Did you know there are over 39,000 Christian denominations in existence today? The Church is splintered on so many things, too deep for this article. But as it relates to us, the Church is especially divided when it comes to styles of worship. Outside of theological differences, I believe that our approach to worship (which is sometimes tied to theological views) is usually the main separation in the church today.
Maybe this is one of the reasons why Jesus prayed in John 17:22-23, “…that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.” (ESV).
Jesus prays for our unity here. He saw ahead to a day like today, when His followers would have much more diversity in background, principle, temperament, and cultural preferences. Jesus didn’t pray that we would all do church a certain way, but that we would be unified. Not uniformity, but unity. Not copies of, but cohesion with.
Jesus closes his prayer for our unity with the declaration that this type of unity will point to the Father and validate His love for the Son and His love for mankind.
Have these prayers of Jesus been answered? It’s hard to see where it would be happening. Could we be a part of what Jesus prayed for? What would it look like if the churches in your city were more unified than they are now? Maybe you wouldn’t go as far to say you’re divided, but could you say you are really for each other? Do you laugh or shake your head as your drive by their church, see their signs, or listen to their podcast? Do you engage in gossip about their staff or their Pastor? Have you been jealous of their resources or their building, or envious of their musicians or congregation?
Unfortunately, I have been guilty of all these things at one time or another. How about you?
In my town, there’s a group of pastors who meet regularly and have for years. At first, I thought it was just like other ‘city-wide’ gatherings I’ve been a part of. It wasn’t long before I noticed the uniqueness. Once a year we fast and pray together for revival. We meet as a city-church in prayer and worship each Wednesday night in January, with a final night of worship on the last Sunday. Pastors pray for each other, in the pulpit, by name. My pastor uses this language like, “there’s really just one church in the city”, and he’s not talking about our church, he’s talking about all of the churches combined. A “city-church” philosophy.
One day last year I started wondering how I could get involved as a worship leader. I was already meeting with a couple of guys here and there for lunch and coffee. What if we took things to the next level? What if we all met together instead of individually? What would that look like, and what would we do?
We started with that. As a community of worship leaders, we’re still in the beginning stages of this ‘city-church’ mindset. So far, we meet at a different church once a month. We rotate around a few larger churches that have the space to host us. We cater good breakfast and there’s coffee. We connect, really. It’s something like I’ve never been part of before.
Imagine 30 or so worship leaders from your community doing this: gathering to pray for unity, for each other’s churches, for the growth and success of each other’s creativity and ministry. We’re praying for each other’s personal needs. We’re sharing ministry resources and personal learning with each other, encouraging each other along. Of course, we worship together. Not a full-on concert, but one or two songs with a guy or girl and a piano or guitar. It’s not super structured. We all have busy schedules, but we just started it. And something is happening here. Worship leaders from other churches are leading at our church mid-week and vice-versa. Original songs from one church are popping up in rotation at other area churches.
Now we’re dreaming together.
What would it look like if we discipled worship leaders and musicians, not for one of our churches, but for all of our churches? I’m talking about kingdom-sized dreams that display the heart of God. We’re unified in heart and vision and don’t care who gets the credit.
We’re thinking, “What if we wrote songs together that became the heart cry of our city, not just one of our churches?” So, we’re writing together. What would it look like if all the churches shut down one Sunday and we worshiped together? Is there a venue large enough? All of this with the motivation to answer Jesus’ prayer in the Gospel of John…that we would be unified.
Think about your city. Maybe there aren’t many churches around. What could you do? Maybe there are so many churches that you don’t know where to begin. Ask God how you can bring unity to the church in your city. I don’t feel especially gifted or uniquely qualified for this sort of thing. In fact, I kind of feel like the guy you’ve never heard of from the Jordan-era Chicago Bulls who after a game said, “I’ll always remember this as the night Michael Jordan and I combined to score 70 points.” Between the two of them, they’d scored 70 points: Jordan with 69 and Stacy King with 1. I’m Stacy King, the guy you’ve never heard of. The guys I’m talking about are the Michael Jordans in my town. I believe in them and I want them to succeed and I can’t wait to see all that God does in and through their ministry and in our city.
How can you make it happen? Here are a few ways to start:
- Forgive past hurts. Let stuff go.
- Confront wrongs; speak the truth in love.
- Reconcile people you’ve wronged. Ask for their forgiveness.
- Stop gossip. There’s nothing more insidious or destructive than gossip.
- Stop judging others on non-essentials of the faith.
- Get a list of every church within 5 miles of your zip code. Too small? Go bigger. Too big? Go smaller.
- Get the name of their worship leader, invite them to lunch. Get to know them. If they have more experience than you, ask questions and learn from them. If they’re younger in ministry, don’t assume you know everything or talk down to them.
- Already do this? Take it to the next level and contextualize it. Some stuff works for me that won’t work for you and vice versa.
- Invite an area worship leader to lead for your staff prayer, a special service or event, or bible study.
- Write together. Sing each other’s songs.
- Host a city-wide night of worship, and co-lead with other worship leaders.
In the end, I want my prayer to be Jesus’ prayer. I want us to answer his prayer. More than anything, I want our city to be unified so that others will know the love of the Father and follow Jesus.