It’s been a while since I’ve written. Vacations, unplanned and planned weekend trips, business complications, and book and magazine writing deadline challenges have all contributed to the lack of attention I’ve paid to this blog site. But I’m back!
I’ve been thinking about UNITY a lot recently. It’s going to take something extraordinary to bring a sense of unity to our nation, considering the political climate that’s been created in this election season. That’s challenging enough. But I’m also aware of churches that are going through leadership crises, and the missing component in many of those church settings is unity. I’m also aware of many families in crisis – many because parents aren’t unified … and children are alienated from their parents.
Let me talk to you about some keys to unity.
In Amos 3:3 (New Living Translation) you can read it yourself: “Can two people walk together without agreeing on the direction?”
Practically speaking, no … it’s impossible for two or MORE people to walk together without agreeing on a direction.
Agreement is a wonderful thing, presuming, of course, that the group isn’t made up of lemmings. (I remember seeing a television documentary on the lemming … a sub-arctic rodent … and was amazed. Lemmings play follow the leader, even if the leader is leading them off a cliff. I looked up the word “lemming,” and found that it has come to mean, “doomed conformist.”)
When you’ve got LEADERS in a room, the last thing you have to worry about is conformity. When LEADERS are in a room, the potential for chaos can ratchet up exponentially and precipitously the longer there is silence. True LEADERS are always ready to fill the silence with an idea, or fill the void if someone doesn’t step forward to point out a direction to go in.
So … when you call together an organization’s leadership council, board of directors, or deaconate … and you say, “In order to be the most effective company, or business or church we can possibly be, we need to take time to talk out ideas, exchange information, or work through solutions to challenges,” that is a good idea! Board retreats are a good idea. They hold tremendous potential for forward movement; they can be great morale-boosters. Board retreats can be occasions to foment strategies, increase effectiveness, and provoke excitement.
But … board retreats can also expose an organization’s weaknesses. You might find out not only who’s NOT “on board” (pun intended) with the program, but who has an agenda of their own!
I was watching the replay of the US-Spain gold medal basketball game, and I heard this from one of the commentators: “The United States has always had the best players but, we’ve seen in recent competitions and world championships and Olympics, they didn’t always have the best team.”
Friends … been there, seen that … and it’s painful – to watch a group of people with awesome gifts, be they a men or women sports team, leave an audience scratching their heads in wonder, asking, “How did they lose? What went wrong??”
I’ve seen companies go bust because they couldn’t decide what to name a widget. I’ve seen churches in turmoil because they couldn’t agree on what color to paint the nursery. I’ve seen families torn apart over a few dollars in a last will and testament. Sad.
On the flip side, I’ve seen companies, organizations, sports teams, families and churches succeed, surpass expectations, thrive, and exceed growth projections. The DIFFERENCE? UNITY. I’m going to share a portion of the Bible with you, and make some applications, on the subject of UNITY. The Bible has a lot to say about UNITY, but I’m only going to speak from Ephesians 4.
Ephesians 4:1-6 New Living Translation says, Therefore I (Paul), a prisoner for serving the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of your calling, for you have been called by God. Always be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love. Make every effort to keep yourselves united in the Spirit, binding yourselves together with peace. For there is one body and one Spirit, just as you have been called to one glorious hope for the future. There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism, and one God and Father, who is over all and in all and living through all.
Paul starts this passage by observing: “You have been called by God.”
Have you ever seen a person in sales that couldn’t sell? I have. I’ve seen pastors in the ministry who didn’t like people!! You don’t stay on the baseball team long if you can’t hit or field the ball … and it has nothing to do with desire. You can desire all you want. You won’t succeed. The kind of success I’m talking about has everything to do with innate talents and giftings that go hand-in-hand with a heart that contains a calling.
If the question of calling is not an issue, then Paul writes, “Always be …” Those two words are huge. They imply that you and I have a choice. “Always be …”
Always be humble. No false humility allowed. If you’re good at something, say so … and if you’re not, say so. Humility involves having an accurate appreciation of who you are … who you really are. And if you don’t know something about yourself, ask your children. They’ll tell you more than you want to know.
Always be gentle. I heard someone say, “Meekness is not weakness.” Gentleness is “power under control.” Moses was described as the most gentle man who ever lived – and yet he was able to lead, some estimate, 1,000,000+ Jews out of Egypt. And Jesus described Himself as “gentle and humble in heart.” Jesus was anything but weak!
Always be patient. It takes a strong person to put up with people, and to endure discomfort. Fighting back is engrained into us. Personal survival is part of our DNA. Patience is not only a virtue – it’s a rarity. But truly patient people tend to be the wisest among us. They wait for all the facts before making a judgment. Patient people built the pyramids.
Always make allowances for other people’s faults. I’ve got a great book – “The Spirituality of Imperfection.” If you not only know that nobody’s perfect, but you can live with it, you can impact a city.
Always be loving. “Love is a decision.” Arranged marriages work because the couple decides to love each other. And you never wait until you feel like forgiving someone – you’ll never do it! Love is probably the biggest key to UNITY.
Let me conclude this part of my talk by saying, YOU DON’T EVER WANT TO PRAY: “Lord, make me humble. Lord, make me gentle. Lord, make me patient. Lord, make me loving.” You don’t want God to “make you” ANYTHING. The way He tenderizes people is the same way I tenderize a good steak. First, from my experience, He’ll say, “Are you SURE you want Me to do the ‘making?’ Why don’t you just go ahead and do the right thing!” God is the most loving Person in the Universe, and He’s totally trustworthy and kind … but He’s also strong.
Paul concludes with: Make every effort to keep yourselves united in the Spirit, binding yourselves together with peace. For there is one body and one Spirit, just as you have been called to one glorious hope for the future. There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism, and one God and Father, who is over all and in all and living through all.
There’s that CHOICE thing again. Paul didn’t suggest praying about UNITY. He said, “Make every effort …” Don’t you wish UNITY didn’t require effort?? (For you leaders/pastors: The reason unity is so hard is because LEADERS always think they’re right. You won’t lead long if you think you’re wrong most of the time. Leaders are strongly opinionated. I know that’s true … and I don’t want to hear any more discussion about it!!)
Warren Wiersbe wrote, “Unity … is the responsibility of each person involved … and is a job never done.”
If you’d like to see unity break out in your church, family, business, or board room I’d like to suggest you pray this way: “Lord, create in ME a clean heart, and renew a right spirit in ME. Don’t let ME try to get away with waiting for everyone else to get their act together while I choose not to get my act together. And today, Lord, as I make the effort to keep unified with my compatriots, please add Your blessing to those efforts. Please make up for my shortcomings with Your grace. Let Your grace be like humidity. Even though we can’t see it, we want to feel it.”
My second suggestion is this: try to be a better listener.
Third, don’t take ownership of an idea. You’ll just be setting yourself up for disappointment and frustration … and both tear away a UNITY. Be patient. Communicate your idea. Let the group own it. Don’t be so anxious to get the credit, which is a big part of the ownership issue. You’ve heard it said, “There is no “I” in TEAM.” Well, don’t just preach TEAM, live it. Take “I” out of “I”dea.
Fourth, be HONEST … and be gentle when being honest. In a group like this it’s probably not a good idea to be “ruthlessly honest,” or “lovingly brutal.” Be kind. Be considerate.
Finally … if you need to, FORGIVE the person who offended you at the last meeting. If they haven’t thought to ask you to forgive them for the offense, do a Jesus-Thing. He prayed, “Father, forgive them. They don’t even know what they’re doing.” And if the offender does come to you and ask for forgiveness, DO IT. Let the offense go. Don’t be concerned that your gracious forgiveness will leave you vulnerable to those who would take advantage of you. I’m not suggesting that you throw caution to the wind when it comes to a habitual offender. That would not be wise. All I’m saying is, trust God to cover your back.