I have been in the “unity” business for a long, long time, ever since I first started gathering Christian students from different churches and ministries to pray together as a freshman at the University of Texas in 1991. Over the last 24 years, I have had to address many misconceptions about unity.
I often find myself trying to convince a college pastor that what we’re doing is not the attempt at “unity” that they experienced on another campus, usually an events-based unity. I also often find myself trying to convince students that they are pursuing unity in the wrong way, usually by trying to organize some weekly worship gathering for every Christian student on campus.
After years of writing about it, I am sure I have written something like this before. Still, I think it is another helpful reminder about what unity is and what unity is not.
Unity Is Not
Proximity – Meeting together
Just because we meet together, it does not mean we’re unified. Nor are we unified because we host an annual united event. These things have the appearance of unity, but true unity is much deeper than a weekly pastors gathering or weekly united worship service.
Uniformity – Doing the same things
We don’t all have to be doing the same thing to be unified. The very definition of unity presupposes diversity. Scripture is clear that we all have different gifts, individuals and organizations. We need to be who God made each of us to be. But we can do that together.
Amity – The absence of conflict
When I first started trying to gather pastors to pray together, one of the more common things I heard was this: “Why do we need to meet together? We’re already one in Christ.” I thought to myself, so are my wife and I, but she sure expects me to live it out. We can’t settle for a “spiritual oneness” by simply trying to be nice to one another.
Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one purpose. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. Philippians 2:1-4
Relationships – One in spirit
Unity begins and ends in relationship. The most important thing is to grow in love and humility. When we move from tolerating each other, to accepting each other, to valuing each other (above ourselves), then we’re in true unity. In a very real sense, unity is not the goal. Humility is the goal, and that’s what changes the spiritual climate of our campuses. Humility can be defined as: “God’s revelation of our need for one another.”
Here’s the catch. Humble relationships take time. We must spend time with one another in fellowship and prayer to even begin to have unity. Yet, we’re so rarely willing to give time to be with people outside of our ministries. If we do not make time to be together, we will never have humble relationships with one another.
Purposes – One in purpose
Unity is a dead-end goal. However, when we set a goal (particularly one that is bigger than any single church or ministry), unity happens. It’s the purpose that unites us.
In math we have a lowest common denominator. As believers we have a highest common denominator: The Man (Jesus) and The Mission (Great Commission). These are the purposes that compel us to work together. If we really set our vision on seeing Jesus glorified and every single student reached with the gospel, we will recognize that we need each other. When we focus on the harvest, not our individual ministries, we will be compelled to work together.
Once there was a traveling business man. On each flight into a certain rural town he would always see all the clearly divided property lines where fences and specific crops made for clearly marked borders. One time, however, when the plane was descending, he could no longer see the borders. He asked a flight attendant to explain. She said, “It’s harvest time. At harvest the crops grow over the fence lines. That’s why you cannot see them.” Unity is about focusing on the harvest to the extent that we forget our own borders.
Justin Christopher is the National Campus Director for Campus Renewal Ministries and the author of Campus Renewal: A Practical Plan for Uniting Campus Ministries in Prayer and Mission. He gives leadership to the Campus House of Prayer and the missional community movement at the University of Texas.