01 November 2015
The unity revolution
I’ve come to the conclusion that there is a quiet revolution going on in the UK Church. It’s under the radar and it’s easily missed, but from
where I sit it’s profoundly significant and carries all the hallmarks of God at work.
The outworking of this revolution at a national level means that national leaders of churches and agencies are increasingly meeting, building relationships, and asking fundamental questions: how can we collaborate together rather than compete? Can we acknowledge the fact that we are about shared ‘family business’, not simply building my bit of the kingdom? At a local level it’s even more pronounced. About three and a half years ago we launched the GATHER network in England, sensing that God was at work in towns and cities across the country through the emerging unity movements. We discovered that Christian leaders were meeting together, building relationships, praying and eating together, and out of these relationships finding that God was giving them a fresh passion as the Church of the town or city, to see transformation - spiritually, socially and physically. GATHER is looking to support these unity movements where they already exist, and encouraging and catalysing new ones where they don’t. Across England - with similar initiatives in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland - more than 115 unity movements are expressing the Church’s passion for their city, with so many of the social action initiatives - debt counselling, night shelters, street pastors, food banks - being run not only by one church, but by many churches working together for the sake of their community.
This unity revolution is not without it’s challenges. We are different, we have preferences as to how we do things, how we see things, even how we interpret scripture. The good news is this is not about uniformity, but about a unity in the midst of our diversity.
If you’ve read idea magazine over the years I hope you’ve come to the realisation that unity is what we are passionate about. We would love to play our part in seeing the John 17 prayer of Jesus answered in all it’s fullness. But our commitment to unity is not about unity for unity’s sake, it’s unity for a purpose, it’s unity for the sake of an amazing prize. The words of Jesus echo in my ear: “Then the world will know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” It seems that in some strange way the God-head is trusting us, His people, to authenticate the incarnation by our love for one another.
If you are like me, there are all kinds of things you feel strongly about. From my tradition of church, I really don’t get infant baptism, the lay and clergy divide or indeed male-only leadership. And I could go on. But for the sake of ‘the prize’ and recognising my own limitations - that I could be wrong - I gladly embrace those who differ from me. I recognise that we are part of the same family, and we are about ‘family business’.
So let’s thank God for what we see Him doing. Let’s keep praying for the unity as expressed in John 17, and let’s look for ‘the prize’ we really do want the world to know. There is no greater prize - it’s the unique gift that we as the Church can offer to the communities around us. No one else can make Jesus known. It’s our highest calling.