It is now over 9 months since I began my push towards a more unified community of faith in and around Martin County, MN. The early months were spent in preparation and vision-casting among some trusted ministry leaders. That push was followed by a concerted effort to spread the word, especially focused on our county fair outreach, as well as messages sent to individuals and churches. Like most of what my organization, The Gathering, has done, this was something new and different, so the ball began rolling very slowly while people got their minds around what we were trying to do. Doing something different and new often garners reactions like that: people are slow to respond to something they are not used to or do not fully understand. However, I often find myself quoting Charles Spurgeon and Craig Groeschel in those situations:
If we can’t get sinners to Jesus by ordinary methods, we must use extraordinary ones.
To reach people that no one is reaching, we have to do things that no one is doing.
To put it another way: the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. If we want different results, we have to do things differently.
That was the goal: do something different, something that showed that our faith community was not simply a collection of churches competing for attendance and tithe dollars, because if that is the perception in the young adult community of churches then we have exactly 0% chance of reaching them. I was realistic in my promotion of this idea; if we were to achieve a level of success in this area we would be accomplishing something that very few (if any) communities have accomplished. However, I believe that we are capable of accomplishing great things because God has empowered us to do great things in His name.
But what would this look like? What shape would unity in a local community take given the breadth of established churches from a variety of differing denominations, each with its own congregational personality and set of distinctions? Here are some of my ideas:
First, I do not think this would become a movement that would seek to dissolve all of our independent churches to become one uber-church serving the entire area. I think we have individual churches for some good and practical reasons, and I see no reason to change that. By having smaller churches comprised of people that work well together and are in full agreement on a variety of theological beliefs, it allows for better discipleship and growth as well as a better structure for ministry and support that starts from and grows out of deep and meaningful relationships.
Second, I think we do have the potential to come together more often for deeper and more connected worship of our God; not just the God of the Lutherans or Methodists, but the God of all Bible-believing Christ followers. It’s true that we can worship by ourselves, but worship in a group can (and should) take that worship to another level when we gather together in a community of believers. Those who have experienced worship on an even larger scale, maybe at a festival or conference, can attest to an even deeper worship experience when an even larger and more diverse group of believers gathers for worship and praise. Worship can be powerful, and the experience of God’s people coming together can not only move believers but it can impact others and draw them towards God. I hope and pray that we can come together as a community in Martin County and as communities of faith around the country and world for the sake of God’s glory.
Third, I believe that God has created us not to simply wander aimlessly through life, but to live life for a purpose. We were created to do His good work, and I believe that when we work together to do God’s work we can accomplish exponentially more. My small group, working together, can accomplish more than any of us individually could accomplish alone; my church can accomplish more than its collection of small groups or Sunday school classes could accomplish alone. And, I believe, a collection of churches working together can accomplish more than the same group of churches could accomplish working alone. We have the hungry to feed, the hurting to comfort, and the lost people to lead towards the Good News of Christ. If we come together, we can do so much more than we are doing now.
Finally, I believe that those beliefs that unites us are greater than those that divide us. There is a Latin phrase that bears this idea:
In necessariis unitas, in dubiis libertas, in omnibus caritas
Translated, the phrase means this:
In Essentials Unity, In Non-Essentials Liberty, In All Things Charity
This is the essence of the unity I have been pressing for. The essentials we have taken a stand for are the inerrancy and authority of the Bible, the work of the God/Man Jesus Christ, and the need for salvation for all of humanity. In other debates, whether they center on baptism, worship style, format of the Lord’s Supper, etc, there is no a need to quarrel or disassociate over the difference. Some of these things are important, but they are not essential to our faith – we are all believers and followers of God regardless of what our specific beliefs on these subjects are if we have followed the Bible’s guidance for salvation;
If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.
-Romans 10:9 (ESV)
But in all our interactions and discussions, we have charity, love and graciousness, with a view of the big picture of what God has called us to, both individually and as a group.
This doesn’t mean there won’t be challenges or conflicts. We are bound to have struggles. We will come under attack from the Evil One, who most certainly does not want us to accomplish greater things for God and would be most happy to have us settle in to a comfortable, status-quo “faith” that does not seek to challenge ourselves or others. We will have divisions and rifts that will arise based on disagreements, differences in personalities and ideas, and varying beliefs. The road towards unity is one that is long, treacherous and largely uncharted, but I hope we continue to walk down it together, for the Glory of God.
For further reading, check out this excellent article by Dr. Mark E. Ross; “In Essentials Unity, In Non-Essentials Liberty, In All Things Charity”