UNITY & 5 ways church unity creates a powerful influence in your city

There are many ways to describe the church: a fellowship, a congregation and a community. But, I’ve noticed a refreshing alternative among those who lead young churches. They often find the terms fellowship, community, etc. as too associated with a complex organizational structure. Instead, they often use a word borrowed from the developing world: tribe.

At a church called “The Tribe of Los Angeles,” a young attendee described it this way, “Tribe tells people we are doing something different at church. It means we are close, like a family. And, it also says we are in this together in this, (that) we are small but mobile, that we have a closely held, common task. It’s just like a tribe in the developing world that must work together to survive.”  

I find something refreshing in terms that sum up for younger people a family-like dependence. Now, I am not recommending that churches adopt such terminology to be voguish or appear relevant. But I find that using the term on occasion reminds us all that the church is on a mission and the accomplishment of that mission depends upon the church being a mutually supportive team.

The power of unity

In John 17:20-23 Jesus prayed that all believers, throughout all time, would demonstrate a supernatural unity. And, He stressed that this unity would amaze the world:

The goal is for all of them to become one heart and mind—
Just as you, Father, are in me and I in you,
So they might be one heart and mind with us….
Then they’ll be mature in this oneness,
And give the godless world evidence
That you’ve sent me and loved them
In the same way you’ve loved me. (MSG)

Such a passionate desire from the Son of God cannot easily be dismissed. But this was more than just a longing. Jesus emphasized a purpose in this unity when He stated, “Then they’ll be mature in this oneness, and give the godless world evidence that you’ve sent me and loved them” (v. 23, MSG). Let’s look at a few practical ways that a church can give evidence that God is working through it.

1. Unity supports God’s mission

God’s mission (sometimes called the missio Dei) is that He wants to reunite with His wayward offspring. Jesus made it clear that only through His sacrifice was this reconciliation possible (John 14:6-7, Romans 3:23-24, 5:8, 6:23). And through the Church supports this mission in many ways, there are at least three important ways church unity contributes to reconnecting people with their heavenly Father.

2. Unity influence the community.

Jesus wanted His church to be so loving, forgiving and united that the secular world would take notice. He desired the evidence of this amazement to not be theatrics, but to “give the godless world evidence that You’ve sent me and loved them” (John 17:23 MSG).  And so, when a church is uncommonly united, this contrasts with the disunity found in most worldly organizations. It reminds the watching world that something supernatural is at work in our churches, and it models to the world the undivided nature of God.

3. Unity can impact cross-denominational influence.

I’ve noticed that church leaders often influence other congregations by packaging innovative programs and selling them as growth inducers to other congregations.  But, too often these are only tactical programs, that may work only for a short time. Churches who latch onto such tactical programs often adopt tactical names, such as Seeker-friendly Churches, Cell Churches, Missional Churches, Body-life Churches or Samaritan Churches. But, as seen in Jesus’ prayer, it might be more fitting for networks of churches to be known for their unity more than their innovations.  Congregations that are united can model important attributes of forgiveness, harmony and agreement that the secular world finds hard to muster.

4. Unity influences a congregation.

A united congregation provides an environment where congregants can spend more time and energy focusing on the needs of those outside of the organization, rather than scrutinizing the differences of those within. I have often observed churches so focused on their internal squabbles that they miss (and usually repel) visitors and seekers who God is sending their way. But when churches become more united, they recycle more time and energy into the dire problems of those not yet reunited with their heavenly Father.

5. Unity influences non-churchgoers.

The secular realm can be a bastion of antagonism, rancor and factions. Little wonder that weary souls worn down by this often search for an environment where divisiveness is minimal. Many hope to find in Christ’s Church this harbor. If they instead encounter false-compassion and hypocritical jockeying for influence, they can easily conclude that the church is hypocritical: promising solace but offering rancor. As Paul noted, a united, loving and forgiving church means “no going along with the crowd, the empty-headed, mindless crowd” (Ephesians 4:17 MSG).

The church should strive, with God’s help, to be increasingly united. The goal is not perfectunity, but more unity. Two colleagues of mine label this “dissonant harmony.” By this, they mean that a church can never attain perfect harmony, but it can attain a degree of harmony (though not perfect) that is increasingly harmonious but acknowledges some dissonance and dissension.

Christ’s prayer is not that churches fabricate mindless slaves to corporate vision. Rather Jesus emphasized that Church unity was to be a earthly reflection of the miraculous oneness amid diversity of the Trinity: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. And so, striving to be more unified has benefits and caveats that still make the effort worth it.

Excerpted from The Healthy Church: Practical Ways to Strengthen a Church’s Heart, by Bob Whitesel (Wesleyan Publishing 2013).

Photo source: istock 

Read more at … https://www.biblicalleadership.com/blogs/5-ways-church-unity-creates-a-powerful-influence/

UNITY & 7 Ideas That Create Unity Among Multiple Worship Services

by Bob Whitesel D.Min., Ph.D. and the 2017 Missional Coaches Cohort, 2/1/17.

  • Hold unified worship services, not just around holidays & special days.
    • Hold a combined service around the 4th of July and meet offsite at a lake or
      community pool for baptisms. Hold a combined fall fest service around Halloween or Thanksgiving, and make sure it has creative elements that express thanks and gratitude.
    • Hold a combined service after the new year, and speak to the ‘state of
      the church’ or the ministry focus for the year to come.
    • Make sure to celebrate ministries that have gone well in the previous year.
    • KEY > This is not about convenience (i.e. to compensate for a low-attendance Sunday).  Rather, it is about showcasing how God is moving through each of the worship expressions by:
      • Sharing testimonies
      • Sharing music
      • Sharing prayers
      • etc.
  • Swap Sanctuaries.
    • Have the different services / congregations switch their worship space for a
      week. Speak vision for the congregation to understand why they are doing it.
    • Consider mixing up the music just a little, and have some unique service
      elements – video, live testimony, special reading, etc.
  • Swap Serving Teams.
    • Not ready to swap sanctuaries? Okay, then how about swapping serving teams?
    • Greeters, Ushers, Hospitality Teams – send them to the opposite end of the
      building once a month to serve the other congregation. A hassle? Perhaps.
    • But the interaction might add some new life or increase the perspective or
      appreciation for what’s happening at the other end of the building.
  • Recruit prayer partners for multiple services.
    • Have designated prayer partners visit the other service and pray for the service, the families, the ministry effectiveness of that unique service.
    • Think about the impact of older folks praying for the younger families in their service, while seeing younger folks praying for the older folks who have prayed and given and sacrificed to build a church of great witness and reach in the community?
  • Hold a combined marriage retreat (or any similar type of retreat).
    • February or March are optimal. Be sure to highlight older couples in the church who are modeling good marriages for those who are just starting out.
    • Partner up older and younger couples for the weekend, and have public moments of prayer and words of encouragement to each other.
  • Hold combined prayer walks.
    • What would it look like to gather 2-3 times a year as one congregation and walk around the church’s neighborhood and pray for the people living in all those homes.
    • Make sure to read up on holding prayer walks; this isn’t a demonstration.
    • But what a great opportunity to expand the bandwidth of everyone’s prayer
      concern for the neighborhoods around the church!
  • Hold a combined mission emphasis weekend / go on trips together.
    • What local, regional, national, or global ministries do you support?
    • Get everyone from both services for a night or weekend to eat food from another country, hear stories of missionaries / ministry representatives. Schedule trips where various groups can interact and serve together.

© Bob Whitesel DMin PhD & MissionalCoaches.com #PowellChurch

 

 

UNITY & A Leadership Exercise to Design Unity Celebrations for the Multi-venue Church

by Bob Whitesel D.Min., Ph.D., 12/4/15.

A tactic of a leadership collage should be to minister to as many cultures (generational, ethnic, affinity, etc.) as feasible.  But, you should likewise have a plan for unity services as a tactic of your leadership collage.

But, here is a warning.  Unity services should not be about the event, but about the effect … of helping congregants appreciate that we are different generations with different cultural tastes.  Thus, don’t have a unity service or unity event because you have a low-attendance Sunday coming up, but host a unity event so you can help the congregation appreciate all of the cultures present in the church.

Some churches have a combined unity service on every the Fifth Sunday.  Others like Saint Thomas’ Church of Sheffield, England had a weekly Sunday Evening Service which is a unity encounter for its nine (9) different cultures.  I suggest if you have two or more worship services, you have a unity event at least once every three months.

So, how do you plan to do it?

A Leadership Exercise:

First, settle on the right goal. A unity event is not about combining services for a low-attendance Sunday (holiday weekends) but about “helping congregants appreciate that we are different generations with different cultural taste.”

Secondly, do some research on what others have done to create unity celebrations.  Use the Internet, your network of friends or just brainstorm with colleagues.  Here is a link to the story of St. Tom’s Church in Sheffield, England and my experience at their Sunday evening unity events.

Thirdly, create a plan.  Share with other leaders some ideas about how you will, or have seen others create real unity events, where people see the differences in cultures … and then come to appreciate each culture more. Make a personal plan from this.

Some of you may have seen how Greater Traveler’s Rest Church in Georgia famously held a unity service every Thanksgiving season to celebrate their different generational cultures.  Because they used secular music, the pastor (a friend of mine) received threatening letters. Thus, the video I formerly posted here is gone.

But, below is a URL of a video of the entire service, showing how one church does it.  Greater Traveler’s Rest Church is an African-American church and they were influenced by a colleague of mine:

So create a plan regarding how your church could localize and customize a “unity” experience that would be appropriate for your culture.  It probably wouldn’t happen like the video in your church, but it might in some 🙂  If you need a little shot of enthusiasm as you near the end of your course, you may want to watch the video again 🙂

UNITY & How a “Wall of Wonder” Can Unite a Church Undergoing Change

Commentary by Dr. Whitesel: Bruno Dyck and Fredrick Stark at the University of Manitoba (Administrative Science Quarterly) found in their research that when a church undergoes change it can remain united if during the change it remembers and celebrates times when it endured change and remained united in the past. This “4th Trigger” in their process model demonstrated that celebrating times of unity from the past is critical for effective congregational change to take place. Here is an idea from the United Methodist News Service about one tool that can bring that about.

Comfort in changing times
By Heather Hahn, 12/1/15, United Methodist News Service.

(The) United Methodist Commission on Archives and History… housed at United Methodist-related Drew University, offers materials — like that letter — that connect church members with their Wesleyan heritage.

“We’re the family album of The United Methodist Church,” said the Rev. Alfred T. Day III, the top executive of Archives and History since 2014…

Is your local congregation undergoing a time of change or struggle? In times of difficulty or uncertainty, church records can be a comfort.

Day suggests that churches not wait for major anniversaries to display the photographs and other artifacts that tell the story of their ministry. Instead, he recommends that congregations assemble he calls a “Wall of Wonder” when times are tough.

Archives and History can augment such exhibits with a corresponding timeline for the denomination and its predecessors.

“In seeing that timeline of a congregation’s life, you see as the hymn ‘Amazing Grace’ says, ‘Through many dangers, toils and snares, we have already come,’” he said.

Simply put, such mementos help people of faith see God at work over the long haul.

It’s a perspective John Wesley would appreciate. His devout wish to end legalized slavery in North America took almost a century to come to fruition.

The British Empire did not outlaw the slave trade until 1807, 16 years after Wesley’s death. The fight over slavery actually split Wesley’s movement in the United States in 1844. The United States finally officially abolished slavery with the ratification of the Constitution’s 13th Amendment on Dec. 6, 1865.

Even that did not settle the dispute among Wesley’s followers, but the Methodist Church ultimately reunited in 1939.

“I think what history helps us to do is to take a longer view,” Day said. “Look at what we’ve come through in the past. Why should we think that God’s grace isn’t going to lead us into the future?”

Read more at … http://www.umc.org/news-and-media/for-churchgoers-treasures-from-the-family-album.

UNITY & How Unity Events Keep Multi-generational Churches From Splitting Up

by Bob Whitesel D.min., Ph.D., 11/12/15.

“…if we do not offer culturally different worship encounters, then those other cultures will go elsewhere, and we’ll be separated anyway: this time not by feet or yard, but my miles.”

A student once shared an online article where a person criticized the Multi-generational church as dividing up the church.  That article writer said, “(Multigenerational Church?
Bryan Elliott – Contributing Author) Okay family, everyone synchronize your watches, we’re almost at church.  Now when your watch reads high noon meet at the front foyer…..readddddyyyy, break!”  Sounds more like a military campaign morphed into a football game.  Sad to say, it’s the American family headed to church.  You see, Billy goes to the 5 year old class as Sandy runs off to the junior high worship, not to mention big brother Blake attending the high school “blow out” worship as mom and dad sit peacefully with all the other adults in the sanctuary (That is if mom or dad doesn’t have to run one of the programs).  Then at the end of it all the family convenes at the entrance of the foyer and heads off to lunch.  Wow, wasn’t church exciting, wasn’t it unifying! I thought the family was a high priority to the church.  It appears everyone is segregated and entertained then thrown back together.  Dad has no idea what the kids have learned.  The kids have no idea what mom and dad have studied.  Not only has Sandy not had the opportunity to watch Mom worship her Lord and Savior, but the boys also weren’t able to witness Dad’s seriousness in the Word and communion.  Is there an advantage to all this?  Sure, you’re able to engage each member of the family on their level, it appeals to them for the time being, but what have you accomplished?  What message have you conveyed?

Here is my response.  I thought it might be of interest.

Hello;

The author of this article is right, that is what happens if you do not have unity events!  But, the other option, of blending everything robs us of evangelistic power.  The way I read Matthew 28:19ff, God says there is as primacy for the Great Commission.

This is why (for ourselves and our critics) that unity events are so important.  St. Thomas’ Church of Sheffield England has a unity worship gathering every Sunday night (they have to, they have nine different celebrations). These unity events are “come who may” and while St. Tom’s has about 2,500 total attendance at nine celebrations, they have 1,000 people every Sunday evening. These people on Sunday evenings are rubbing shoulders with other Christians of different cultures.  But, on Sunday mornings, when most non-churchgoing people are still most likely to go to church, they offer different culturally-sensitive worship expressions to reach those who are non-churchgoers.

Thus, the author is pointing out a hole in most multi-generational (i.e. multi-cultural) strategies.  In fact, I’ve been to churches that have several services and haven’t had a unity event in years!  They are thus giving credence to this author’s critique.

And, as you know I advocate that the same message be delivered in each venue.  People should be getting the Good News in not only their own vernacular, but also the same content. This can be done by video (harder) or by having the different preachers at each venue to agree on take-away lessons and Biblical content.  It’s not that hard.  Hundreds of churches do it.

And, the author forgot one more thing.  And that is that if we do not offer culturally different worship encounters, then those other cultures will go elsewhere, and we’ll be separated anyway: this time not by feet or yard, but my miles.

BLENDED WORSHIP & Why You Should Use Both Blended Music & Heart Music

by Bob Whitesel D.Min., Ph.D., 11/5/15.

Linked below is an insightful article by James Ward, an accomplished and popular Christian musician about the challenges, yet benefits, of blending cross-cultural worship. In my view, we should have such cross-cultural worship expressions. Yet I also emphasize that we need culturally diverse worship expressions too, in order to connect with what Ward calls “the heart language” (pp. 44-45) of more people among today’s increasingly diverse cultures.

And so, this is a helpful article, written by a musician/scholar who a Caucasian pastor once asked, “I want to have a parish church, uniquely positioned to meet the needs of our immediate community. How do begin to do that in our worship if our neighbors are black?” (Ward, 2012, p. 40) James Ward’s answer became the basis for this article: http://globalworship.tumblr.com/post/8744200959/strategies-for-cross-cultural-music-worship-by

Leadership Exercise:

Take a look at this article and then answer with colleagues, one of the first two questions and then also the third.

1. How can cross-cultural worship break down pejorative stereotypes?

2. How can cross-cultural worship fit into a church that is, like the example mentioned by the Caucasian pastor, seeking to reach out to a changing demographic in the neighborhood?

3. Finally if you can only answer one of these questions, answer this one. Ward says, “As wonderful as it may sound, cross-cultural worship seems not to be for everyone” (p. 46). Thus, how do you balance in a church “heart language” worship with “cross-cultural” worship?

I think Ward has some good thoughts about “heart music” which he defines in ethnomusicological nomenclature as “a musical context leaned in childhood that most fully expresses one’s emotions” (pp. 44-45).

UNITY & How to Maintain A Church’s Unity as It Multiplies & Diversifies

by Bob Whitesel D.Min., Ph.D., 10-24/15.

A student once shared a very common dilemma.  I’ve attached my response to help students, colleagues and clients struggling with diversifying a church while maintaining unity (and to explain how unity does not trump multiplication).

Here is what the student wrote:

As I helped the church see the need for change to reach younger generations we began to reach a younger crowd. Young people who had left the church were returning. At first it was just my presence of being a younger person myself. As we grew we had to make some difficult decisions about were we were intentionally headed. We didn’t want to neglect the older folks nor the younger folks either. We ended up making a decision to have two services that would meet each of their needs but some of the older more established people didn’t like the idea. Some comments were, “we’re dividing the flock” and “shouldn’t the young people (new people or unchurched) come at 8:00 a.m. instead of the traditional people.” We were running 135 people and could only sit 150 while our parking lot held less. Unfortunately 30 people left the church. I was crushed that so called mature Christians couldn’t sacrifice to see more people reached for Christ and grow in Him. We already had Wed. nights that was traditional, and Sunday nights that was traditional, and Sunday morning was traditional. I guess for some giving the younger folks 1/4 of the ministry focus was asking too much.

Here is my response:

Thanks for sharing a powerful, but unfortunately all too typical story when you said, “as we grew we had to make some difficult decisions about were we were intentionally headed. We didn’t want to neglect the older folks nor the younger folks either. We ended up making a decision to have two services that would meet each of their needs but some of the older more established people didn’t like the idea. Some comments were, “we’re dividing the flock” and “shouldn’t the young people (new people or unchurched) come at 8:00 a.m. instead of the traditional people.” “We were running 135 people and could only sit 150 while our parking lot held less. Unfortunately 30 people left the church. I was crushed that so called mature Christians couldn’t sacrifice to see more people reached for Christ and grow in Him. We already had Wed. nights that was traditional, and Sunday nights that was traditional, and Sunday morning was traditional. I guess for some giving the younger folks 1/4 of the ministry focus was asking too much.”

I don’t think the entire fault lies with those who left, but in the way we “grew” these older generations to understand today’s cultural differences.  Many of these older Builder Generation people grew up in a less diverse, more uni-cultural world.  Thus, they feel like their way of life is ending (it is) by this generational diversity.  We must show them that the message of Christ is, as Charles Kraft says, “supra-cultural,” meaning Christ’s message is not a culture, but is above culture (Christianity in Culture, 1979).

The key to keeping the older generation is to help them see they are a “culture” and that young people are a “culture” too (e.g. the “youth culture,” “counter-culture,” etc.).  Too often Builder-aged people can’t see why young people need things differently, unless we help them see that it is like learning a foreign culture.  If you don’t learn about the foreign uncomfortable for them.

Thus, step one is creating mutual respect.  But, you have to explain it to them in terms of a “culture,” or else they won’t get it.

And, then you just do like a missionary does.  A missionary comes to our churches, shows pictures of the people and their customs, and shares testimonies from these people.  This helps those of alien cultures (USA for example) to understand better the culture of the Two-thirds World.  So, have regular testimonials etc. from the youth culture at your Builder service (you must begin to do this, or risk losing even more).

Secondly, we must have quarterly unity services.  Not services where services are combined because of a low-attendance Sunday, but where we join together to celebrate our diversity.  These unity services must happen at least once a quarter.  Again, pattern this after a missionary service, where the missionary may bring a youth choir to sing in the cultural language and dress.  Remind the Builder Generation that to expect this culture to become like them is analogous to Colonialism, where empires tried to make people like themselves.  We fought wars against Colonialism, including the Revolutionary War and World War II (against Japanese and German Colonialism).

With these two steps, cultural-acclimation and unity-gatherings, you can keep a church diverse, yet united.  If we don’t we will wind up with a church divided and uni-cultural.