8 Practical Ways to Pursue Unity
Last Sunday we heard Jesus pray a unique and powerful prayer: “Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one even as we are one.” We learned that the unity of his people is very close to the heart of God. But how do we live out that prayer in practical unity?
In Ephesians 4 Paul the Apostle says “I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (4:1-3). That word “maintain” is so important because we are not trying to drum up unity that isn’t there, no the deepest possible unity has been won for us by Christ. Our task is to pray for it and seek it. If Jesus’ deep desire is for unity in the church that should matter to us.
With that in mind here are eight simple, practical ways to pursue unity.
1. Show up
Hebrews 10:25 exhorts us “do not give up meeting together as is the habit of some but encourage one another.” I recently read some statistics that 50 years ago it was common for churchgoing people to be there 4 out of 4 Sundays a month and then declined to 3 out of 4 about 20 years ago and now it’s 2 out of 4. Here’s why that matters: It’s awfully hard to pursue unity when you don’t show up. Unity takes work and sometimes that work is having a family over for dinner when you’re not feeling “100%” or going to a small group meeting after a busy week. That investment pays off in unity.
Romans 12:15 calls us to rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep. But how can we do that unless we’re listening to those around us and understanding where they are rejoicing and where they are weeping?
Recently in the past year or two I’ve realized more and more that I’m tempted to view the whole world solely through my experiences and background. I assume I know why people should be rejoicing or weeping, but so often it’s through the lens of my own experience. Pursuing unity means loving people enough to listen carefully, to draw them out, and to make time for it.
3. Tell Stories of Grace
When the Gentiles and Jews got together in one church they had nothing in common so what did they talk about? They talked about the only thing they had in common which was what Jesus had done in their life.
So often when we meet people we’re trying to connect and find similar backgrounds and interests and when it doesn’t click we’re like “Eh I tried.” But you do have something in common: one lord one faith one baptism one God and Father of all. At our community this fall we took two weeks to just share our stories with Jesus—how we got saved and the key moments we grew. Don’t stop at just your testimony (though that’s great!) share those big moments in your life with God.
4. Value the Other
In 1 Corinthians 12 Paul says that the church is the body of Christ and the eye can’t say to the hand “I don’t need you.” Those people that rub you the wrong way or that you just don’t get, they contribute something to the body of Christ. Do you know what it is? Do you value it? Christ has made them part of his body, let’s find out what Christ is doing in them that serves the body.
In Acts 2 the church was breaking bread daily and were in each other’s homes daily. Jesus was always going to a meal or at a meal or coming from a meal in the gospels. So are you? How often do you eat with just your family? Do you meet up with people for lunch or dinner or after church?
Look in light of all this it’s going to be easy to get offended. Plan on it. It will happen. So when it does remember Proverbs 19:11 “It is to your credit to overlook at offense.” If it’s a minor thing like someone forgot to call you back or didn’t remember to bring the snack at CG or made a comment that was unintentionally mean or questioned your kid’s behavior…can you overlook it?
When you can’t overlook Scripture charges you to pursue reconciliation. Matthew 5 Jesus says if you’re at the temple about to offer a sacrifice and right there in the middle of it you remember someone has something against you (and not even you against them but you’re pretty sure they have an issue with you) then you stop and go to them. Don’t let the sun go down on your anger. Get together. Don’t stew in it. Don’t judge them without talking to them. Go to them. Work it out.
8. Disagree in love
In 1 Corinthians Paul makes room for people to have different consciences. There are very clear biblical commands and we should all heed those, period. But there are many many many many things where we can have different issues of conscience: how best to educate kids, how best to be active in politics, how best to run a CG meeting, what should be in your budget or not in your budget, whether to have your kids believe in a terrifying man who breaks into your house once a year and eats your food (thanks Santa!).
The Dearest Place
Pursuing these things will take real effort, but it’s worth it. I’ll end with Spurgeon’s encouragement about the church:
“Give yourself to the Church. You that are members of the Church have not found it perfect and I hope that you feel almost glad that you have not. If I had never joined a Church till I had found one that was perfect, I would never have joined one at all! And the moment I did join it, if I had found one, I should have spoiled it, for it would not have been a perfect Church after I had become a member of it. Still, imperfect as it is, it is the dearest place on earth to us…”