EDITOR’S NOTE: Ronnie Floyd is president of the Southern Baptist Convention and senior pastor of Cross Church in northwest Arkansas.
SPRINGDALE, Ark. (BP) — One of the greatest challenges we face as a convention of churches is unity. Throughout Scripture, unity is evident. We are called upon again and again to unify, meaning to walk in oneness, to be like-minded, to walk in agreement, and to live in a harmonious manner.
Psalm 133:1 states: “How good and pleasant it is when brothers live together in harmony!” Both harmony and unity are used in this verse, depending on the translation.
Threats to unity
I want to address five of the major threats to our unity in the Southern Baptist Convention.
According to our most recent Annual Church Profile, we have 51,094 churches and congregations. Of these, only God knows how many walk in unity. We need a move of God that will bring unity to the people of God everywhere.
The Southern Baptist Convention’s 51,094 churches and congregations are served by 1,100 associations, 42 state conventions, 11 Southern Baptist Convention entities and the Executive Committee of our convention. The number of churches and the vast footprint of our convention structure is friendly to enormous influence, but only when unity is experienced and cooperation becomes more than a slogan.
It does not matter how simple or how complex, how large or how small, how centralized or how vast any organization, church or denomination may be, communication is the #1 challenge. Even though smartphones and computers abound and networks are endless, we still struggle to communicate with one another. Unity is jeopardized when communication is not personal and intentional.
Christians are not called to independent lives, but to dependence upon God first and each other second. This is counter-cultural in every way. When we are more concerned about doing our own thing than working together to accomplish God’s mission, we are out of bounds. Creativity does not trump cooperation and unity.
Ego is not absent in any of us, nor is it absent in any church, and it is not absent in our Southern Baptist Convention. Sadly, we have each witnessed demonstrations of ego through pouting, doubting and even shouting. We have seen ego abound through skepticism, criticism and cynicism. Sadly, we have seen ego create unmerited suspicion of others. Ego needs to die in each of us every day, all day. We need the heart and commitment of the apostle Paul in Galatians 2:20: “I am crucified with Christ.”
Practices that bring unity
I want to encourage each of us with three practices that will bring unity.
1. Be filled with the Spirit daily.
Southern Baptists do not talk enough about the need to be filled with the Holy Spirit daily. I remember an older gentleman who came into a former church of mine to teach us how to witness more effectively. This vibrant layman grabbed our hearts by telling us about the importance of being filled with the Spirit daily. He said, “Remember this phrase, ‘confess and be filled.'” He believed if you want to walk in the Spirit and be a witness for Christ, there would be many times you would have to confess the sin you commit and be filled with the Spirit anew.
Could it be that our evangelism is weak because we are not being filled with the Spirit personally? Could it be that our churches often operate in disunity because we are not filled with the Spirit? Could it be that our people do not even understand what it means to be filled with the Spirit because we have not taught them?
Unity is impossible without men and women being filled with the Spirit. Otherwise, our personal ego is too uncontrollable, demanding our rights and commanding orders to others.
Stop today where you are and ask God to fill you with the Spirit. Being filled with the Holy Spirit means you are living under the Lordship of Christ, being controlled by Him.
2. Make the Great Commission the #1 priority.
I have pastored Southern Baptist churches for nearly 38 years, leading my present church for the past 28 years. There is only one thing, and I mean only one thing, that keeps a church unified — and that is the priority of the Great Commission.
When a church, an association of churches, a state convention, or all that comprises the Southern Baptist Convention, is committed to the ultimate priority of presenting the Gospel of Jesus Christ to every person in the world and to make disciples of all the nations, we can experience a supernatural unity that only God can give us.
It is one thing to say it, but another thing to live it out. When we are so convinced this is God’s mission for us in this world, everything else becomes secondary, including ego and independence. I am firmly convinced that God commands a special anointing upon a life, a church or a convention that lives this out in the unity of the Spirit.
3. Pray for our unity.
At our recent convention in Columbus, the power of unity when God’s people pray together became quite evident. When 7,000 of us joined together on Tuesday night for over two hours of prayer, worship and the Word, the Lord commanded His anointing upon us.
We need to pray for unity with one another. This is not always easy. We need to pray for unity in each of our churches. We need to pray for unity in our convention. We need to pray for unity in our relationship with other evangelicals. Unity can help us reach the world for Christ!
This is why we need to pray for the next Great Spiritual Awakening in America.