Defining & Developing Unity
So what does unity look like? Unfortunately, unity can be hard to define. It’s a vague term. Does it mean total agreement on doctrinal minutia? How close do our relationships need to be? Does unity mean that we have to be best friends? Do we have to share Thanksgiving dinner together?
Eventually I settled on three irreducible minimums that defined what I was looking for in unity. They are: (1) Doctrinal unity… (2) Respect and friendship…. (3) Agreement on our philosophy of ministry.
My personal experience is that doctrinal unity is the first component of a unified and healthy leadership team. By doctrinal unity, I mean agreement with our church’s statement of faith, not necessarily total theological uniformity or agreement over politics.
Every church has an irreducible theological minimum. For some it is a lengthy detailed document. For others, it’s a few brief statements. Either way, for the sake of integrity, it is important that those in leadership honestly adhere to it.
But after that, it’s wide open. I mean, if Jesus put Simon the Zealot (an insurrectionist who hated the Roman occupiers) on the same ministry team as Matthew the tax collector (a collaborator with the Romans) and then made them to room and eat together, I’m pretty sure that we can have people who possess strong differences on hot-button issues of our day serving on the same staff team and still march together under the banner of unity.
In fact, unity that insists on uniformity isn’t unity at all. It’s a cheap counterfeit. Genuine Biblical unity is found in the midst of real and passionate differences that we set aside in the recognition that they are not near as important as the King and mission we serve.
Let’s be honest and admit it. Our (Christian) hot-button issues constantly change. One decade’s battleground is another decade’s yawn. In previous years at PCC we have navigated our way through the passionate differences between charismatics and cessationists, pre-tribbers and post-tribbers, and those who imbibe against those who saw any use of alcohol as a dangerous sellout. Yet, today’s battles tend to be found in other realms: politics, the environment, or the finer points of theology. In other decades it was over music.
So how can we allow for this kind of diversity (in one church) without blowing everything up? The key is to determine ahead of time the things we WON’T fight over and then make it crystal clear to everyone that those issues are off limits.
For instance, at PCC our leaders understand that Jesus’ return is going to happen exactly the way that God has ordained it to happen (regardless of our personal views). They also know that we are not a political organization. We do not take public stands on candidates or propositions. Our leaders also know that we have a high view of Scriptures and obedience to God, but arguments over progressive sanctification verses instantaneous sanctification are off-limits. And the list goes on.
That doesn’t mean that our senior leaders and staff aren’t free to have strong opinions about theses matters. It simply means they can’t try to force everyone (or this church) to bend into their mold. It’s okay if they see something as an important issue. But it is NOT okay if they treat it as an issue so important that they will divide this church and fight over it. The thing that unites us more than anything else is our sense of mission; specifically, the Great Commission.
Making it clear what we will fight over and wont’ fight over saves us a lot of grief. In nearly every theological issue tussle I’ve been involved in, the battle hasn’t been over something spelled out in the church’s doctrinal statement. It’s been over a peripheral issue that someone felt should have been an essential issue.
If we don’t spell out ahead of time what we wont’ fight over, sooner or later someone will add their favorite doctrine or political issue to the list of essentials and then wage war on all those who disagree. I guarantee it.