In early September I spent two days in an important meeting with more than 90 Southern Baptist leaders from across the nation. It was a prayer and discussion meeting in Atlanta called by our Southern Baptist Convention President, Dr. Ronnie Floyd (Dr. Floyd’s report here http://ow.ly/CiCqo).It included an open conversation about strategies to improve the effectiveness of the mission of the denomination. It was an extremely well received meeting by those in attendance.
The group consisted of a thoughtful cross section of Southern Baptist leaders representing various ministries, ages, and theological viewpoints. I believe virtually everyone there believes the time is over due for Spiritual Awakening in our churches and in our culture. Against that backdrop we discussed ways to seek, encourage, and cooperate toward Spiritual Awakening. In addition, we discussed some of the potential hindrances to a genuine move of God in our midst.
Throughout the two day meeting of prayer and conversation, there was repeated dialogue about the necessity of cooperation and unity, in order for revival to occur. Leaders have unity on their minds.
That’s what I want to talk about. Unity. It is essential in successful families, businesses, and churches. Scripture even raises the question, “Can two walk together, except they be agreed?” (Amos 3:3 KJV) Most of us learn early how essential unity is for normal life, for success in work and play, and even for personal security and happiness.
The principle of unity is extremely important in church because we are a family, but we are a family that does more than meet for great fellowship once a week. We are also a family with an aggressive mission given to us by the Head of our family. Jesus commands us to evangelize our world! Therefore, in both fellowship and mission, unity is essential.
In its absence, the mission breaks down. The lack of unity eventually breeds distrust and misunderstandings. People that should be on the same team start developing conflicting goals for the future, giving rise to systemic breakdown at the cellular level-which in turn creates confusion about why the team, or the workforce, existed in the first place. I’ve been there and to use the vernacular of the street, “It ain’t pretty.”
On the other hand, when everyone is unified the environment in the group is like the feeling you got the first time you watched the highlight reel of Kobe Bryant scoring 81 points one night in 2006 against the Toronto Raptors. It looked like he could do no wrong. That’s how team unity feels! It energizes everyone. It leaves you with the feeling anything is possible. For the group experience, it’s about as good as it gets.
UNITY ACROSS A CITY
In Austin, we live and minister in a secular culture more akin to an east or west coast urban setting like New York City or Seattle, than a city in Texas. In my town-the fastest growing city in the U.S.- over 1.2 million of our neighbors, in a total population of about 1.6 million, have no relationship to an evangelical church. As a result, churches of all kinds- regardless of size or denomination -have a unique interest in unity with other churches. Why? We know we need each other. Even though Austin is home to some of the greatest churches in the United States, and an unusually large population of mega-churches per capita, we are still a few thousand people on any given Sunday – surrounded by 1.2 million lost people-who for the most part are socially unfazed and spiritually unmoved by our ministries. Pastors in Austin recognize the urgency of the mission field, and our accurate sense of the immensity of the task before us drives us to partnership. In other words, we know we have to work together to reach this city for Christ. Imagine that!
Pastors in Austin regularly meet together to pray. Denominational issues seem irrelevant when we are on our faces before the Throne of God. The size of the congregation is of virtually no concern. Mega-church pastors and those from congregations much smaller lead our gatherings and our prayer focus. Racial lines fall by the way side too when we are praying, preaching in each other’s pulpits, and developing strategies to evangelize the mission field that is Austin, Texas. What does our experiment in unity suggest for the wider Body of Christ in America?
IF MY PEOPLE…
If Spiritual Awakening comes to America, as people everywhere are praying it will, it won’t be a Baptist revival, or a Pentecostal awakening, or a Calvinist crusade. God will move through all of His people. Of course that includes, thank goodness, many people not like me! To that end, we should work and pray with every Christian brother or sister who is earnestly seeking Spiritual Awakening. That won’t happen by accident- it has to be led and cultivated and constantly nurtured. Leaders have to lead.
When Christians are the majority in a culture, there may be a temptation to separate from one another into denominational or doctrinal sub-groups. Then, we sub divide within the sub-groups! But when Christians are a small percentage of the culture, choosing to isolate themselves from other Christians is clearly wrong headed! So imagine what could happen if Christian leaders across America worked and prayed together with other followers of Jesus regardless of denominational distinctions or racial differences, in order to experience Spiritual Awakening. When we get “desperate” enough we will – or we can be satisfied with the way things are now. Those are the choices before us.
I’ve spent most of my life as a Southern Baptist in areas where Southern Baptists were in the minority. That gives me a certain perspective. My background and experience tells me to work and pray with other Christians even when I don’t agree with every doctrinal position they may hold, or when they don’t agree with me.
Paul reminds us that “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” (Romans 10:13) The group he identified as “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord” is my family. Our nation is far from God and desperate as a result- yet millions of them don’t know what they’re desperate for. As Christians we are desperate too-desperate for God and desperate for a fresh outpouring of His power in our churches and our American cities. When we unite in desperate prayer with other believers, in spite of secondary differences, the “fellowship of desperation” may trigger the next Great Awakening.