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with Ann Maniscalco
Lemierre’s syndrome. We’d never heard of it. After taking Rae, our nine-year-old granddaughter, to several medical professionals without any answers, and seeing her worsen by the day, we finally got a diagnosis for this rare, strep-based disease. A harrowing journey involving six weeks in a specialty hospital nearby commenced. Family members teamed with medical experts from various disciplines to fight this infectious nemesis.
As long days and nights turned into weeks, we saw unity at its best. The medical team ordered tests, checked Rae’s vitals, read reports, did research, and talked to family members, trying to make the wisest assessments and initiate the safest procedures. And those involved didn’t always agree. However, when push came to shove, unified decisions were required for treatment to continue. Rae is now much improved, and we rejoice in all who imparted their skill and care for this positive outcome.
In a similar manner, church members are a team with a common goal. It can be encapsulated into two words: “make disciples” (Matthew 28:19 NIV). To be true followers of Jesus, all the programs, plans and projects undertaken by the local church must move toward and culminate in obedience to this command. Unity is required for that to happen. As we consider this week’s theme – to be connected in unity – we realize the hard truth: although unity is a given, staying unified requires diligent effort.
So what are some spiritual traits that promote unity? Paul tells the Ephesians to live (some translations say “walk”) worthy of their calling (Eph. 4:1). We’ve been chosen and adopted as children of the King of kings…what more worthy calling is there? But the next two verses say this high privilege calls for a certain manner of life, requiring diligent effort. We’re to show an abundance (“completely”; vs 2) of humility, gentleness, patience and love to fellow believers. Verse three continues the emphasis; we’re to “make every effort” to maintain unity. The Holy Spirit provides the empowerment, and peace is the bonding agent.
Paul further drives home the unity theme in verses 4-6. Look how often the words “one” and “all” are used. Yes, congregations display diversity – economically, educationally, and culturally – but God’s family is one body (see Galatians 3:28-29). We share a common hope – the gift of forgiveness and eternal life in our “one Lord”, Jesus Christ. The “oneness” of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit is the foundation for our Christian unity.
Then how do we achieve this unity? A blend of two perspectives might be helpful. Scripture says to remember those leaders who’ve taught us God’s word; to obey them and submit to their authority (Hebrews 13: 7, 17). But all believers “have the mind of Christ” (1 Corinthians 2:16 NKJV). In “The Purpose Driven Church”, Rick Warren says, “Wise leaders understand that people will give mental and verbal assent to what they are told, but they will hold with conviction what they discover for themselves.”
Some church leaders use their position to decide and dictate goals, programs and ministries with little regard to input from the congregation. This impedes unity and invites apathy. Henry Blackaby, in “Experiencing God”, explains his unity-building method. He said God began to move in their Saskatoon church and to express His will to members. Pastor Blackaby said all members “were given an opportunity and encouraged to share…the entire church became experientially and practically aware of Christ’s presence in [their] midst.” This team effort resulted in a great work of God.
Reminiscing on his time as a choir member, pastor and cartoonist Joe McKeever discusses the value of unity: “Even the good singers, when called on to do a little solo in rehearsal to help the others…were not that great. And of course, I was the very definition of mediocre. But a funny thing happened. When we all joined our voices together, the result was something magical.” He compared this to the local church: “Perhaps we work better and worship better and pray better in concert with brothers and sisters than we do alone.”
What part are you playing in this divine “concert”? Could your words of encouragement help a shy or new person “join the choir” (begin using his or her gifts)? Are the lyrics of your “melody line” filled with kindness and grace? Are there any dissonant chords of gossip or unforgiveness to be put aside? If unity in your church is “off-key”, how can you help make it more harmonious?
Maniscalco is a member of Lemoyne Boulevard Church in Biloxi.