Maintaining unity in a church planting movement

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A question from Mike....

Hi Steve

Throughout  Christian history Christians have divided on a number of issues largely due to different understandings about what particular scriptures mean.

If Simple church disciples read scripture how is unity maintained when folk come up with different interpretations?

Subjects such as mode of baptism, women teaching, baptism with the Spirit or not , gifts of the Spirit or not, tithing or not, head covering or not. The list is endless.


My reply….


I realise you're framing this in the context of disciple making movements, but I think the challenge of differing interpretations and disunity is just as real for all forms of church.

Unity was problem for Jesus. It was a problem for the apostles and the Jerusalem church. It was a problem for Paul.

Paul's response was remind his disciples of the gospel that they have received. It's the same gospel Jesus preached. The same gospel Peter and the apsotles preached. The same gospel Paul passed on. Our unity is in Christ and his saving work (1 Corintians 15:1-5).

We must hold the center of our faith and be free to differ on secondary issues. For instance, to say that someone who trusts in Christ and speaks in tongues (or doesn't speak in tongues) is somehow suspect is to elevate tongues above saving faith in Christ.

We are free to differ passionately about all kinds of important but secondary matters if we are faithful to the gospel. Unity is not uniformity in all matters.

Our job in a disciple making movement is to make sure the foundation is Christ and his saving work. Make sure new disciples know and experience the saving power of Jesus. Make sure they know the presence and power of the Holy Spirit. Teach them to reach the Word together and obey what they understand. Teach them to wrestle with important matters as they arise.

Expect some diversity. Expect conflict. Teach them what the heart of the gospel is and how to go to the Word and wrestle with important matters maturely. Expect God to guide them. Expect that there will be times when a movement pioneer needs to circle back and bring correction when gospel faithfulness is at stake, just as Paul did.

Expect Corinthian problems. Expect Galatian problems. Expect theological disputes over the spread of the gospel (Acts 15). Expect wolves to come in and seek to destroy the community of God's people after you leave (Acts 20:13-38).

So embrace the mess and expect that God is at work through his Word and his Spirit in an expanding movement that will reach cities, regions and nations (Romans 15:18-19). You can’t control it, but you can cultivate it.

Here's your homework: Take an hour with your co-workers and do a discovery Bible study on Acts 20: 13-38. Then ask: What do you learn about God and/or Jesus? What do you learn about the people in the story? What does it teach you about maintaining unity in a disciple making movement? What do you need to do?