Generally, the mark of disciples and the church as a whole is love. We are called to love our husbands and wives. To love orphans and widows. To love our enemies. In fact, the mark of the disciple is their love for other believers (John 13:35) which is something typically flesh out well in the local church. So what happens when I go to First Baptist Timbuktu and some other believer goes to Timbuktu Community Church?
There lies a problem with the American church. Unity within the body extends only to the local church and all the other churches are just trying to compete for your sheep. For my first few years in ministry, that is how I saw things. I saw biblical community only within the walls of my church. Other churches & other youth pastors had their own ideas, ministry philosophies and passions. I was content to let them do their own thing and not really associate with them.
Five years ago, while talking with another youth pastor, his words cut me deep. We as fellow believers and fellow youth pastors call one another “brothers in Christ” and “co-laborers in the ministry.” Yet, our relationship was characterized by more brotherly competitiveness than brotherly love. Conviction set in and the Holy Spirit started to open my eyes. As the leader of the youth ministry, I had created barriers between our ministry and other youth ministries in the area. In turn, my students were isolating themselves to only have true biblical community with the other teens who graced the same church doors they did and no other believers. It was time for that to stop. I began to seek out other ministries and organizations where community in Christ was from a global perspective.
Over the past few years I’ve had the privilege to serve alongside WAYNet and Cross Culture Ministries.
The top portion of the picture is five youth pastors from WAYNet. Those 5 guys represent 5 churches from 4 different denominations. WAYNet is a organization that brings a number of churches from across Wilson, North Carolina together to worship and serve our community at large. Cross Culture has a mission camp called “Collide” (bottom portion of the picture is from Collide 2013) where 6 churches come to West Virginia and are sent out to serve communities in West Virginia on mission. The big difference here is that each work team is sent out, not by church, but of a mixture of teens from all six churches sharing the gospel as a team.
I have been so blessed to serve in these ministries over the past few years and the somewhat surprising thing is that my students love it as well. There is something very healthy and encouraging when students can worship and serve alongside other believers from other churches. Unity in the body has to start now, if we want the church of tomorrow to make a dent in the fast-growing secular culture we live in.
That unity must start with church leadership. Now, I understand things like denominational distinctives are important, but so is impacting a community in the name of Christ. While local churches should worship within their particular walls, I feel Scripture points us to at times serve and worship with churches from all over the area where we live. God is only glorified by unity in the body. As Scripture says:
“Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel,” ~ Philippians 1:27
May we live in a manner that is worthy of the gospel that saved us. If it is the gospel that saves, may it also be the gospel under which we as the church seek to reach the world with. Be creative. Find ways to come together as a group of local churches to wreck your community with the gospel. Find ways to stand firm together and strive in the name of Christ. The call of Christ in our life demands as much.