I think it’s a pretty safe assumption that those who read this blog and are fans of Exago believe in the Great Commission.
You may know someone that has entrusted their family’s finances and career to a compensation paradigm that counts on others to invest in their ministry – month to month – for the sake of sharing the gospel with those in another nation, or an under-reached demographic in our country.
Face it: you’re sold out. All in. And for many reading this, you’re personally living by this model and discipling other Christian workers to do the same.
I’m confident that you believe God’s promise in 1 Thessalonians 5:24 is trustworthy: “Faithful is He who called you, and He will do it.”
Do we have the same confidence in John 17:20-23? Because there, Jesus’ prayer makes a rock-solid, non-optional connection between honoring biblical unity and reaching the world with the gospel.
In this pivotal prayer, Jesus prays “that we might be one” (with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – and with each other) so that the world will understand God’s love and believe. To underscore how vital this unity with God and each other is, Jesus repeats the petition three times. He connects our unity to the very nature of the Trinity.
Far from being a peripheral issue, unity is a big deal. Theologian N.T. Wright highlights that “unity is at ‘the heart of Paul’s ecclesiology.’ In fact, it’s a building block in every one of the Apostle Paul’s letters. Currently, respecting and living in one accord is the passionate and prophetically delivered message of Francis Chan’s new book, Until Unity.
What does this look like in practice?
How does this impact our cooperation with potential ministry partners on the field where we labor? What if their theological tradition is different than yours…even dramatically? What if you speak in tongues, while they don’t believe that’s how God expresses Himself in this season? What if it’s like blue vs. red?
In our ministry with the Network, we try to keep “the main thing the main thing.” For the sake of working together to reach a lost generation of students, we remind ourselves often to “check our egos and logos at the door,” roll up our sleeves, and find common ground.
There are just too many lost people out there for us to not get along. Yes, truth matters. A lot. However, compared to some of my other interpretations of Scripture, I am more certain about John 17. As Chan says in his introduction, we should take this teaching of Jesus very literally.
In other words, since Jesus taught/prayed that the gospel depends on our oneness, then we need to honor that and work hard to keep it central. And sometimes it will be hard (see Ephesians 4:3)! We would rather err on the side of grace than on our personal or denominational version of how we interpret some non-essential doctrine in Scripture.
Remember in Mark 9, when Jesus’s disciples wanted to silence others for “not being one of us”? Jesus channels the heart of His John 17 prayer by His response.
Communicating with Supporters
There are implications for this in how we communicate with our supporters. Am I being gracious with comments I make toward other ministries, denominations, or groups of people? I am very grateful for the checks and balances of having my wife and another staff member read every prayer letter before it gets published.
The German theologian Rupertius Meldenius said (in 1626) “In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity.” I need to remind myself that Paul’s famous 1 Corinthians 13 definition of “charity” includes facets that it “is patient…kind…not envious…does not dishonor others.”
It’s also worth noting that many who don’t claim to follow Christ are familiar with 1 Corinthians 13, and are watching to see if we demonstrate this kind of agape love in how we get along.
So let’s get along.
Doug Clark is National Field Director for the National Network of Youth Ministries (N.N.Y.M.) in San Diego, California. Doug was a youth pastor at an Evangelical Friends church for 16 years before joining the Network staff in 1990. He graduated from Fuller Seminary. Besides helping youth workers cooperate to reach and equip teenagers in their cities to find what God wants them to do in the world, Doug helps coordinate promotion for See You At The Pole, a movement of students praying for their schools. He is married to Debbie and has a son and daughter, both married with kids.