by Stuart Jones
Do you remember playing Red Rover on the playground? There were two teams lined up across from one another separated by a span of a few yards. With arms linked together, one team would yell, “red rover, red rover, send Johnny on over!” And with all the speed and energy he could muster, little Johnny charged out from his team toward the human wall. If he broke through, he got to return to his team and take one of the other team members with him. But if the line held and Johnny couldn’t break through, Johnny was now a member of this powerfully unified team.
In the life of the church, there will be moments when the leadership will need to stand together, arms linked, on a decision or a spiritual stance. We tend to call this “unity.” But is that all there is to unity? Unity is more than defining the party line and holding to it. Unity is more than voting on a decision and accepting the outcome. Excitement, ownership, investment and trust among the leadership give unity its real traction and power. Reaching a unanimous decision often requires time, treasure, and talent. Not receiving true “buy-in” that goes deeper and beyond the simple acquiescence of “toeing the party line” is a recipe for failure. So how do we differentiate between unanimity and unity?
Real unity is formed through the trust and appreciation that exists among leaders. If the interaction among leaders is limited to a once-a-month elders’ meeting, the “red rover lines” are weak. The on-boarding process for elders must share the same value and weight that Paul presents in 1 Timothy 3. Paul starts his thoughts with “Here is a trustworthy saying: Whoever aspires to be an overseer desires a noble task” (1 Tim. 3:1). When part of the leadership process includes meaningful applications and interviews, we raise the felt value of the position and begin significant, deep relationships with the individuals who do, and who will, comprise the group. But that is only the beginning. When we make time among the leadership for socializing, retreats, conferences, etc., we galvanize our leadership relationships. It is during these moments, void of votes, decisions, and “business,” that true unity is born. In these moments we learn each other’s stories, history and idiosyncrasies that become such valuable elements of our leadership team.
This depth of unity is further strengthened in times of corporate prayer. Elders’ meetings must involve defined moments of prayer beyond the opening and closing of a meeting. Elders are the spiritual leaders of the congregation. Part of the way we value each other is by praying for and with one another. Unity is formed as we pray for each other’s families, health, career conflicts, financial concerns and moments of celebration. Whether it’s during the elders’ meeting or during a weekly prayer time separate from the elders’ meeting, unity grows when we celebrate and care for each other through meaningful, heartfelt moments of prayer.
We can see unity on display when leaders stand shoulder-to-shoulder, locking arms. But unity is not formed in those moments. Unity grows and becomes real when we know the lives of those with whom we stand, when we know them as the unique creations God intended for such a time as this, when we know them through times of laughter and conversation outside the conference room. We build unity by holding each other up, lifting each other up, rejoicing with one another in prayer.
“Unity” is not a vote or decision. “Unity” is a strong and powerful team of people that God has put together, moving in the direction He has clearly defined. What could be stronger? It is that kind of strength and unity that will call people to join the line – and not to break through.