I can’t say that I’ve ever really had a crisis of faith.
I’ve spent my whole life in church. I’ve seen the good and the bad. As a young boy, I watched men from my church lovingly pray over my mother after she was diagnosed with a disease I had never heard of. As a young man, I held her lifeless hand just moments after that same disease ended her life.
Through it all, I never questioned God’s existence or his goodness.
But there was a time in my life when I questioned his followers.
I grew up in a good church. In the two decades I spent there, I only knew two pastors. The first pastor was larger than life, like Moses. The second was much younger and much easier to relate to. Both men were incredible pastors. Both had a profound impact on my life that is still with me today. I wasn’t the only one. There were hundreds of others who benefited from these two men and the church that they led.
But something changed.
I came home from college and found things different than they were when I left. The pastor who had helped me so much was forced out. People started yelling at each other. Ministry was replaced with power grabs. Good men, women and families were leaving.
For a while, I considered calling it quits. Not the following Jesus part of my life. Just the following Jesus with other people part of my life. I was sick of the church. But graciously, God didn’t leave me to my feelings. He wouldn’t let me abandon his people.
And later on, he made me a pastor.
I don’t think that a day ever goes by without me thinking about my old church. I miss that place, at least the way I knew it when I was a kid. Whenever I see my old church friends, we always talk about the place that shaped us. We talk about how things were. We try to figure out what went wrong. Sort of like dealing with the loss of a loved one, the sharp pain of our loss has gone away but we still wish that things could be like they used to be.
Now that I’m a pastor, I think about my old church even more. Specifically, I think about the very real potential of the same thing happening at the church that I pastor. I think about the teenagers in my church hitting their 30s and wondering what happened to the place that shaped their faith. I pray a lot that that doesn’t happen.
And under God’s guidance, I take steps to make sure that it doesn’t. I try to do what Paul did.
In Philippians 4, he called the people by name who were potentially disrupting the unity of the church.
I entreat Euodia and I entreat Syntyche to agree in the Lord. Yes, I ask you also, true companion, help these women, who have labored side by side with me in the gospel together with Clement and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life. Philippians 4:2-3 (ESV)
This goes against typical practices in the church. We’d rather let sleeping dogs lie for three decades and then wonder why no one comes to our church anymore.
Shortly after I became a pastor, a couple of people were going to others in our church and around town and saying things about me. The things they were saying had nothing to do with my ravishing good looks or stunning vertical leaping ability. They were saying bad things.
I thought about my old church.
So I called those people who were talking bad about me.
It didn’t get ugly. Voices were not raised. I just asked two questions.
“What did I do to upset you and how can I make it right?”
They were shocked. They were in denial. And they quit coming to our church. Shortly after their departure, we began to experience a very uncommon unity in our church that is still with us today. Too many churches break apart because people would rather gamble with community than confront a critic.
It’s interesting what Paul tells Euodia and Syntyche. We’re never let in on the source of their gripe with each other. Paul never mentions it. He just says, “Agree in the Lord.”
Not, “Agree on their opinion of childhood vaccinations.”
Not, “Agree on whether or not their kids should go to a private school, public school or homeschool co-op.”
Not, “Agree on their preferred style of worship music.”
Just, “Agree in the Lord.”
A lot of churches look unified but they’re anything but. They’re just conformed. Everyone in the church educates their kids the same way, shares the same political views and likes their steak prepared the same way. What’s not to agree on?
Unity is different. Unity is a mom who isn’t really a fan of public education, a mom who sends her kid to the local public school and a mom who leads a home school group sitting on the same pew and breaking the same bread because they know that through all of their differences, they share the same Lord.
“Agree in the Lord.”
Authentic unity never comes at the expense of truth. Rather, truth is the foundation of authentic unity. There are foundations of the faith that we all must agree on. But the Bible is silent about our private school versus public school versus homeschool debate. Sometimes, it’s good for us to be silent too. Our opinions are important. And it’s good to make them known. But wisdom tells us that there are also times when it’s good to keep those opinions to ourselves.
The first person I’ve ever known who went to Africa was the pastor of my childhood church. To this day, he still has a remarkable passion for missions. And his passion spread to the rest of us who were under his leadership. Suddenly, our church stopped being inward focused and started thinking about the best ways to get the gospel to the world.
And then, in the summer of 1996, the world came to us. The summer Olympics brought people from all over the world to our south metro Atlanta town. The potential for ministry was endless. The actual ministry that took place was minimal, at best. That’s because power hungry people in our church were too busy firing pastors and pointing fingers.
In my experience, when Satan destroys a church, he doesn’t do it by possessing some kid in an Ozzy shirt and telling him to sacrifice a goat on one of the altars. He’s much too crafty for that. He just attacks the church’s unity.
He knows that when a church is busy fighting against itself, it won’t have the time, energy, passion or vision to fight against his scheme to keep the minds of unbelievers blinded (2 Corinthians 4:4).
Unity should never be an end in itself. Instead, it should be the engine that propels the church into ministry.
Last week, there was a meeting at my church. We were discussing a new building and the finances that come along with such a project. I always get nervous at these meetings. Not because I’m afraid that I’ll say something wrong. It’s just that I think back on all of those bad meetings I saw when I was growing up. I think about the potential for disaster.
But there were no wagging fingers at this meeting. No one yelled. Nobody stood up to, “share a few concerns.”
Our meeting, where we discussed thousands and thousands of dollars, was over in five minutes.
Pastors like to talk a lot about revival. For some, it’s an event on a calendar. For others, it’s the supernatural. But I think that a revival can happen without being either of those things. A true work of the Spirit is not dependent on a church’s schedule or an evangelist’s manipulation.
The Spirit shows up and works as he pleases.
I think that he likes to show up and work in unified churches.
I think that he’s doing that in our church right now.
And I don’t want it to stop.