Friday, June 15, 2012

Finding common ground

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The other day I posted a list of books I was reading.  Although it wasn't on that list, I later read a good review of The Presidents Club: Inside the World's Most Exclusive Fraternity and downloaded it onto my NOOK.  I've just read the first two chapters and am greatly enjoying the book.  Those chapters discussed how Harry Truman and Herbert Hoover worked together to accomplish some things that would change the presidency and the world.  These two men had little in common except each knew the challenges of the presidency and each had a desire to see positive changes occur in America and throughout the world.  Hoover mistrusted Truman at first and never did trust some of Truman's associates, but they found ways to work together to make a positive difference.  As their work drew to a close, they went from being allies to becoming friends.

It seems that is a lesson we need to learn in the church as well.  Whether we are talking about people within a congregation, churches in a community, or denominations, we need to learn to work together to accomplish the task God has given the church.  I've been privileged to work with a number of denominations in conference settings to lead workshops and other events for their bivocational and small church leaders.  We may have had some different beliefs on minor theological issues or church polity, but we shared a common desire to see their smaller churches minister more effectively.  Years ago when I began my conference ministry I was asked by one denominational leader to speak to their small church leader gathering.  I jokingly reminded him of my denominational affiliation and asked if he was sure he wanted me to attend.  I knew some in his denomination would not have appreciated my being there.  He said that the work of bivocational ministry was too important to worry about the minor differences that existed in our denominations.  That is true of all of the tasks that are before the church today.

When unchurched people read about some of the silliness that goes on in our denominations and churches it's no wonder they write us off as irrelevant.  Just this week I read of a decision made by one denominational group and later saw a comment on Facebook from a woman who said that was the reason she wasn't a _________.  When people see churches unable to work together they must wonder if Christ really does make a difference in people's lives.  Jesus said one sign that we are Christians is that we love one another, and when churches refuse to work with other churches it has to make people wonder about the love we profess.

I'm not saying that we must compromise our beliefs.  There are some core values that I cannot compromise and remain loyal to my understanding of Christianity.  However, that does not mean I cannot work with other believers whose beliefs may differ somewhat from mine to accomplish needed ministry in our community.  It also does not mean that I cannot respect their beliefs and traditions while holding onto mine.  In recent years I have worshiped in various denominational churches, and although some of the practices may have varied from what I was used to, I certainly respected and honored those practices, and I found the Gospel they proclaimed was the same that I preach.  It's often been said, but I'm not sure how often we really believe it: What we have in common is much more important than our differences.

There are some big challenges in your community.  People are hurting.  They need the church to minister to that pain and to help them find Christ as the ultimate answer to their greatest need.  How can your church partner with other churches in your community to make that happen?

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