My dream for the church is simple. I want the church to be united. I want the church to be one functional group of people with one purpose, heart, and vision. I want the church to be what God always wanted it to be - united.
Now before I dig too deep, I understand your hesitation. Doctrine. Teaching. Values. Opinion. Those things are too important to simply look past or ignore in many cases.I agree with you when you say, “Neal, it’s just not that easy.”
The unity I want has nothing to do with “drawing lines in the sand.” The unity I want is something that seems impossible. It’s something we only hope for, without any real belief it will happen. It’s something you might only whisper about, because the minute you shout it everyone quickly offers you a dirty look or a roll of the eyes. It’s something you dream about but soon forget when reality sets in.
Let me explain the situation where I work. My little corner of the world has a long legacy of being strong in the church due to connections all the way back to the Restoration Movement. In fact, several congregations in this county trace their original organization all the way back to the early 1800s. Our history here is significant. It is with pride that I can say our tradition means something. The church has been strong in this county for hundreds of years.
However, we’re not really united. Everyone speaks of our strength in numbers, but we never put it too work. There are 11,000 residents of Monroe county. Each Sunday morning, roughly 1,000 of them gather together across 20 plus congregations to worship God and study His word. That is another fact that I say with a great sense of pride.
If you take our combined numbers you represent the greatest entity of people within our county who freely choose to be a part of something not associated with the school system or politics. So what are we doing with our numbers? With our shared faith? With our shared commitment to one another?
We’re meeting in separate buildings across the county (many of them in out-of-the-way parts where very few people still live). Some of the congregations are down to a final few members (some as few as 6-10). Several of them use men from other congregations as regular preachers (taking turns every couple of weeks). While I appreciate their commitment to a congregation they’ve attended since they were little and the work of those men, I must ask the question, does the world think we’re united? Do we?
I’m afraid all the world sees is our complaints about other congregations who don’t support our meetings and us (in turn) not supporting their meeting. Our “fights” over members when we know someone is willing to shift their allegiances. Our willingness to bring up past embarrassments or problems when discussing a neighboring congregation. Our competition to have the best youth ministry or preacher or bus or whatever else.
I’m afraid all the world sees is what they believe to be another denomination, split amongst itself because people can’t agree on anything except agreeing to disagree and go our separate ways. I read the letters to the churches of Asia Minor in Revelation and I see one thing that always encourages me. Jesus didn’t send those letters by the hand of John to the multiple congregations of Ephesus or Sardis. They were troubled. They were messing up. But they were united in one idea, this is the Lord’s Church.
My dream is that my little part of the world can find a deeper form of unity than we’re ever experienced. Imagine what we’d do in our little neck of the woods if we were able to look past our history, opinions, and differences to genuinely unite as one. If we could do great things here what about elsewhere?
My dream for the church is unity. A unity we’re never truly seen. A unity we can only talk about like its a dream or a distant idea.