20 March 2017
ONE: 5 lessons about unity
Steve Clifford, general director of the Alliance, explores five lessons he has learnt about unity in his leadership journey and included in his new book, One: Unity in diversity – a personal journey, which is out now…
1. Unity doesn't mean uniformity
I'm privileged to have played a part in starting the Alliance's One People Commission, which celebrates diversity while promoting unity across ethnic
differences. Such a desire for unity is, of course, very countercultural in our 21st century world. We live in an age of increasing fragmentation as we separate ourselves into self-defined groups built around age, ethnicity, culture, class, wealth, educational achievement, and profession.
Jesus is committed to building his Church, a church of in-depth relationships, of preferring and sharing. A Church of such diversity that finds a unity which crosses all divides.
2. Unity won't fully be achieved by us
At the heart of my book is a conviction that the unity God has both given us and called us to maintain will not be achieved through organisational structures, events, assemblies, councils, great declarations, or large institutions. The great Christian unity movements across the UK and the rest of
the world, including the Evangelical Alliance UK and the World Evangelical Alliance, will never achieve what Jesus had in mind in His prayer in John 17. We can simply work to create a context, an environment, a culture in which relationships can be built and oneness developed.
3. Sometimes unity fails
Conflict is never pleasant. Like most, I prefer to avoid it. In fact, scripture exhorts us: "If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with one another" (Romans 12:18). I'm definitely a live-at-peace-with-one-another kind of person. Conflict is hard enough even when we face it in the context of family, friends, neighbours, or workmates. It's stressful and emotionally draining. Conflict escalates when it affects the wider group. Sadly, as part of my role at the Alliance, I have seen more times than I would like to count, instances in which unity has failed in the local and national Church. We need to be aware of this, but also be prepared with practical steps to handle it well.
4. Unity is all about relationships
We are all part of the family. We are clothed in Christ. We are one in Christ. What an amazing truth, but what an incredible challenge. But do we look like family? Do we behave like family? Do we treat each other like family? Of course, the sad truth is that in so many areas, we do not treat each other as brothers and sisters with a family bond. And thus it stands as an offence to the gospel we proclaim. Our relationships carry a missionary imperative, a purpose found in the very heartbeat of God.
5. Unity is something Jesus prayed for
In the early days after I had been appointed general director of the Alliance, there was one overriding passage of scripture I just felt I couldn't get away from. It was almost as if I'd been ambushed by the great John 17 prayer of Jesus. Encouragingly, as I spent time delving into the Alliance's history, I discovered that right from the very beginning – in both planning and executing the great 1846 assembly out of which the Alliance was formed – there the prayer was to be found. It seemed that John 17 was in the very DNA of the Alliance and particularly the call Jesus made within the prayer for unity among his followers: "I in them and you in me – so that they might be brought to complete unity." Throughout my time at the Alliance, I feel I have lived in that prayer. Almost every time I read it, I discover fresh insights into the heartbeat of God. John 17 is like a treasure hunt with wonderfully precious gems to be discovered and enjoyed. The treasure is to challenge, shape, and refine us. John 17 tells us that the unity Jesus prayed for is not just for unity's sake – it's a missional imperative: so that the world might believe.
One: Unity in Diversity by Steve Clifford will be published mid-March 2017 by Monarch.