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Joe McKeever Christian Blog and Commentary

“Father, I pray that they all may be one…that the world may believe that You sent me….that they may be one just as we are one….that the world may know that You have sent me….” (John 17:20-23)

In the churches with which I have experience, unity seems to be a sometimes thing.

We Baptists have been known to pride ourselves on our divisions. “Where you have two of us, you have three opinions.”  A great many of our churches were started, not intentionally but accidentally, the result of division and splits.

To the average church member, it appears that unity is good but not important, welcome but not essential, comfortable but usually inconvenient.

We are dead wrong.

Unity is a huge deal to the Lord, in Scripture, and in our world today.

Our Creator God has built harmony into the universe, installed it in science and mathematics, and made it a major component in music and in our DNA.

It’s no stretch to believe God wants unity in human relationships.

God is not the author of confusion (I Corinthians 14:33). Where there is disorder and chaos in our lives, we are not to blame Him.

Unity honors Christ and reflects well on the Trinity (see our text, John 17:20 -23).

Unity makes the journey more pleasant.  Amos said, “Can two walk together except they be agreed?” (Amos 3:3)

Unity makes the church’s work more efficient. Ever try to lead a congregation that cannot agree on anything? An organization that is divided? A team where everyone wants to be the captain? Ever try to run a business when your co-workers are forever bickering and undercutting one another?

Imagine an army where every soldier is given a vote on tactics and procedures.

Imagine a church which believes pastors are there to please them.

Everything you do feels uphill and burdensome.

A great team functions like a well-oiled machine, each element doing its part, working in sync with the others.

Now, imagine such a church.

A harmonious church is a lovely thing.  Sad to say, it’s often an anomaly.  An oddity. A rarity.

When a church does its work in a harmonious, unified way, and does so year after year while making huge decisions and accomplishing important ministries, the world notices. The outside world watches and sees, and people are drawn to Jesus.

People are drawn to Jesus when His people love each other and work together in a sweet, harmonious way.

That’s the biggie.  Unity is essential to evangelism.

Unity in the Body of Christ encourages people to believe in Jesus.

“Father, I pray that they all may be one…that the world may believe.”

Unity is essential if we are to reach people for Jesus.

When the Jerusalem church began bickering over the distribution of food to the widows, the outside community sat up and took notice. Some pulled up a chair to watch the fireworks, satisfied that this fledgling movement of Jesus-followers would soon self-destruct. After all, they were a vast assortment of races and languages and nationalities (ever since Pentecost; Acts 2). Division had to come sooner or later, critics surely thought. Maintaining unity in such a diverse body for any period of time was an impossibility.

When the Jerusalem church faced the problem head-on and got this right–I mean, knocked it out of the park!–the world was most impressed. That accounts for the fascinating statement in Acts 6:7. “So the word of God spread. The number of disciples in Jerusalem increased rapidly. And a large number of priests became obedient to the faith.”

When Jewish priests were drawn to Jesus, you knew something amazing was going on.

It was the unity that did it.

Disunity–continued conflict without a good resolution–would have confirmed to the watchers that these Christians were no different from anyone else, and they would have ignored the believers and turned aside to other matters.(Too many of our churches are being ignored by the community these days.  We may as well erect “Keep Off” signs on the front lawn.)

The unity and harmony in the Jerusalem church won over even their sternest critics, the Jewish priests.

It will do the same thing today.

In a seminary class, I asked, “How are the people in your church different from one another?”  The responses seemed endless: They are different in generations, gender, income levels, education, and experience. Different in values, theology, viewpoints, age, ambitions, maturity levels, and politics. They are different in races and culture, in backgrounds and needs and physiology.

Unity in such a diverse group is every bit as much a miracle as any healing or resurrection from the dead.

The outside world is watching to see if God is in your midst, church.  They will know you are His and He is there by your unity.

Acts 16:25 says when Paul and Silas began praying and singing hymns to the Lord “about midnight,” even though they were suffering in a Philippian jail with their beaten backs left as open wounds, “the other prisoners were listening to them.”

They’re always listening, friend.

The outside world is always watching.

But they quit listening and stop watching the moment they decide we are just like everyone else, living in the flesh, running our lives in carnal ways.

That’s why the Lord will allow His people to go through suffering and torment, persecution and division; it’s all intended to bear a witness to the watching world.

“You will be persecuted, arrested and hauled into court,” Jesus told His people. “You will be brought before judges and magistrates and put on trial because of your preaching.”

“When that happens,” Jesus said, “remember this is not about you.  It’s all about Me.  For My Name’s sake.  So, do not prepare a speech. The Holy Spirit will tell you what to say. Trust Him.”  (My version of Matthew 10:16ff.)

The idea was to get the message to the judges and magistrates, the officials and rulers.  After all, Caesar is not coming to your revival.  So, to get the Gospel to him, the Lord would be needing some disciples to be arrested and brought into court to testify on what they were preaching. That’s how the early church was going to reach the high and the mighty.

The world is watching, certain that you are not the real deal, that your church is filled with hypocrites, that Jesus is a myth and the Holy Spirit just an idea.

So, something has to happen.

Someone or something has to challenge the peace and harmony in your fellowship. The Lord allows this in order to create a canvas on which to display His special creation–men and women redeemed by the blood and indwelt by the Holy Spirit.

Pastor, the time to teach principles of unity to your people is when everything is going well.  Teach them to expect challenges to the unity, and prepare them to respond in faith since the Lord has clearly decided to do something special in them at this time.

The disciples “returned rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer for His name” (Acts 5:41).

They knew God was up to something, and wanted to be a part of it.

Publication date: April 22, 2015

What we are attempting to do here is walk a fine line between the fun of humor and exaggeration and the conviction of truth and righteousness.  They do intersect, although it’s difficult not to veer too much to one side or the other.  I’ll try not to drive like a drunk….

The Lord called you to preach the gospel and you answered. You went off to a Bible college or theological seminary of one kind or the other, and you got yourself some degrees which you now display prominently on your wall. You finally got past those tiny churches which many consider boot camp for the pastoral ministry and now you are uptown in a fine facility with your name boldly plastered on the sign out front as the (ahem) senior pastor. 

Have you “arrived” in the ministry?  Well sir, here’s some of the ways you can tell….

1) You have a Bible published with your very own commentary notes.  “The Official Jerry Bigshot Bible.”

It still has the basic 66 books of the Holy Scripture of course, but no one is buying it for that. They purchasing it for the wonderful, scintillating, incisive–and insert a lot of other dynamic adjectives here!–notes at the bottom of each page.

How in the world Martin Luther pulled off the Reformation without your assistance is anybody’s guess.

2) You have two secretaries.  One who works for you and the other who works for her.

Your secretaries sometimes lord it over the rest of the office staff since they work for the (ahem) head guy, but hey, that’s life and it’s to be expected.  After all, they take phone calls for you from leading pastors around the country, publishers of major printing establishments, and denominational executives.  They are in high cotton and if they’re a little prideful, well, who wouldn’t be?

3) You have research assistants to do your Bible study for you.

You can recall when you had time to check out the root of that Hebrew word.  You used to enjoy taking a full morning at the seminary library. But those days are behind you.  You’re just too busy for that any more. So, that young intern sure comes in handy.  His sermon ideas have given you some messages that have been well received, too. He’s going to make someone a great preacher one of these days. Hopefully, not too soon.  You are depending on him too much.

4) You get invited to large events to speak. Or, if you don’t, you leave the impression you do.

And you never get invited to the small churches and small events, because to be blunt about it, those people know you are “out of their league” now that you have arrived. If you were invited to Mount Pisgah at Route Four Podunk, you would have to fudge and tell the pastor how much you would love nothing better than doing this, but your schedule just will not allow it, and thank you for calling and have a blessed day.

Surely the Lord will forgive your little lie. You were just trying not to hurt the guy’s feelings, after all.

5) The media calls for your “take” on events of the day.

And you find yourself practicing in advance for their calls, which you know will be coming.

You love getting phone calls or emails from friends far and wide saying they say you on CNN or Fox and what a great job you did.  You find yourself hoping that your own members see the same things.  One appearance on a national news show will earn you a hundred goodwill-chips, to be cashed in the next time you need extended time away or support for a pet project.

6) You no longer have to attend those preachers meetings in your own county.

Everyone there knows you’d certainly be there if you just were not so busy flying hither and yon to speak.  These days, you no longer know those pastors anyway, so attending their meetings would be awkward. Best to spare everyone the embarrassment by avoiding them altogether.

7) The mayor treats you like the CEO of a major employer in the community.

The funny thing is that you soon discover he wants your popularity to rub off on him the same way you want his public recognition to enhance your status. So, you help each other.

8) You’ve almost forgotten what the inside of a hospital room or nursing home looks like.

You have other people doing the actual shepherding of your congregation.  You’re above that sort of thing now.

The only time you get to the hospital now is when one of your key guys is in critical condition. They make their little jokes that, “I must be in bad shape because the head pastor is here!” but there’s a lot of truth to it, and the reality is there is not a thing you can do about it. It’s just the reality of your life these days.  Success has its price and one of those prices is you can’t be everywhere, you cannot do everything. Something has to give and it’s the actual work of pastoring. After all, anyone can visit a hospital room.  Your gift is in vision-casting, motivation, leadership. Big stuff.

9) You camouflage your dereliction of pastoral duties by fancy terms.

Like vision-casting, motivation, and leadership.

Meanwhile, the pastor of the smaller church down the street is doing the actual shepherding of some of your members.  They actually call him.  The words vary, but mostly they sound like: “Pastor Johnson, if you’re going to be at the hospital this week, could you run by and see my daddy?  I’d ask my pastor but he’s so busy.”  Or, “Pastor Johnson, I wonder if you have a few minutes to talk with me about a problem?  I’d go to my pastor but he’s off at the meeting of the World Alliance for Global Alliances.”

10)  And finally, you know you have arrived as a big-shot pastor when you lie awake at night, unable to sleep because you are missing the actual work of pastoring your people.

You envy the pastor down the street.

Now that you are somebody, your days are spent planning with your executive staff, flying to high-level conferences on important issues, hob-nobbing with celebrities (hey, they need witnessing too!), writing your books and doing your book tours, and pontificating on important moral issues of the day.

If that floats your boat, go for it. Someone has to do it, I suppose

But if God called you to pastor His people, you just might want to take a look back down the road and ask yourself where you took that fatal detour, that side road that led you to ten thousand perks but far away from the actual shepherding of God’s people.

Personally, I would rather be a pastor of the Lord’s people than to dwell in the White House for eight solid years, than to have a widely-watched program on Fox or CNN, than to be on the best-sellers list every year for decades.

Only those called to pastor can understand this.  The rest will be tuning up their resume’ in search of the First Church of Bigtown.

I hope you find what you’re looking for, friend.

My sister Carolyn sent me a list of lame excuses men use as to why they didn’t get their sweethearts anything for Valentine’s Day. “The Hallmark store was closed and I refuse to give you anything but the best.”

That sort of thing.

At the end, her list cited a quote from the old comic Red Skelton.

“All men have flaws; but married men find out them a lot sooner than others.”

You think that’s funny, but it’s not.  A lot of truth to it. And good truth, may I say.

This will be my first Valentine’s Day without Margaret, who left us for Heaven a few days ago. My first anything without her, as a matter of fact.  And I was thinking….


–Who will tell me not to wear those shoes with that outfit?  She did, just recently.  I tried to reason with her that men wear sneakers with sport coats and slacks these days, but she would have none of it. So, I changed into dress shoes.  After all, she was dressed up, why shouldn’t I be?  (We were headed to church for the Christmas luncheon for seniors.)

–Who will listen to my blog in the mornings when I am halfway through and stuck and need to hear the perspective of someone whose brain actually works. And, may I add, works differently from mine. Her thoughts were almost never my thoughts, nor her ways my ways, I think with a smile, a corruption of Isaiah 55:8.

–Who will listen to a sermon idea I’m working on and ask a question I never thought of, which changes everything about what I was about to do?

–Who will call me back to earth when Facebook friends or church members tell me how wonderful I am?  Without her, will I start believing that stuff?  (She would not dispute the  compliments they were sending my way, but just smile. That’s all. Such a poignant smile, as though to say, “Ha! If they just knew.”)

Who’s going to do that for me now?

Right now some of my longtime buddies are thinking of picking up the phone and volunteering to be the one to put me in my place, to pop my little pretensions, but thank you. No.  I’ll pass on it.

No one does these things better for a preacher-husband than a wife who has shared his life for almost all of it.

We preachers sometimes think our wives do not know how wonderful we are or appreciate the great work we do.  (A hint of a smiley-face goes here.)

We preachers sometimes think our wives and Job’s wife have a lot in common.  You will recall she gave him no sympathy in his distress but suggested he “curse God and die” (Job 2:9).  In other words, “Quit moping around here. Just get it over with.”

No sympathy here for all our hard work and long hours.

I recall something Franklin Graham said a few years back when his wonderful mother, Ruth Bell Graham, was alive.  His father, Dr. Billy Graham, was telling his wife how badly he felt.  “I feel like I’m about to die.”  She said, “Oh, that must feel wonderful.”

We all laughed. Franklin said, “Dad is not going to get any sympathy from Mother.”

Every preacher-husband understands.

The fact is the wife has her own load to bear, her own burdens and hardships and demanding schedule (of one type or other), and she knows many things about her preacher husband.

She knows that when he wants to, he can close the door and have the secretary protect him from visitors and phone calls for an hour or two.  She has no office and no secretary.

She knows that while her preacher-husband does have a lot of demands on him, he still gets tons of compliments and appreciation.  He goes somewhere to guest-preach and people tell him he’s the greatest since Spurgeon, and he eats it up.

She knows him. She has seen him broken and angry and when he has lost his temper.  She knows him as well as anyone on earth.

And if you want to know the truth, that bugs the preacher-hubby just a tad.

He sometimes thinks he would like a wife who worships the ground he walks on, and who counts as her greatest blessing in life the fact that he married her.

He thinks that sometimes.

But in his sane moments, he knows better.

God made her different from him for a reason.  The pastor-husband needs the balance she brings to him.  The ballast, if you will.

If he’s like me, the husband will realize it most when she leaves and there is no one to provide that any more.

That’s an awful feeling, friend, believe me.

I do miss my valentine today.

Treasure yours, pastor friend. She does for you something no one else could ever do, whether you are smart enough to appreciate it or not.

She keeps you real.