Congregational unity is a very precious commodity. In Ephesians 4:1-6, Paul pleads with the Ephesians to "make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace." The phrase "make every effort" is from a Greek word that is hard to translate into English because it has a strong sense of urgency to it. It is vital, important, urgent and critical in Paul's words.
Who is responsible for church unity? Everyone: Church leaders, senior pastors and the congregation as a whole. No one is exempt and no one can expect others to make the effort if they do not. For pastors it means that we don't move too quickly and cause division in the body and that we listen carefully and respond as we can. For church leaders it means that we ensure that we are all moving in the same direction together and for everyone it means that we are willing to work together and care about one another.
In fact, Paul gives us four relational and character non-negotiables to living in unity and again it applies to pastors, congregations and leaders in Ephesians 4:1-6.
One: Humility. Pride wants our way and it splits congregations. Humility is willing to subjugate our personal preferences for the common good and the mission of the church. Whenever there is conflict in a church you can bet that there is a lack of humility and an excess of pride. I am always bemused when I say to a congregation in conflict that they have a problem with pride. The push-back is immediate and it says a lot. We don't like to hear it but when we protest too much it is probably true.
Two: Gentleness. Harshness leads to wounds, hurt, conflict and division. It may be harsh words, harsh attitudes, harsh actions or harsh spirits - all of them contribute to division and none of them contribute to peace and unity. And harshness never expresses the way of Jesus who does not break the bruised reed and who exercises such great tenderness toward us. Is it not ironic that the Jesus we worship and follow is never harsh with us while we find it easy to be harsh toward others? Gentleness leads to peace and unity while harshness leads to conflict and disunity.
Three: Patience. Think of how patient Jesus is with us and how impatient we are with others. Critical spirits, complaints and bad attitudes are often symptoms of impatience. Grace is all about patience. Do others deserve it? We often think not. Do we deserve it? Not at all but God graciously gives it. Patience is the character of Jesus and it must become ours. Without patience with one another there cannot be unity and peace in our relationships.
Four: Bearing with one another in love. This is about being willing to look beyond the faults and deficiencies of others and see what can be and should be in their lives. It is substituting love for judgement and seeing people as those made in the image of God regardless of their faults, issues or idiosyncrasies. It is giving grace to others and loving them unconditionally.
Unity does not come easily just as the cross of Jesus that is the reason we can be united with him and with one another did not come easily. But if he was willing to give his life for us, why are we not willing to seek the unity of the Spirit with one another? In fact, Paul starts this section with the words, "As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received." Paul was in jail for his calling. He exhorts the Ephesians and us to pay the price for the unity of the body just as he is paying the price for his calling as an apostle.
Guard the unity of the church: As pastors; as leaders; and as congregants.