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Having just completed service as an elder at Madison Square CRC (Grand Rapids), I have been doing some focused thinking over the past several years about the kingdom; about what kingdom transformation looks like and about the role of the church in participating with the Lord in making the reality of his kingdom known and experienced. Each of the responsibilities of elders is important for transformation, but I have become convinced that one of the most important signs of kingdom transformation is increased unity. Our worship, our fellowship, and our witness are damaged when Christians are at odds with each other. Disunity is unattractive and even repugnant: it smells and not with the fragrance of Christ. My reflections have been directed by the following Scripture passages:

Rom 14:19a
So let’s agree to use all our energy in getting along with each other.

Rom 15:2-3
Each one of us needs to look after the good of the people around us, asking ourselves, “How can I help?” That’s exactly what Jesus did. He didn’t make it easy for himself by avoiding people’s troubles, but waded right in and helped out.

Eph 4:11-13
He handed out gifts of apostle, prophet, evangelist, and pastor/teacher to train Christians in skilled servant work, working within Christ’s body, the church, until we’re all moving rhythmically and easily with each other, efficient and graceful in response to God’s Son, fully mature adults, fully developed within and without, fully alive in Christ.

I like the way Eugene Peterson expresses these passages in “The Message.” First, we are called to make an all out effort to get along. When people and ministries have not spent much effort at getting along in the past, it takes considerable energy and discipline to break old patterns and to think in new and collaborative ways. Staff and ministry leaders must be much more inclusive and integrated in all the ministries of the church. Second, I like the picture of Jesus “wading in and helping out,” rather than avoiding people’s troubles. Teammates help each other out so that the whole team, in unison, moves forward together. Finally, I like the phrase “moving rhythmically and easily with each other, efficient and graceful in response to God’s Son.” In my imagination, I see graceful dancers, beautifully synchronized, moving together as one across the stage. Now, what does that have to do with serving as an elder?

Our denominational vision is “to be a diverse family of healthy congregations, assemblies and ministries expressing the good news of God’s kingdom that transforms lives and communities world-wide.”

My church's (Madison Square’s) vision is, “To build a community of diverse people who are transformed by Christ.”

These vision statements tell us that the focus of what we do together aims at transforming lives and communities, however, both vision statements imply that we need to do this together… it is about doing this in community.

An analogy that a fellow CRWM missionary gave me helps me to think about how we should be in community. He said that there are many kinds of teams in the world of sports, but they are not all the same in terms of their unity. For example, in the sport of Track and Field, the members of the team try to get a team victory, but they are really most concerned about their individual event. There is a common identity, but everyone is competing to win their own event. Can it be that ministry leaders sometimes look like a Track and Field team? We have a common identity and are all part of the church team, but are we competing with each other to win… perhaps to win financial resources, or to win in the approval game.

Instead of a Track and Field Team, we need to be like a soccer team or a basketball team. It is impossible to compete with each other and still see your team win the game in these kinds of teams. It takes handing off to one another, getting assists from each other. We need to use all our energy to wade in and help each other out so that we can rhythmically and easily play the best game we can, in order to achieve our common vision.

Our role as elders is crucial to help members to minister and serve in a way that helps the church to become what we envision. I challenge you to live out the passages we read so that your influence frees up the whole team to be using all their energies:

  • to get along with each other,
  • to ask each other, “How can I help?”
  • and to be their “dance coach,” assisting them to move rhythmically and easily with each other.

Only God knows where this dance can take us. I think it will be a place higher, wider, deeper and farther than we expect. I am excited about that… and I am full of hope for the Church to play its role in effecting kingdom transformation as elders put on their dancing shoes. 

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