If I have learned anything about working with people in local churches, I’ve learned this: congregational unity is a fragile thing! One minute everything is going great and people are happy and unified; then suddenly an “issue” comes up, criticism surfaces, and a spirit of disunity begins to mark church life. Been there, done that.
But be encouraged. While we know that disagreements and disunity cannot be entirely eliminated, we can take preventative steps to foster unity and keep potential problems from surfacing.
Consider these practical suggestions.
Pray. Make church unity a matter of concerted prayer. As we leaders seek the Lord for His wisdom about the important decisions we make, let’s also ask for His help in guarding the church’s unity as these decisions are implemented.
Keep the church’s mission and vision before the people. I’ve found that people are less likely to complain or criticize when they sense that a ministry strategy is in place. A clear strategy that is regularly highlighted and “owned” by the congregation helps bring people together in common cause.
Communicate constantly. A deacon colleague in my last pastorate reminded me often of the need for a well-informed congregation. Repeated communication from the leadership can keep our people on our team and can preclude conflict. Take time as leaders to strategize ongoing ways to communicate ministry decisions and direction, and seek congregational input.
Be humble and teachable. As leaders, our willingness to truly listen and learn from others in the congregation is a key to maintaining unity. When important decisions are being made, people want to be heard. While this does not mean we must submit to every critic’s opinion and constantly adjust our prayerfully determined plan for the church’s ministry, it does mean that godly leaders genuinely listen to others’ perspectives when considering a course of action. A teachable spirit goes a long way in diffusing potential conflicts.
Guard the leadership gate. As the leaders go, so go the people. We cannot expect congregational unity without leadership harmony. While no pastor expects complete agreement among his deacons in all decisions, men who cannot disagree agreeably should not serve in leadership because we set the example for our congregations in fostering unity.
Lovingly administer church discipline. It’s true: Churches that fail to carry out Biblical church discipline lay the groundwork for congregational disunity. I suggest that leaders follow Biblical guidelines in confronting troublemakers and admonishing those who sow discord. When people know they will be held accountable for their divisive actions, they are less likely to sow discord. Of course, the Biblical approach to such discipline is loving and patient; its goal is to restore erring individuals and guard the unity of the church.
Share ministry responsibility. Unfortunately, in some churches, the leaders make all the decisions and try to do all the work! But the Biblical model is a shared ministry where all are encouraged to use their gifts in serving the body of believers. When this happens, such widespread congregational ownership of ministry precludes most disunity.
Jim Vogel is associate national representative for the General Association of Regular Baptist Churches.