Some call it a sixth sense, others intuition. Christians call it the Holy Spirit. It's that ability to enter a room and read the social climate. Mothers have it in spades. They know when their children are up to something.
Many of us can walk into a church building and within a few minutes have a cursory sense of what this faith community is like. We can tell what is important, what the agendas are, what the issues or challenges are, and whether people really like each other. I've had many conversations recently with people standing on the fringes of faith and church, and the main reasons they give for their lack of engagement with faith and a congregation are the people things. They have observed the relational cracks and the conversations that reveal an underlying current of tension at the least and conflict at the worst.
Is this unusual for a group of people? No. Is it unrealistic to think disunity won't exist? Yes. Should those exploring faith be able to see the church dealing with these realities differently? Absolutely.
The Call in the Midst of Disunity
Our call as followers of Christ is to align with what God is doing. The dominant theme in the New Testament is God’s bringing reconciliation: us to him and us to one another. This is the purpose of Christ's suffering, death, resurrection, and ascension. Joining him in it means taking up the responsibility to be what Paul calls ambassadors for Christ, working in the midst of tension and conflict to bring reconciliation in attitude and action. This is unity, and it is arguably the most important truth of Scripture because it describes the nature of God. God is one. Unity. Father, Son, Holy Spirit.
When the church embodies this characteristic, it witnesses to the world about who God is and about the saving work of Christ. For those of us on the fence, it's not the interpersonal issues themselves but how we handle them that matters.
The movie Remember the Titans openly addresses issues of cultural, racial, and relational division, not unlike what the body of Christ experiences. Forced to integrate in every way imaginable, a new football team finds themselves tackling deep-seated distrust and disrespect—the roots of disunity.
The first step to overcoming the deep divide comes as the team prepares to go to football camp. Their leader, Coach Boone, makes the team choose bus seats based not on race but on whether they play defense or offense. The coach knows that sitting in the same room does not bring unity. While wearing the same uniform is a start, it doesn't bond people to each other.
As tensions reach their peak, Coach Boone wakes up his players and coaches for a middle-of-the-night training run to the Gettysburg battlefield and cemetery. He tells his players they must come together. The word the Bible uses for this is fellowship: locking arms with commitment, kindness, and compassion despite our differences concerning faith and the purpose of Christ’s church.
Unity does not mean agreeing on everything. Rather, it holds powerful tensions and God-given differences together through an overwhelming loyalty to each other as brothers and sisters in Christ. It is supported by a deep humility that makes unity more important than our desires, needs, and preferences—ourselves—so we hold onto one another tightly.
No church is perfect. It is full of messy people. The kind of community characterized by unity that we all long for is possible when we choose to set aside our personal preferences and issues in order to be faithful in following and learning from and becoming like the One who is unity—the One who put himself at the Father’s disposal for our good, not insisting on his own way.
In his letter to the Philippians, Paul appealed to their experience with Christ by telling them what it takes to be part of the community of faith.
"Is there any encouragement from belonging to Christ? Any comfort from his love? Any fellowship together in the Spirit? Are your hearts tender and compassionate? Then make me truly happy by agreeing wholeheartedly with each other, loving one another, and working together with one mind [attitude] and purpose” (Philippians 2:1-2, NLT).
Rather than walk away from the church because of what you sense isn't right, step inside. Join the movement to show who God really is.