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Leading the church to unity in a divided culture

A panel discussion at the 2023 SBC Annual Meeting focused on ways pastors can lead their churches toward unity. (Screen capture)

NEW ORLEANS (BP) – In a world growing increasingly divided, pastors are looking for ways to lead churches toward unity.

During a panel on the CP stage during the SBC Annual Meeting in New Orleans, a group of Hispanic pastors discussed tensions that are causing divisions among Christians today, and how the church can promote unity amidst division. 

Santos Geovany Gómez pastors Iglesia La Vina Bautista in New Orleans and also ministers with the New Orleans Baptist Association.

He said a key to understanding how divisions forms in the church is knowing the difference between polarization and just a difference of opinion.

“Difference of opinion is totally different than polarization,” Gómez said. “Polarization is an opinion that doesn’t agree with you and will cancel you. It will put you on the side, outside of your presence. If you don’t agree with what I think, I will have nothing to do with you.”

“In our churches we are facing polarization in various different ways. One of them could be political, socially or even theologically. It’s a real issue.”

Eloy Rodriquez, president of the National Hispanic Baptist Network and pastor of Idlewild Church in Tampa, Fla., said it’s important for churches to prepare for conflict as it is unavoidable.

“We need to prepare for conflict,” Rodriquez said. “Conflict will come in, especially to the Church, because we have a common enemy, who is Satan…so we have to prepare for conflict.

Despite the constant potential for conflict, Rubén Torres, pastor of Iglesia Bautista Victoria en Cristo, implored pastors to remind their people of Gospel hope.  

“There is hope, even though we live in a very polarized hope,” Torres said. “I believe that the role of the pastor is to guide the church or help the church membership have a better understanding of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the real unity that can be found in the Gospel.

“Even though we are so divided, the human heart wants to live in unity. It’s been the dream for ages and ages for humanity, but that unity is spiritual and can only be achieved through the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Pastors need to guide our people and show them through the Scriptures that is achievable.”

Gómez said it’s important for pastors not to lead in this divided world alone, but to seek help from other convention partners.

“We’re here because we have a common denominator, we cooperate together,” Gómez said.

“Pastors, we are not alone. We have resources, so we need to understand that the role of the pastor is to engage with the resources around them because our associations, our conventions and all our entities are guided by the cooperation together. So when somebody feels alone and they think they don’t know where to go, there are resources all around us. This convention is just a perfect example of it.”