20 Dec, 2022 One Church – Pastors’ groups that turn theory to practice
One Church – Five factors that enable PASTOR’S GROUPS to turn theory to practice
The ethos of our mahi
The Shining Lights Trust works on the premise that there is one Church in our nation – made up of all who love Jesus and follow his teachings. We therefore aren’t looking to grow ‘our’ team – but instead to help God’s existing team shine brighter.
How then does unity ‘work’?
At the core of our unity as churches is a commonality of belief, love for God, and a commitment to show that same love to others. This is the basis upon which we could be united.
United efforts are, of course, possible amongst any combination of people wherever there is a shared goal – despite other differences. For example, those of any faith could partner to give food to the hungry. The topic here is specifically Church unity.
If our unity is to become ‘functional’ (to achieve its function) some factors need careful consideration and application:
1. Communication lines are needed
– but with whom? Our emails are already full!
- We need to be connected to networkers and innovators who know how to make things happen – because most of the rest is just talk which, like noise, sometimes actually distracts us.
- So, which people or groups are working within the values needed to catalyse life and activity within and through our unity, with clarity, and in a manner that makes them worthy recipients of the time it will take us to occasionally engage with a communication line? (I am suggesting we ask this question seriously – because we can be ‘busy’ even in a pursuit of unity without ever achieving much. What is the Church here for – really?).
2. The content within those communication lines must be strategic at a superlative (far better than average) level
- Given our diversity, strategies for united effort would need to be (a) truly sensible while also being (b) truly simple – because everyone is already busy!!!
- The ideas also need to be truly exceptional – because there are many good things we could be doing.
- Given how limited our time for unity things is, if an idea is merely ‘good’, that probably isn’t good enough!
To cut to the chase – the most sensible strategies will likely unite us in common goals rather than specific applications.
- It is about finding ways to work in unison, not uniformity.
- Put differently, the strategies that are most likely to succeed will be those that unite us in applications that everyone can do their own way.
In application – I wonder if this needs more thought by church leaders – and especially those in national positions, along with the leaders/facilitators of Church (unity) networks (like city and town pastors’ group convenors). We have been presenting a range of simple ‘in unison’ strategies for a years now – the innovation of these being a specific work-focus. Some of these are working quite well also – where many have seen the ‘common sense’ benefits of a simple idea, therefore adopting that idea as their own. However, I think our churches together (nationally) are at beginning stages in this way of thinking still. This thinking does, however, contain immense potential. Its challenge is that it is easy and ‘regular’ (fitting into our regular work). (It therefore doesn’t feel ‘big’!)
- To consider: What might an ‘exceptional strategy’ look like?
- What if we then gave priority to exceptional strategies – which I suspect sometimes sit in tension with ‘big’ things that maybe feel more significant in their season, but which are brief and passing?
3. The values that undergird the way we work together must be truly healthy
Healthy people are attracted to healthy environments – and it is the breaking of boundaries that are necessary for unity to thrive that explains the limited energy many have for unity things better than any other explanation. If environments aren’t ‘safe’, people won’t bother with them. Then it’s a case of, ‘Once bitten, twice shy.’ My suggestion is that many of our ‘unity environments’ have been unhealthy – though i’ve been party to many great conversations on this topic (boundaries for healthy unity) the past few years, and I think many would concur that this is changing in our nation .
Here are some of the very important boundaries (or values) we need to hold together, if we want our unity to be freed from talk and a repetition of previous practices, to united action that better engages with the people of our cities and towns:
- “Unity – not uniformity” – as noted above.
- “There is nothing wrong with independence” is another important value.
- It is healthy to independently do the things we can each do independently.
- At its core – as a boundary, or ‘definition’ for united collaboration: United efforts are about (1) what we can do together that we cannot do apart – and sometimes (2) what we might be able to do better together.
- “We don’t all have to” is possibly the most important value.
- Firstly, at a ‘truth’ level – it’s usually untrue that ‘everyone needs to…’ (join together for a particular thing). Most ‘unity’ efforts (excluding some ‘in unison’ strategies) can thrive with 20% or less of churches participating.
- Secondly – and importantly – this is the charity sector. No one has authority over anyone else – so trying to motivate by ‘calling everyone to support’ as if they were obligated to follow one person or idea runs the danger of placing expectations and guilt on others, coercing, manipulating. This undermines the potential for collaboration, because emotionally healthy people often walk away from unhealthy environments (unless they see a greater vision and have a brief they might be able to change that environment).
4. We need to make a choice to trust each other (not a small point)
While boundaries are essential – so is an environment in which conversation about potential united efforts is possible. The problem is that past hurts can breed mistrust. Once hurt, or ‘betrayed’, or manipulated – a church leader can become sceptical of city pastors’ groups (or a denominational / organisational leader of united endeavours), and therefore writes it off as an ‘idealism’. They therefore have little motivation to participate with the city pastors’ group through the three of four decades of their ministry that follow. This is also why ‘unity’ is often reduced to ‘relationship – with an occasional united prayer gathering’. THere isn’t enough trust in the room – and we’re building against a culture of mistrust. I suggest this is a mentality’s and it denies the (united) Church its potential and needed united function!
The ‘elephant in this room’ is often the errant idea that relationship is necessary for unity – which leads us to conclude that “it’s all about relationships.” While i understand the point being made very well – I suggest this remains something of a ‘hang over’ from past hurts, and its danger is that really it is partly true. It is, however, therefore partly not true – which is what I’m wanting to enable a perspective of.
- I can be ‘positionally’ united with you without ever meeting you or knowing you. We serve the same God, read the same Bible, and serve in the same mission! We don’t have to meet together to be united.
- To take that to ‘functional’ unity, what needs adding? The answers is a common goal or activity that do in common. The point is, the answer isn’t, ‘time together’! I can partner with you in a goal – without meeting you!
In case of confusion: Relationship is important. It’s a privilege and joy too. We should all find people to journey with in life – as also in Christian ministry. However, relationship is NOT actually what is needed to enable united endeavour. Trust is!
The implication: If relationship is viewed as the foundation, what we are able to do together is going to be small! Our nation has 3000+ churches, with 800,000 church attendees (monthly or more). We are in a season in which we need to engage more intelligently and actively – and in some ways also differently to the past. No person can have or sustain that many relationships!
- So…? Trust is actually what is needed – not relationship (as incredibly valuable as it is)!
- And – for the application – it is possible to trust others on the basis of reputation and relationship within the context of wider community.
The choice to trust is always a risk – and especially where there has been a culture of ‘boundary breaking’ in the unity space. But this is needed if a wider scope united endeavours is ever to be made possible.
5. Our capacity is far more than has been imagined by most
Firstly, were a dozen ‘in unison’ strategies embraced widely, more could be achieved through our unity than most would imagine. This has been discussed in pastors’ group meetings nationally by our teams – and we will raise the matter again.
- This approach contains our greatest potential together.
- From what I can tell, I suspect most have not thought this through – with a view to the potential of sensible and simple ‘in unison’ strategies, with the nation (not only their own few churches) in view.
- Like in the title, I believe that “our capacity is far more than has been imagined by most” – because we measure possibilities through the framework of our thinking.
- A conversation about ‘in unison strategies’ has also hardly started – as far as I can tell.
- Yet the idea that ‘in unison’ strategies (unity in the goal – not the process) are ‘superlative’ isn’t hard to find validation for. In talking with church leaders where unity has gone to another level, while there will be key players, and key programmes… you’ll discover their real longer-term success came as the result of their shared goals – rather than through any particular method or programme.
Secondly, our capacity can be released beyond pastors to include our members – and I suggest this is in fact the goal (a ‘culture’ of unity, not just ‘pastors united’), and where this is comprehended, I’d like to think the reader is genuinely excited.
- The potential of pastors together isn’t merely in ‘what they could do together that they could not do apart’. It is in ‘what they could be together that they could not be apart’!
- What could they ‘be’?
- They could be the creators (and sustainers) of an environment and culture amongst the churches in which the members are informed (communication lines), and also released and free (value and culture) to unite together in their own areas of interest and influence – for the city!
Pastors certainly need to ‘set the pace’ by doing a few things together! But once they are doing that, I am suggesting that their own efforts are the starting line (setting the pace) – not the destination!
- The potential of our members is many times greater than the sum-total of the capacity of all of our pastors.
- The potential of our members is many times greater than their service given in and through the single congregation they are each from too.
- Many are also gifted by God to serve him in the wider world – not only within the ‘confines’ of one local church’s programmes or localised community.
- We have many highly competent leaders in the memberships of our churches, capable of far more – and called to far more – than they will ever express within the walls and ministries of an individual congregation!
So how is unity to be built? It’s not through programmes, and it’s not through gatherings – it’s through VALUES and their ASSOCIATED PRACTICES!
To state that more holistically: It’s about (1) communication lines, (2) for simple and sensible strategies, (3) in a contact of values (4) and trust, (5) with vision to see there can be more!
>> Please review the above five points now – to consider their logic together as one thought.
Application: How could we build this CULTURE in the unity of our churches, in each of our cities and towns, and also nationally?
For other articles by Dave on the same topic of Church unity
2022 – A vocabulary we can agree on (This one is a particularly important FOUNDATION if coherent national discussions on unity are to one day take place)
2020 – It’s time to take responsibility to educate our own children and youth again (On united direction and strategy – for city change)
2020 – A need for new media platforms – not more voices (How do we address the increasingly left-leaning and also anti-faith bias of public media?)
2020 – A vision for national Church unity (What might REALISTICALLY be within our reach to achiEve – if we merely thought differently?)
2019 – ‘In One Spirit’ – The purpose of the book (Written at the time of the book launch and press release)
2019 – United we stand (A blog just prior to the release of the above book, ‘In One Spirit’)