For our fourth meeting of our core team we decided to look at one aspect of group work, team work, and beginning new communities from scratch.
In the 1960s, business theorist Bruce Tuckman developed a four stage model of how groups work: Forming, Storming, Norming, and Performing. In the second stage new groups who had been getting on fine during the honeymoon period usually go through a difficult stage when expectations and unveiled, cliques are formed and difficulties can arise. Some people leave during this stage. Churches are no different and there have been many plants that, although still going ten years down the line, retain few of their original membership. As we are a new and very small group I though it might be useful to think through these stages and what the basis of unity should be.
For the most part of the session we did a Bible study on Philippians 1:27-2:18.
This is one of the places in scripture where a new church starts having some difficulties. The apostle Paul is generally pleased with the church in Philippi, but is a bit disturbed at a lack of unity which is being shown by some of the members. In chapter 4 , he even goes as far as naming two people whom he wants to “be of the same mind in the Lord”.
The truth is that it is very easy to disagree with others, even other Christians, on some issues. Throughout his writing Paul makes a point of consistently exhorting his readers to ‘stand firm in the Lord’ and not to dilute the gospel message. Yet throughout history Christians have managed to disagree with each other on all manner of issues. Paul’s response is to say that if we understand the gospel – God’s love and compassion for us – then we will want to ‘be one in spirit and in mind (2:1-2). This does not simply mean that we should agree with one another, but that we should be on the same side – one in spirit, looking out for each other and not trying to score points. He goes on to encourage us to “have the same mindset as that of Christ”
In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:
Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death — even death on a cross! (Phil 2:5-8)
The upshot of it is that Jesus values others above himself and didn’t seek power or recognition for his own gain.
Putting this into a group perspective for a potential new church, how does this attitude help us when it come to thinking about unity? Well, it is not just about being ‘on message’ although I think it is important to stand up for the gospel but also to recognise what is an essential and what is a desirable issue. I’m prepared to reduce the essentials to the content of the creeds, Nicene and Apostle’s, which the then worldwide church agreed on very early in Christian history.
However, what is much more important is that unity is not just being united in mind, but in spirit. That means, to show care for one another, not just care for being right. For a Christian group, this is most important not just so that it survives, but so that it grows. The actions of the group affect its witness to the world. There is nothing more unattractive about the faith when groups of Christians bicker.
Do everything without grumbling or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, “children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation.”Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky as you hold firmly to the word of life. (Phil 2:14-15)