Leading into Unity

leading into unity

I can remember the moment as clearly today as if I was still standing there. I had just left a board meeting that had not gone well. Being new to this pastoral role, I was about to call my dad and mentor (I am a pastor’s kid). As I walked home to get on the phone, I suddenly stopped dead in my tracks with a sobering realization! If I handled this the way my father would have I would end up with a church in conflict. There was another way that would more likely lead to harmony. My world shifted as I realized I was not going to ask him for advice this time.

The internal struggle of a pastor in a congregational church setting is often between what he thinks is the right decision and what the congregation or lay leaders think. That simple sounding three letter word, “lay”, is where I realized my problem resided. By thinking of myself as being different from, and therefore above the “lay” people, I could justify my pride in thinking I know what God wants of the church and the board members or congregation do not.

Leadership in a congregational church is predicated on the conviction of the priesthood of all believers (1 Peter 2:5). This conviction is illustrated when “…the apostles and elders together with the whole church…” (Acts 15:22) indicated that, “…it seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us…” (Acts 15:28) what the decision should be. This account reveals two principles of community decision making that have been my guide ever since that day on my walk home from the meeting.

  1. It seemed good to the Holy Spirit – The point of the discussion was not to win the argument but to determine the direction of the Holy Spirit. God’s will seems to have gradually become evident to all as all spoke and were heard.
  2. It seemed good to all of us – In Acts distinctions are made between different roles in the church (apostles, elders, the whole church), but when the decision is written down these distinctions are absent (Acts 15:24-29). I take this to mean that everyone’s input was given equal weight.

… it is impossible to reflect the image of God if there is no unity in the church.

It would be easy to consider this a matter of leadership style or personality except for the fact that it is impossible to reflect the image of God if there is no unity in the church. Jesus said “I have given them the glory you gave me, so they may be one as we are one. I am in them, and you are in me. May they experience such perfect unity that the world will know that you sent me and that you love them as much as you love me.” (John 17:22-23). What is more important, that I get my way in some decision that will be forgotten a few years from now or that the congregation I lead demonstrates the unity of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit? I know how I answer this question. I aim to lead in such a way that the unity of the church takes precedent over my agenda.

Marvin Penner
EFCC Alberta Parkland District Superintendent