Gary, along with his wife and children, minister to the people of Lille, France.
Jesus prayed in John 17 for us—his Church, his Bride—that we may be one. When I look at our small church plant in France, I marvel at how God put us together. After all, it is God who builds the Church, and we rely on him for unity.
Some church bodies in the U.S. are formed with people of the same type of socio-economic status, some with the majority falling in the same age group, and sometimes with those who dress practically the same way. Only after looking deeper into the matter would we find that the location of a meeting place or the doctrinal alignment with one’s beliefs were considered in someone choosing a church. In our new church, most of the above considerations, as important as some are, seem to be discarded.
How would you react and how could you pursue unity in a church where…
- 22% of the married women in your church have gotten divorced this year alone?
- Only 2 of 7 families come regularly with all their children (under age 18)?
- 10% of your couples live together outside of marriage?
- 5 distinct cultures are present and many affect the way our services are run?
As far as divorce, it happens when reconciliation is not possible. The response of the church in terms of community is to see that each person is loved, and each person is accompanied in spiritual growth. We praise God that even with our small number we are able to accompany each divorced person so that they are one with us.
As far as children who don’t come to church with their parents, there would seem to be a clear lack of unity. However, when I or others on the leadership team conduct family visits, we actually see the “missing” children in their homes. They know us, and we can have at least a limited relationship with them. Yes, we would love to have them participate in our community and in our classes and programs for their age. Surprisingly enough, our small church does have something regular for all age groups, and many of our leaders are involved in a teen ministry and in a children’s group. I also have college student ministry ties for the young adults. Family ministry is critical for us, and we really do need God’s help for there to be unity in the community.
As far as unmarried couples living together, we work with them towards marriage or living apart, despite heavy economic burdens that may result (yes, also from marriage; no time to explain that here). Purity inside and outside of the boundaries of marriage will help us towards unity, in accordance with God’s will.
As far as our distinct active cultures present in our community, we praise God for diversity, which actually brings us to unity. We hear prayers in other known languages, and we rejoice that God hears them. We have Bibles present in different languages, and we praise God for Bibles in English, French, Arabic, Kabyle, and Spanish, so that God can speak directly to the hearts of each one.
Unity is not possible in our church context if we try to base it on similar clothing styles or economic background, or even age. It is only based on God unifying us in Him, in the blood of Christ, and in love, that which Jesus said is the distinguishing mark of his disciple (John 13:35), of unified Christians everywhere.