Unity

“It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us not to burden you with anything beyond the following requirements.”   Have you ever wondered if unity is possible, especially among people of faith?  In my more cynical moments I wonder if the unity that emerged during the council at Jerusalem was a “one-off” event. Today the church seems to make more headlines for its theological division than for its ability to bring folks together.  The reasons for this fracturing are varied and move from humorous to sad.  There is an urban legend about a church that split over a painting in the baptistery that depicted Adam and Eve with belly buttons.  When I was in college I remember debating vigorously about the virgin birth and Jesus’ resurrection.  If someone was on the other side of my position I quickly moved to questioning their faith commitments.

In 2013 many faith battles are directly connected to sexuality.  As more and more churches rethink think their stances on the ordination and marriage of gays and lesbians the church seems less and less unified.  Some church leaders have even taken to starting new denominations over these disputes.

I realize that unity for the sake of unity makes no sense.  After all if everyone is unified in allowing something that is evil to occur then unity is only allowing a mass of folks to do and be wrong.  Unifying people of faith around unity only is pointless at best.

This does not change that Jesus’ final hope for people of faith was that they would be unified (read John 17).  My job provides me with many opportunities to work with both liberal and conservative believers.  If I am honest I see no quick faith fix to the sexuality battles.  Unity is still a possibility.  It will demand something people of faith often confuse with backsliding - compromise.

Like the leaders at the council of Jerusalem the church needs to become less concerned with burdening its membership with unnecessary requirements.  When Jesus was asked what was most important, his response was simple, concise, and profound.  For Jesus everything boiled down to love.  Anything we do as individuals or communities of faith that violates this rule moves all of us towards dis-unity.

As a friend of mine is fond of saying, “love God, love your neighbor, nothing else matters.”

Consensus

Decision making in groups can be pretty stressful, especially if you are the leader.   How do you get everybody to decide on a direction?  Then how do you comfort and encourage those who do not agree?  I realize that 51% rules in politics, but I would hardly call 51% a mandate.  For the rest of us, especially those of us in church leadership, 51% also tell us that 49% of the people are unhappy.  Asking 49% of the people to just “suck it up and get on with life” is not very pastoral and does not lead to unity.

My goal in every decision making process is to arrive at Acts 15:28, “It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us…”

In my experience getting to a place of unity is not accomplished through majority rule decision making.  Unity becomes possible when all voices can be heard and everyone is empowered to stop the process and ask questions.  I will be the first to admit that this is not efficient and making a decision will require compromise from everyone.

In the last couple of months I have seen this process create unity in unexpected places.  Last November I was part of a team that gathered urban leaders from across the country for a consultation in Kansas City.  The leaders at this meeting represented all the political, theological and ethnic diversity that makes up the church.  Just deciding where to eat was going to be difficult.   Our team’s goal was to leave the meeting with a document that everyone could sign.

Last week I was part of a team interviewing candidates for a DOOR City Director.  After completing the interviews, we took a quick vote to see where people were at.  I was hoping that everyone was on the same page and the decision of who to hire would be quick and easy.  This was not the case.  The board was evenly divided.  This meant I could cast the deciding vote and the losers would just have to “suck it up.”  In a rare moment of clarity I did not choose this option.  Instead we moved into a consensus process, allowing everyone to express their opinions and ask questions.   This was not an easy process.

In both cases we were ultimately able to enjoy an Acts 15:28 moment.  There is a signed document and a new city director.  This did not happen because everyone got their way (consensus requires compromise), but because we created a space where everyone had an equal voice.  In doing this we arrived at a place where everyone could be comfortable with what was written and decided.