The human race is diverse. Billions of individuals in hundreds of countries represent diversity in nationality, race, occupation, religious belief, political conviction, culture, hobbies, and dozens of other aspects. Unfortunately today, diversity almost always equals division. The human race is divided. From the polarizing nature of news media to the global platform of social media to relativism and pluralism, everyone has an opinion and each person lobbies for his own interests.
In a world of division, the church ought to be a beacon of unity.
In fact, the Lord Jesus desired this very thing as he prayed to the Father, “I do not ask on behalf of these alone, but for those also who believe in Me through their word; that they may all be one; even as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe that You sent Me” (John 17:20–21) The unity of the church should testify of the Lord.
Elsewhere, the psalmist exclaims, “Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brothers to dwell together in unity” (Ps 133:1)!
Of the ministry to the church at Ephesus, Paul wrote, “And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ” (Eph 4:11–13). Paul wrote to encourage this church to be united with this simple focus. In the same way, church leaders should minister to equip the saints and build up the body and should do so until the body is united by its faith, knowledge of the Lord, and sanctification. To be united on obedience to the Lord and a commitment to growth in
Christlikeness is the essence of Christian unity. The church should be devoted to unity because the word of God places high value on unity. How then, with this goal of ministry in mind, should church leaders emphasize unity on a weekly basis? How can one preach in order to promote congregational unity? Pastors should remember a few simple truths as they prepare to preach.
The word of God is sufficient to call each person to obedience to Christ.
Preach the word faithfully. Preach the word in its entirety. The call to stand before the people of God and preach the word of God is a significant task in and of itself. Too often pastors busy themselves with creative gimmicks and catchy campaigns, leaving little devotion to the preaching of the word. Preach the word of God and trust the Spirit of God to speak to hearts regarding the goal of their lives. If each member of the congregation responds to the word in obedience, the body moves as one toward the head, Christ.
The word of God is clear on sin.
The sermon should be clear on sin. Preach God’s view of sin. Sin is at the root of all conflict and division within the body, so the weekly sermon should always include a call to confession and repentance. The Spirit of God convicts believers of sin. As believers respond in obedience to God and apply the word of God to conflict, severed relationships are mended, selfishness is diminished, and God is glorified. Unity can never be achieved before division is addressed.
The word of God addresses believers of all ages.
The sermon should address believers of all ages. At times, pockets of believers within a church are united in their faith. Senior adults are united with senior adults, young adults with young adults, students with students, etc. This is in part due to the similarities of these groups, but the weekly sermon should never contribute to a sort of compartmentalized unity. Compartmentalized unity isn’t unity at all. When considering how to preach to all the ages of the audience, the preacher should evaluate both applications and illustrations. Do the illustrations always speak to something only an older generation would understand? Does application always aid those that are married? Those with a family? Does the preacher find that his sermons always gravitate toward a certain
season of life? He must work hard to ensure balance in his illustrations and application if uniting the entire church body is in view.
The word of God was written to a group of believers.
The word of God was written to God’s people. God’s people read it together and sought to obey it together. The weekly sermon and perhaps the weekly bible study mark the corporate reading and studying of God’s word, only for the congregation to return to studying other aspects of the word independently. It is certainly okay for the body to study the word personally; however, calling the congregation to study the same passage or book of the Bible will always promote unity. In order to accomplish this, the preacher can announce the text of his following sermon, but he should make the contents of his sermon series available ahead of time. (This is much easier when preaching through whole books of the Bible). Another option may be to emphasize corporate scripture memory
from the upcoming week’s sermon. This involves planning and organization outside of an individual sermon, but it would bring the body of Christ together as it studies the word of God.
God desires unity among His children and He never operates through division, therefore, the church must make unity a priority. The church will rarely prioritize something the pastor and the sermons do not.
Justin Leach is the Young Adult Pastor at Birchman Baptist Church in Fort Worth, Texas, and a Ph.D. student in Southwestern’s School of Preaching.