Monday, May 10, 2010


The Christian philosopher Francis Schaeffer has said that there are no small churches and no big pastors. Nevertheless, it does take a “big” pastor to cooperate with another pastor, and a “big” church to cooperate with another church in the building of Christ’s kingdom.

Clay Shirky suggests a hierarchy of social arrangements—sharing, cooperation, collaboration, and collectivism—that can bring us together. There is increasing coordination with each step. Sharing involves things. Cooperation involves ideas. Collaboration involves projects. And collectivism involves vision. The sequence of these steps is quite logical. But even before you get to the first step, there is a preliminary threshold you must clear: communication.

One thing is for sure: interdependence is hard, wherever it is attempted. I’m a fan of marriage, but when you think of it, it is a really challenging proposition. Marriage is two people, of different genders, from two different families, trying to do life together as a unit. Good luck with that, especially when visions collide. Everything is cool until the visions vary, and then cool quickly becomes hot. It’s a collision course that I’m not sure can be negotiated, at least in our own strength. But God is not beyond asking us to do something that can’t be done apart from His help. In the movie A League of Their Own, Tom Hanks’s character responds to a complaint of hardship by saying, “Hard is what makes it great!” Perhaps the best part of coordination is what God will have to do in us for it to happen.

To validate those whose ministry is different from ours, we need to recognize, rejoice in, and report on what God is doing throughout the world, particularly in ways that are different from what we’re used to doing or are doing. His work is much bigger than any of us. Other churches can reach people that your church cannot, and in ways that your church does not. Do I hear an Amen? Validate the thing that is different from you, maybe the opposite of you. For those of us in less structured, organic settings, it might mean expressing thanks for the ministries that are programmatic, institutional, or traditional. For those of us in a church that is traditionally organized, it might mean expressing thanks for those who are less structured in their approach. When was the last time you said to a pastor of another church, “I thank God for what you are doing over there”?

In our CTK services, I like to pray publicly for the other churches in the community. I think it sends an important message that there are other family members around that have valid ministries, even though their perspectives may differ from ours. As I pray for different denominations by name, I can sometimes discern that some of “our” people are squirming. We have done too good a job of differentiating ourselves from other churches, and not a good enough job of communicating our mutual dependence. But this can change. Sheep are prone to follow. And if they have followed us to independence, I believe they will also follow us toward interdependence.

The slogan we need for the church in America is the one printed on our money: E pluribus unum (out of many, one). At times in the church, there has been too much pluribus and not enough unum. Of course, the Lord’s Prayer (not the one He taught us to pray, but the one He actually prayed) was for unity. As Christ is praying for unity, there is also an enemy roaming who is intent on division. C. S. Lewis, in The Great Divorce, illustrates this point as he recounts a bus ride from heaven to hell. Instead of finding fire in hell, he finds a neighborhood full of empty homes on deserted streets. Lewis asks what has happened, and he gets a chilling answer. There used to be a great population in hell, he is told, but on the first day when someone would arrive, he would start quarreling with his neighbor, and within a week he would move to another block. Of course, someone else would move in next to him in that neighborhood as well. So the person would have to move again to get away from his neighbors. This cycle was repeated many times, until the person had moved to the edge of town, where he had to build another house. And that was hell—a constant drive to get away from others. Hell meant growing—rapidly—apart. That is a metaphor for hell on earth, and also an indicator of what heaven on earth must be like: coming together.

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