Author - Simon Prince, Echoes International Trustee
Simon is an elder at Bishop’s Stortford Christian Assembly and Echoes International trustee. Prior to this, he and his family were mission workers in an Asian megacity for 7½ years. Simon is married to Liz, a paediatrician, and they have two school-aged children.
That’s a question many books and articles seek to grapple with. But whilst a lot of these strategies are helpful, some proving very successful, they must be built on the foundation of Jesus’ strategy for mission.
As a church we’ve been studying John’s Gospel recently. When we came to Chapter 17, I noticed something in Jesus’ famous prayer that I hadn’t seen before. Jesus prays (v20-23):
‘I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one – in them and you in me – so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.’
Three times Jesus prayed that his people may be one! Yet, tragically, the history of the church since the 1st Century there’s been schism, disunity and division. Is it realistic for a church that consists of people from every nation and every conceivable background to be united?
The answer must be an emphatic ‘yes’, if we unite around the right thing. In v20, Jesus says that the thing we should unite around is the message preached by the apostles. It’s this message that tells us the truth about a perfect and holy God, about a world in rebellion against Him, about salvation made possible through the cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and about the opportunity to become part of the church, a new community of God’s people, through faith in Jesus Christ!
But what does all this have to do with mission? Because the unity Jesus prays for isn’t an end in itself, it acts as a witness to the world! He wants us to be unified so that the outside world might look at us and recognise that the only way such a diverse group of people can remain unified is because we follow Jesus.
As we look at the church throughout history and today, it’s no surprise that where we see the gospel growing, we also see great unity between individual Christians and between gospel believing churches! Recently, I had the privilege to be a delegate at the CAEF Congress (a conference of French brethren churches). From the stories shared there, there seems to be steady gospel growth in France, something that surprised and encouraged me. Unsurprisingly, this was accompanied by strong unity both within and between churches.
…it’s no surprise that where we see the gospel growing, we also see great unity between individual Christians and between gospel believing churches!
Compare this with the situation in the UK. Sadly, the brethren movement has become fragmented, often because of disagreement on secondary and tertiary, rather than gospel issues. What do we see as a result? A much reduced impact in our local communities and in sending mission workers to evangelise and plant churches in other countries.
But there is a way back from this situation. It comes from re-focusing our attention on the gospel, the thing The Apostle Paul calls ‘of first importance’ (1 Cor. 15:3), whilst showing grace to our fellow believers on other issues where we might disagree or have a different personal preference. When we do this, we’ll start to experience a few things:
- Our enjoyment of the gospel will increase
- Our relationships with others will deepen
- Our joy at seeing or hearing about the gospel growing in other people’s lives will increase
Imagine our churches again being filled with Christians like this! That’s when our local communities will start to notice us, see that we’re different and start to ask questions. And as they do, they’ll start to see that the gospel really does work, something that will increase their responsiveness to the gospel message.
Verse 24 of Jesus’ prayer tells us why this is important to Jesus:
‘Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world.’
One day we’ll see Jesus in all his glory, not just as individuals, but as one unified church, a multitude beyond number from all nations and all eras of history. What a wonderful day that will be! But we can experience a preview of this here and now in the unity we have with our fellow Christians, radiating God’s glory into our communities and across the world.