Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Finding Oneness in Diversity

My first fulltime staff position at a church was Minister of Youth,Children and Activities. Early in my ministry, I learned quickly it wasn’t wise to ask forty children, if they wanted to eat at McDonald’s or Burger King. With few exceptions the results of the vote would be an almost even split. In the end I would be the one who had to make the decision. After several experiences in the democratic method, I made the decision I would make the decision without any input from the kids on the bus.

Years later, when I became a pastor, I discovered those forty kids had grown up and followed me. The things they disagreed about as grownups had the same amount of spiritual significance as the choice between McDonalds and Burger King. The difference was I could no longer use my position to command them to accept my choice without questioning my authority and opinions. I had to discover a strategy that would enable them to become one in the midst of their diversity.

For years I sought for a strategy in the books experts had written. I got a lot of good information but I could not find the magical ingredient that could solve the problem of bringing unity from diversity. Finally, I had a novel idea. Why not go back to the beginning and see what God’s word had to say. I found my answer in Ephesians 4:1-6. In these verses I found a three step strategy.

First, I would preach regularly about our responsibility to mediate upon our calling and to walk worthy of it. (See Eph. 4:1). As a Christian I am not my own. I belong to the one who has called me and my primary responsibility is to be His ambassador on earth. When I put myself first and create tension within His family I am a disgrace to my calling and a hindrance to His work. Therefore, I should do everything within my power to seek unity in the body.

Second, I would preach regularly about our responsibility to imitate the attitudes of Christ (See Eph. 4; 2, 3). Five attitudes are mentioned in these verses, humility, gentleness, patience, forbearance, love and peace. Today, most people see these traits as weak and ineffective. In Paul’s day, they were seen as signs of strength. When correctly understood, it is easy to see how they would help lead to an atmosphere of cooperation and not confrontation

Third, I would concentrate on the things we had in common in my preaching (Eph. 4:4-6). In these verses Paul emphasizes the things all Christians share, one body, one Spirit, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism and one God and Father. When understood, these things in common are much more important than our disagreement over what color the carpet should be.

I did not wait for controversy to arise before I began preaching on these topics. I made them a priority in my preaching. When controversy did arise, with God’s help, I tried to model these things in my personal response. These strategies didn’t eliminate differences of opinion, but they did help us to work out solutions that maintained unity without unanimity. Fortunately, we didn’t have to deal with issues concerning matters of biblical principle but we did resolve many issues that dealt with the personal preferences of our members. We did it by living the truths Ephesians 4:1-6 taught us.

The best part of this plan was the one who received the credit for our unity. If you asked the folks how they maintained a spirit of unity, they would not say the pastor, the deacons, or other church leaders. They would say God and His word rightly applied in their midst was the source. Shouldn’t the goal of each of our churches be to take our eyes off of each other and to look to God for solutions? He is the one with the answers.

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