By Pastor Dan Powell
Whenever and wherever people gather in one place on a regular basis, disagreements will occur. In many cases these disagreements turn into full-blown conflict. These conflicts cause confusion, which can distract us from our mission and lead to division within the organization. One of the challenges of the local church, an organization with many different people who have varying opinions and ideas, is to keep the unity. The Bible is clear that God is not the author of confusion. At the very heart of disunity is confusion. In the New Testament James writes, For where envy and self-seeking exist, confusion and every evil thing are there (3:16, NKJV).
Maintaining unity in the body of Christ is not simply a modern-day church problem. It is a challenge that existed all the way back in the first century church. We find the Apostle Paul challenging the church at Ephesus with the following:
I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called, with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love, endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”Ephesians 4:1-3
Let’s consider the principles in this passage that we can apply to our own lives as we endeavor to maintain unity in our respective local assemblies.
- We are to maintain a posture of humility.
A posture of humility is best maintained through a life given to prayer. As we continue to walk in prayer – praying for the leadership of our church, praying for the vision and mission of the church, and praying for one another in the church – we allow the Holy Spirit to work in us. It allows us to consider others, to love them as Christ has called us to love one another. Maintaining a posture of humility through a life bathed in prayer will foster a spirit of unity in the local church.
- We need to focus on the vision and mission of the body of Christ.
Jesus charged us, His disciples, with the task of carrying out the Great Commission. Each local assembly has been given its own unique calling to do its part to help carry out that task. As the leadership of the church develops, casts, and leads people towards the church vision, each member is called to find their place in that local body to support that vision. As the leadership of the church clearly establishes the church’s vision and mission, it facilitates the process by which individuals in the local body fulfill their fully redemptive life’s purpose. It is easier to maintain unity in the local body if everyone is heading the same direction following one clearly developed vision. Without a clearly establish vision, I would suggest it is impossible for the church to maintain unity.
- We are called to care for one another and bear one another’s burdens.
Paul’s foundation for the idea of bearing one another’s burden comes out of Jesus’ call to love one another: A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another (John 13:34).
When we consider the idea of loving one another, that focus leads us to a place of unity. In 1 Corinthians 13, the “love” chapter often read during wedding ceremonies, Paul describes the characteristics of love. His definitions all point to the concept of unity as we walk in the calling to love one another and maintain unity in the body of Christ.
Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things (1 Corinthians 13: 4–7).
In the local assembly when the goal is to maintain unity, love for one another must be at the center of everything that is done. As we look at Paul’s definition of love, all these descriptions point to humility, putting the needs of others in front of our own, bearing one another’s burdens. Caring for and loving one another fosters a spirit of unity in the local body of believers.
- Leadership must lead from a spirit of unity.
Well-known author and speaker John Maxwell states, “Everything rises and falls on leadership.” It is impossible to have unity in a local body of believers when there is no unity in the leadership. Early in my ministry while serving as an associate pastor, the church where I served experienced a season when its governing board was split down the middle on many major issues, bringing great confusion and division within the local body. Before unity can be achieved and protected within the local body of believers, disunity within the leadership must be resolved. Allowing disunity to continue to grow within leadership will bring confusion and destruction in the local assembly. The leadership team must cast a clear vision, deal with any disunity, and lead in unity and clarity toward the vision.
John 17:9-13 records Jesus praying that all believers would be one. Verse 11 states, Now I am no longer in the world, but these are in the world, and I come to You. Holy Father, keep through Your name those whom You have given Me, that they may be one as We are. We must never forget; it was Jesus’ prayer that we would walk in unity with one another.
About the Author
Pastor Dan Powell and Theresa, his wife, have been the lead pastors of Calvary Open Bible in Dayton, Ohio, for more than 25 years. Dan is also the founder of Hope4Communities, a network of flourishing streams of influencers leading city transformation across the Miami Valley. He earned his MBA from the University of Dayton, a Master of Practical Theology from The Kings Seminary, and a CPA certification in the State of Ohio. Dan and Theresa have been married more than 37 years and have two married adult children and three grandchildren.