We asked pastors how they would define church unity and what it takes to achieve. Here are some of their responses:
Rev. Ryan Mowen:
“Unity describes our commitment to our relationships as God’s people… In the New Testament, unity seems to always be encouraged along with these two things: an understanding of our union in Christ and humility.
“The first step is for believers to understand what Christ has done for us and understand his plans for the church. It is our union with Christ that subsequently informs our union with one another. Unless we understand who Christ is, what he has done to form the church, and what he desires to do in and through the church, we will have a low commitment to unity.
“But when we do understand [our union in Christ], it drives us into radical humility. By seeing the tremendous grace in Christ’s work for us, we can experience Spirit-driven humility that shifts us from selfishness to selflessness.”
Rev. Jim Davis:
“Much of our divisions today comes from mistakenly confusing conformity for unity… Simply put, [unity is] a body of believers united to each other in Christ. Church unity is wonderfully on display when Christians hold tight the precious primary doctrines taught in the Bible, but hold loose our own personal preferences.”
Rev. Brian Gault:
“Church unity is a process whereby people from a variety of different walks of life lay aside personal preferences and come together to accomplish a particular mission and vision. It is considering one another ahead of ourselves and focusing on a shared task.”
Dr. Greg Lanier:
“Unity operates at two levels, I think. For church leadership (elders, etc.), there is a deeper calling to unity around a fairly large set of scriptural convictions (e.g., a confessional statement)… Among regular church members, the picture of unity is a bit broader and looks more like the ability to hold a different view on a given topic than someone else but still be able to worship and serve side-by-side.”
Rev. Eric Youngblood:
“I’ve probably been shaped by C.S. Lewis’ observation, ‘Aristotle has told us that a city is a unity of unlikes, and St. Paul that a body is a unity of different members.’ You’re somehow trying to get them to work in conjunction with one another, even though they’re all quite different.
“There’s a lot demanded to be unified — [it] demands a certain kind of patience, a certain kind of humility, a certain strength of love, a certain devotion to the needs of the other, and the suspension of your own.”
Dr. David Silvernail:
“Church unity comes when members place the needs and wants of the whole church above their own personal needs and wants. Unity is a byproduct of taking the ‘one another’ commands seriously. That’s why, when the Apostle Paul talks about unity in Romans 15, he immediately follows it up with several of those one another commands — ‘live in harmony with one another’ and ‘welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you.’”
Rev. Chad Scruggs:
“I would start with unity in the leadership, among pastors, staff, session, and diaconate… It’s not uniformity, where we all think the same or are the same. There’s a sense that we are together in the work that God has called us to do; we sense a real bond forged in that work, connected to vision or brotherhood and sisterhood in the work itself.
“In the church, it’s not full agreement or consensus, but there’s a willingness to submit and to be together through hard choices that we have to make. It takes a high degree of trust in the leaders that God has placed in that particular local community.”
Illustrations by Rusty Hein.