A palpable feeling of dread hung in the air. No one wanted to be at the meeting and everyone knew it. In the room sat state and national denominational leaders, associational directors, a crew of young church planters, and seasoned pastors of local churches who had been in ministry for decades. The premise of the meeting went something like this:
We are all very different—with different life histories, different passions, different frustrations, different ministry contexts, and different needs—yet we are all working toward the same goal. We long to see Jesus glorified in our cities, and we recognize that we need one another for the mission to which we are called. Clearly, we could do more in partnership than any of us could do separately. Why can’t we all just figure out a way to work together?
Suspicion. That’s the best way I know to describe the response. Everyone in the room looked around, sizing up the other guys. We all knew the truth of the stated goal—truly we could do more if we could figure out how to link arms and walk together in unity.
- We could unite to see the gospel declared to every person in our cities;
- We could unite to see social needs such as homelessness or childhood illiteracy reduced;
- We could unite in prayer that God would transform us and, in turn, the places that we call home;
- We could unite to champion one another and publicly honor the spiritual giftedness of those called to ministry;
- We could unite to encourage those overwhelmed by the trials of ministry;
- We could unite to speak words of warning to those making choices that might derail their ministries;
- We could unite to learn from one another how to best live on mission in an ever-changing world.
But we didn’t. We spent the remainder of the morning talking about how great it would be if we could unite, and then we walked out of the room and went our separate ways with no discernible unity to speak of.
I’m sure we could all make a laundry list of reasons why it is hard for people, particularly those from diverse generations, to unite. It is an undeniable fact that we are different. Cultural change is at an all time high. Seismic changes have occurred in many of the churches where people first came to faith in Christ or expressed a sense of calling to vocational ministry. The needs of the cities in which we live and the missional strategy required to declare and demonstrate the gospel are constantly in flux. Socio-political realities of our day demand a unique blend of Spirit-empowered wisdom and savvy leadership. And these are merely the external challenges!
Internal factors related to the leaders themselves compound the struggle to forge unity among diverse generations. A person changes dramatically between the time he is in his mid-to-late twenties and the time he is nearing retirement. The idealistic exuberance of our early years often wanes. In its place may come either regret and fear or maturity and wisdom. The outcome is determined by a multitude of factors. First, God has hard-wired people in distinct ways, with differing personalities, passions, and gifts. Second, people experience all sorts of differing life circumstances, ranging from great joys to painful sorrows. Many times the painful experiences come as a result of conflict with other people, leading to bitterness, distrust, skepticism, or apathy. Finally, people sin differently. The implications of Adam’s rebellion in the garden rear their heads in a variety of dastardly ways in each of our lives. Our sin works against unity on every level: It distorts our judgment, breeds hate instead of love, obscures the good in others, and fosters divisiveness among those with whom we should serve.
If unity is to happen, it will come as a gracious gift of God (Jn 17:20–21). On our own, it is impossible to navigate the complexity of our own hearts, the needs of the church, and the mission with which we are entrusted—particularly when laboring with those whom we may share very little in common.
The gospel of Jesus Christ gives us hope that such unity is possible. We who were dead in our sins have found new life in Christ (Eph 2:1–10). God has taken enemies and made them friends, and united them in His church (Eph 2:11–22). Our shared oneness in Christ should allow us to also find unity with one another.
This is the hope on which Unite: Connecting Leaders from Diverse Generations is written. We believe that God’s grace is capable of forging unity between leaders in the church so that God’s glory can be seen in all its splendor as we seek to give our lives away for the sake of God’s mission in the world. The authors believe the work of God is bigger than any singular church; the work of God is bigger than any singular generation; the work of God is bigger than any singular leader. This causes us to long for unity among the diverse generations represented in the church.
Representing these diverse generations may be local church pastors who need to unite in order to lead their churches to reach a shared geography. They may be staff members of the same local church who need to unite in order to lead their church to embrace a shared mission and ministry vision. They may be local church pastors and lay leaders who need to unite in order to make critical decisions to catalyze the mission of the church and break it free from generations of inner turmoil. They may even be Christian business leaders, school teachers, or local artists who need to unite with diverse generations in order to foster God’s mission within the realm of business, politics, art, education, or any of a wide range of spheres in which Christians work. Finally, they may be moms and dads who are seeking to unite, understand, love, and lead their homes well in order to train and disciple their children.
The authors represented in this book are a cross-section of leaders who have not only prayed and talked about unity, but who have played a vital role in facilitating unity in their cities, their churches, and their homes. It was a great joy to write with leader like Marshall Blalock, Don Brock, Curt Bradford, Lee Clamp, Will Browning, and David Sons. We pray that our efforts will aid church leaders in practicing the unity for which we all long.