An excerpt of this article was published in the Fairmont Sentinel, May 2014.
While playing football for Granada-Huntley-East Chain High School in the late 1990s I had the opportunity to experience something that seems to have become commonplace in our area now – school sports-sharing. I played for the Granada-Huntley-East Chain-Martin Luther Mustangs. That’s quite a name for a team, and we even received a little light-hearted media attention around the state when we faced off against the Mountain Lake-Butterfield-Oden football team in a playoff game that feature the longest named matchup in most people’s memories. I have been proud to be able to return to the area and give back to my high school by working as a coach, now for the GHEC-Truman Jaguars.
Adding another school isn’t as simple as plugging in a handful of players. After spending time together in a small school, those students are close to each other and have a familiarity and comfort level that they do not have with the students from the other school. I remember those football camps where we would show up for practice in August and not only had to go through the process of preparing for the season but also get to know all of the new teammates that we would be playing alongside, guys that we would have to trust and rely on if we were going to be successful. It took time, but these strangers became teammates and eventually friends, which made for some interesting basketball games later in the year. In a large way our success or failure relied on whether we could be unified as a team put together from two schools.
Many of us are a part of a local church congregation. We may identify ourselves as a member or attender of that church or point it out to others and say, “That’s my church.” But what we sometimes forget is that when the Bible talks about church it usually isn’t referring to one specific congregation or group of believers but rather to the “church universal”, all those who have chosen to follow Jesus Christ everywhere. To all believers Paul gives a specific command:
“I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment.”
(1 Corinthians 1:10, ESV)
In the two years since we have launched The Gathering, a local ministry focused on reaching out to young adults in their 20s and 30s in and around Fairmont, MN, I have seen impressive examples of unity in our community as well as disheartening examples of a lack of unity. Our new ministry has been invited openly into many churches and I have seen great examples of encouragement and support from many in our community, along with a desire to reach out to and love the younger residents of Martin County and the surrounding communities. The Gathering was one of almost 30 co-sponsors of a community concert/festival in Sylvania Park last fall. Fairmont Area Youth Ministries (FAYM) has consistently done events that not only bring together local church youth groups but does so in a way that impacts the community and world by doing events like collecting food for local food shelves or raising money to feed starving kids worldwide. These are encouraging and exciting opportunities that I hope continue to grow more and more!
But there has been another side as well. I have seen reluctance to get behind opportunities to reach out, skepticism over ideas and visions, and a lack of willingness to support plans that could have real impact on our community. The hesitancy comes in several forms but has often boiled down to a few reasons for the lack of support.
We often have a difficult time getting behind an idea that is not our own. If someone comes to us with an idea they want our support on we may be reluctant, but if we were to come up with the same idea we would all of the sudden be excited. If our church is organizing an event we are all for it, but if another church or organization wants our support for the same idea we are unsure if we want to be involved.
Another barrier to our unity is our time. We often talk about or hear from others that our lives are so busy we never have time for anything, but we do have time to keep up with our favorite TV shows, our hobbies, our vacations and trips and the other things that we really want to do.
Finally, we often hear variations on the detestable phrase, “we’ve never done that before.” For some reason we get this idea that things have been going so well that we shouldn’t change anything. If that were the case we would have a community filled with joyful people that are loving, encouraging and supporting one another so well that needs like loneliness, depression, homelessness and poverty wouldn’t be problems. The reality is that these things are problems in our community, and if we think we are going to change that by continuing to do things the same way that we have done them in the past we are fooling ourselves. As it has been said, the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.
If we are to truly impact those around us in need of love and support we need unity within our community of faith. That means supporting good ideas that are not our own, being willing to put in the time it takes to care about other people, and being willing to do things that might be outside our comfort zone.