One of the saddest things that can utterly fracture and destroy a vibrant ministry is the disunity of the members. It was true in Paul’s day as he chastised the church at Corinth, and it is true today. We are no better than the people in the Book of Judges, where everyone did what was right in their own eyes. We take it a step further. Not only do we insist only what we, the brethren, KNOW is right, we are going to stand firm on our assurance, despite the destruction left in its wake.
The devastating effects of disunity are apparent in our families, in our cities, in our nations and, so tragically, in our churches. I have seen disunity begin as a seed of discontent on the sidewalks, fanned into flame through backbiting and gossip, and then a major fire erupts and we go down in flames.
We must guard against disunity.
Progression of Disunity
In my work in sidewalk outreach, I have seen the progression of disunity reveal itself in a common pattern.
Someone feels slighted or offended by someone else. Perhaps it is something that was said by a team member. Sometimes it is a policy change or restatement that a team member objects to. Sometimes it is a perceived slight that is suffered in silence.
The offense slowly smolders, and grows. Oftentimes, the hurt becomes exaggerated. It becomes bitterness and anger and resentment towards others.
Miscommunication or total lack of communication
As the offense and resulting anger and hurt grows, the offended person retreats into silence or “holy gossip.” They request prayer from others to deal with the issue, even naming the offender, but never going to the offender to discuss and air the concern.
Gossip becomes perceived truth
Gossip over perceived slights never results in a positive outcome. The one-sided perception of what happens, repeated and shared, often with self-righteous indignation, tends to color the views first of the people closest to the offended person. It rarely stops there, however. It tends to spread like a virus, from one team to another, until there is increasing discontent, questioning and assuming the worst of fellow team members.
Disgruntled and offended members quit
When this progression is allowed to progress, it inevitably ends in division and destruction of team unity. One person quits, and those closest to that member begin to question the ministry. A domino toppling of commitment and unity follows. Whole ministries have been destroyed by disunity.
Keep an eternal perspective on why we are together as a team in the first place.
How to Avoid the Trap of Disunity
Assume the best in others
Since offense is often the root cause of disunity, we must all guard against offense which leads to a root of bitterness. First, think the best of others rather than assume the worst. I think this alone would end a great deal of disunity.
Satan loves to destroy the unity of believers. He knows how we all tend to cling to our beliefs and are resistant to challenges to our stance. He capitalizes on our pride, which causes the progression towards disunity.
Have a humble spirit
This is why a humble spirit is so critical in each of us. If we do not have a humble spirit, we should be praying God will help us develop one. I believe one of the ways He helps us develop a humble spirit is in how we handle perceived offense. Do we trust our teammates? Do we trust those God has put in authority above us? Do we communicate immediately when we have concerns, with a loving humble spirit, assuming the best in each other? (I know I have failed here many times, and so speak from knowledge. Humility heals a great many wounds!)
This is why God says He loves a humble and contrite heart. The humble heart is one who hears His correction and seeks His will, and grows in His guidance.
Open and immediate communication
Do not let anger or hurt fester. Go to the person with whom you have an issue and ask questions first to understand fully their perception of events. Then, with humble kindness, communicate your concerns. Following the Matthew 18 model of dealing with offense is God’s way to counter disunity and should therefore be our way as well!
Admit you could be wrong
I remember my mother urging my father to practice saying, “you could be right.” My dad was a genius, and very opinionated. He often WAS right; however, it was hard for him to admit others might possibly be MORE right at times. I love my mom’s wisdom here. I know I need to practice saying this more frequently in the face of conflict: You COULD be right.
In issues of the tenets of the faith, we cannot compromise. Most disunity in ministry does not seem to arise from those basics. More often, I see issues arise from things that really do not matter a lot, or from miscommunication and escalating hurt. Trying to see things from the other person’s perspective is a unifying skill.
Focus on the big picture
So often we get lost in the petty procedural issues and lose sight of the truly important issue. Glorifying God through our obedience and faith is the absolute critical main focus. And then, what is the unifying purpose of our specific ministry on the sidewalk? Saving babies and changing the mindset of families set on killing their unborn child. Keep an eternal perspective on why we are together as a team in the first place.
This is such a difficult ministry. It is so easy to become discouraged. When we are discouraged, I think we open the door to Satan’s attacks. If we are busy praying for each other and actively seeking to encourage each other in the Lord, disunity is less likely to find fertile ground to grow.
Always seek scriptural basis for thoughts and actions
Most problems (if not all) could be solved if every thought and action of ours was held captive to the Lord Jesus. This is a tall order, but it is what God desires and encourages. We must never take our eyes off of Jesus. The more we focus on Him, the divisive elements tend to become less prominent.
“I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called, with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love, endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all (Ephesians 4:1-6 NKJV).”