14 years of experience of ‘navigating practical unity’ to look back upon.
It has been demonstrated that if pastors will wisely bring a key leader each to unity meetings, to be involved in the facilitating of united efforts, those efforts last much longer. This is because pastors, quite regularly, move location. Additionally, pastors are busy. The greater capacity of the members is the key!
Roy suggested this was an area NZ pastors’ groups could maybe consider more. The unity of members brings a longevity to united endeavours that the unity of pastors will rarely sustain. It’s a valuable perspective.
So – can we work together when it’s needed, and (secondly) are we positioning our members to connect in vision and work together in their areas of influence and interest?
Can both we and they pull together to achieve measurable outcomes when simple and sensible vision is proposed?
…Or are we so caught up in building our own congregations for this?
The lenses with which we assess reflect what we see and value (our vision).
What we see (our vision) defines the limits of what we will do.
What if we were to ‘see’ more?
Looking to all God can yet do
DAVE MANN. Dave is a networker and creative communicator with a vision to see an understanding of the Christian faith continuing and also being valued in the public square in Aotearoa-New Zealand. He has innovated numerous conversational resources for churches, and has coordinated various national nationwide multimedia Easter efforts purposed to open up conversations between church and non-church people about the Christian faith and its significance to our nation’s history and values. Dave is the Producer of the ‘Chronicles of Paki’ illustrated NZ history series created for educational purposes, and the author of various other books and booklets including “Because we care”, “That Leaders might last” and “The Elephant in the Room”. Married to Heather, they have four boys and reside in Tauranga, New Zealand.