United we stand. Divided we fall.

By Brian Beattie

Pastor, Freedom House

So, you’ve been inspired by a city transformation story and are ready to transform your own community. You know God’s planted a vision of what to do. You’ve even realized that you can’t do it on your own, but you’re ready to go, right?

Well, not so fast. Let me share with you our story.

In May of 1999, my wife and I and another pastoral couple from our city went to hear Ed Silvoso speak at Toronto Airport Christian Fellowship (now Catch the Fire). The stories he shared about what had happened in his city and country as recorded in his book, That None Should Perish, were inspiring and life-changing for us. We bought copies of all his materials and brought them all back to our city-wide ministerial. They were warmly received and everyone started devouring as much as possible about how to impact and transform our city for Christ. That’s how we spent the whole summer that year: reading and researching, praying and dreaming together. It was an amazing time.

At our first fall ministerial meeting that year, we saw an opportunity to hold a large crusade the following year. Everyone was excited as we began planning for what was called “Celebration 2000”. Our former prayer and vision meetings became consumed with planning and organizing. After all, we had to have committees and budgets and charts and graphs for the big event.

Before we knew it, “Celebration 2000” was upon us. We had rented the biggest venue in our city and we waited with expectation for the masses to come. But they didn’t come. And at the end of the weekend all that was left was an empty arena and many unpaid bills. “Celebration 2000” was a beautiful name, but a terrible event.

That could have been the end of the transformation movement in our city. For some, it became a strong example of how city-wide transformation should never be attempted, and proof that having the unity needed to transform a city was impossible. Although we knew this wasn’t necessarily biblical, we allowed the experience to decrease our faith, rather than increasing our faith to believe for a God-sized transformation in our community.

After many years and several other failed attempts to work together, we finally found the missing part of the equation for our city – three steps that we’ve seen help accelerate the effectiveness of other city-wide transformation networks as well. We agreed that the Lord still had great plans for our city and made the choice to work together in unity to see His will come to pass, but this time we laid the foundation correctly. I believe this understanding will be helpful for you as it was for us and many others we have shared it with.

Stages of Unity

Psalm 133 speaks of the power of unity in our lives. In fact, the word says that God commands His blessing where there is unity. What we have come to discover, however, is that there are different types of unity that are progressive in a city context.

Firstly, you need RELATIONAL UNITY. You need to know who you are working with. You need to take time to truly get to know them, what they’re passionate about and what God has placed on their heart for the city. Without this, when challenges come (and they will) or doctrinal differences arise (and they will), the automatic reaction will be to separate back into our own little places in the kingdom. However, when there is relationship built, you have a foundation to build on. Once the other leaders in the city are your friends, you will want to work together and separation will not be an option.

Secondly, you need PHILOSOPHICAL UNITY. Once you’ve agreed to do life together and work together for the sake of the city, you need to agree on “HOW” you will move forward. For us in Brantford, this philosophical process took about a year. We discussed extensively God’s desires for the city and how we would partner together to pastor the city, instead of just our individual churches. One of the first things we did is “re-brand” the city wide Pastors’ network changing the name from the Brantford Evangelical Ministerial Associate to “ONEchurch”. We used Ephesians 4 as our primary unity chapter declaring that in Brantford, “there is ONE Lord, ONE faith, ONE baptism” and ONEchurch.

We wrote a simple list we would agree to adhere to as our Statement of Beliefs:

  • The Great Commission – “Go into all the world and make disciples” (Matt 28 and Mark 16)
  • The Great Commandment – “Love God and Love People” (Matt 22:35 – 40; Mark 12:28-34)
  • The Apostles Creed
  • The ONEchurch Mission Statement … “ONEchurch exists to participate in the transformation of the city.”
  • “In essentials, unity. In non-essentials, liberty. In all things, love” – Augustine

Those who would connect to ONEchurch would do so understanding the commitment we have to each other and to the city. They would understand that we are committed to the vision and mission of ONEchurch to “participate in the transformation of the city”. They would be committed to each other, believing that relational unity comes before philosophical unity, which comes before functional unity. They would be committed to a culture of honour and unity – not allowing known division to exist. They would be committed individually as Pastors and committed to bringing their churches into being a part of ONEchurch together for the city.

Once we had worked towards relational and philosophical unity, then we proceeded with the third phase: FUNCTIONAL UNITY. This is the phase where we intentionally choose to work together serving the city, believing that we are much better together than apart. It’s not that our individual churches hadn’t been active in the city, but we had not worked together on very much since those dreaded days of Celebration 2000. Since we set this process in place, we have both maintained relationships and increased our involvement and influence in the city. The Church (capital “C”) has to become a normal “go to” organization for the city when they need a group that will work and serve with no strings attached. We are grateful to God for what He is doing and excited for all He is going to do in and through us as we continue to foster our relationships with him and each other.

Be encouraged! Your desire to transform your community is admirable and truly the heart of God but do yourself a favour and learn from our mistakes. Follow the process of unity – first relational, then philosophical and finally, functional – and watch His favour overwhelm you and your city.

Photo Credit: Creative Commons: ‘Love is…’ by Chris Jones. Licensed under CC 2.0. Adapted for use.

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