23 Jan, 2020 An vision for Church unity in 2020
A vision for Church unity in 2020
The past few years our team’s conversations with pastors’ groups have been focused on unity issues. For too long unity efforts have been understood to be about getting everyone together in one place for one event. Whether it’s a big prayer gathering, big gospel event or big Christmas celebration – “that’s unity”. The companion idea to this has been that, if we could get all pastors gathering together in the same way, that would also equate to unity. Then, when achieved, with everyone together in a room, the happy reports resound about how united the Church is. Very little follows.
- For a provocative starter: I don’t think this is unity! (It’s a good start. It’s important. Let’s keep doing it – but there is supposed to be more).
Unity clearly doesn’t mean ‘together in one room’ – and I think we all know this at least in principle already. As a statement: Unity is about the commonality of our focus – not location.
For the Christian Church, Jesus has given us a mission. Unity for us is therefore significantly about a common focus on that mission, based upon the Word of God (our common foundation for truth and understanding).
But it goes further. United efforts are needed – but what kind of efforts, and defined by what boundaries. If I can do something independently – why should I? Isn’t independence a function of maturity? Our suggestion into this conversation has therefore been that the starting scope of these is defined by this statement: What can we do together that we cannot do apart? Answering this requires strategic thinking – and this is about going beyond things that require us all be in the same room. What could we all do independently – yet in common, that could have a cumulative effect across a city?
But this question can go further than this also because, beyond the city, it could also apply nationally with a view to enabling or feeding broader cultural changes in thinking, perspective and behaviour nationally. I suggest that this is what the true ‘unity conversation’ is about. It foundations are also rooted in faith – believing that functional unity is something God wants us to pursue and that, with the help of God’s Spirit, it could also be possible – with potential to have an effect upon national perspective, thought and practice!
The question, ‘What can we do together that we cannot do apart?’ therefore can also apply at the national level – not just the city level. To give some vocabulary to this specific question, it is, What could we achieve together as a collective of city and town pastors’ groups that we could not achieve apart? This question needs proper strategic consideration, and sensible answers. (We placed five specific examples on the table last year – and have five broad areas we pray to see the united Church across the nation engaging conversation on one day, God-willing).
But for now, here is a simple starting goal that represents a starting point that I’d love to see city and town pastors’ groups embracing. This achieves something in each of your cities/towns that is also aligned to things that could be happening nationally. This also demonstrates the kind of new thinking about unity that I am suggesting. (To give respect to those already engaging with the unity conversation, I appreciate that the below is already very achievable for your cities and towns. For awareness, there are other places where these kinds of things – in relation to our nation, aren’t yet even being discussed).
Consider these things, which you could achieve within your city this year:
Achievement 1: What if you could say each year that you’d taken the gospel together to every home in your city or town – while intelligently feeding conversations about our nation’s values and where they came from (which feeds into current public conversations about who we are a nation – and what our values really are)?
Achievement 2: What if you could also say that you’d prayer-walked every street in your city together as churches.
Achievement 3: What if you could also say that all your churches had given intentional focus to equipping members with conversational skills for public engagement? This helps Christians engage with public issues, work and other community issues, family issues – and in Christian witness!
Achievement 4: What if you could say that you visibly returned Christ to Christmas -sufficient to be noticed by your entire community (and the entire nation)?
Breaking this down…
I would hope that city pastors’ groups could get quite excited about these four things – because they are amazing ‘wins’ to achieve together. Also, if we analyse them, they are well within our reach! Consider:
- Re the ‘How?’: The above can be achieved quite easily by simply participating with the Hope Project Easter delivery, the Hope Project Christmas encouragement to return nativity scenes to Christmas, and by agreeing together to all annually equip our local church members through pulpit and small group for conversational outreach (with the same applied in every youth group, to likewise enable youth to engage conversations with and reach out to other youth). The time involved for local churches is not great.
- Re the suitability of this for NZ churches today: When analysed – the above four things are are not only simple enough for any group of pastors across a city or town to achieve; they also work with the ‘independence’ or ‘autonomy’ of each congregation. To consider the nature of this kind of united strategy – in larger cities, suburban pastors’ groups could all embrace the same goals ‘independently’, enabling the effects of a unity city-wide and national effort. Individual congregations can do the same. (We don’t all have to meet in the same room for any of this, or to do the same thing the same way).
- Re the encouragement achieving this could be: When outcomes are considered – these four things are significant achievements. Imagine the encouragement it would be to the members of all of your church if you could tell them that the united Church of your city had achieved the above together in the past year. Imagine also the encouragement it would be to you also, to see what we really could be capable of together nationally.
- Re what this achieves that is new: Of note, nearly all of these things are currently not achieved by the churches together in most cities and towns.
- Re what this could catalyse: …and in terms of the ongoing conversation and journey we are on together – this would be a great starting place for a conversation about what we might yet be able to achieve together if we could shift our thinking from ‘unity means common focus, not location’!
Something to not overlook
So it is noted, there are many wonderful united efforts already going on in the cities and towns of our nation. Our work gives us the privilege of knowing about many of these across the nation. The above is not intended to diminish any of these. Instead, the above is actually about a different topic: It’s about the nature of national vision – not just localised city-vision. What could we yet achieve together nationally that we could not – and are not, achieving apart?? And how?
Concluding request: “Seriously, would you please do this?”
Again – I really would hope that this is something that city and town pastors’ groups will get excited about – because these four outcomes are significant ‘wins’ – and are well0within the reach of the churches in every city and town in our nation!
To summarise: Regarding what we already do in our cities (to ensure there is no confusion):
- Please still have your regular united pastors’ prayer gatherings (I’m part of a weekly one – and value it).
- Please keep having your big united prayer gatherings (I’m part of one here in Tauranga, with 500 or more gathering 4 times per year – and really value it).
- Please keep having your own big events and other programmes for engaging with the opportunities, seasons and needs of your city (our city certainly does).
This is not being devalued.
But how about:
- 1. The gospel to every home in your city together
- 2. Every street of your city prayed along together
- 3. All Church-goers in your city equipped with the kinds of skills Jesus had for engaging with interested, disinterested and hostile audiences on various matters
- 4. And Christ back into Christmas within the public across your city – through all returning nativity scenes to Christmas by any and every means?
These would be significant achievements together – and their success a great encouragement to yourselves and your members, because we would be looking at a national Church that is united in national-scale outreaching effort and prayer, and all without ever needing to travel and meet in some big room together!
To achieve this, all that is needed is a small shift of thinking in the heart – to say ‘yes’.
How about it this year?
Father, I pray you will move the hearts of your leaders across our nation to embrace these four goals together as a starting point and feeder to our conversations together nationally. Please bless other unity-efforts in individual cities. Please bless the few other ministries that seek to encourage national unity also. Please help this conversation to continue – and specific outcomes to begin to be achieved amongst us all. In Jesus’ name I ask it. Amen.