Used with permission from the January
2003 Newsletter of the Goldsboro District in the North Carolina Conference of The United Methodist Church
Bones and Harmony
old song spoke about the hand bone is connected to the arm bone, etc. The song’s basic message is that every bone of
the body is connected to another bone. Likewise, the church is the body of Christ. We are all connected to each other as brothers
and sisters in Jesus.
Measure Harmony, How?
How do you measure harmony within a local
congregation? Is it merely good attendance and the ability to meet one’s yearly budget? Is it really accurate to measure
the health of our bones, muscles and internal organs by institutional criteria alone?
Harmony Makes a Difference
Clement in Rome wrote to the
Corinthian church in Greece. He wrote 45 years after the apostle Paul wrote them. The church was divided once again like it
was earlier. Clement reminded them of Paul’s epistles. He told the Corinthian church about the influence of their current
reputation. It was so bad, Clement said, that it was making evangelism in Rome tough. Wow!
The NT teaches that
healthy church unity or harmony is purposeful. Read Jesus’ prayer in John 17:15-23. He not only prays for unity among
his disciples then and now. He also mentions why we need to be one in Christ.
NT Teaching on Church Harmony
At the heart of NT teaching concerning church harmony or unity is our calling to loving relationships (Eph.
4:2, 3; Col. 3:13, 14).
Paul wrote his definition of love in 1 Corinthians 13 precisely because of the lack of
love at Corinth. Also, every sin listed in Eph. 4:25-31 undoes a church’s harmony.
Paul also alludes to
two more examples of poor harmony. First, allowing the sun to go down on one’s anger in Ephesians 4:26-27. Second, not
forgiving a repentant brother in 2 Corinthians 2:10-11. In each case, Paul states that failure to deal with these issues gives
the devil a way to defeat the church.
Neither the church at Ephesus nor Corinth serve as examples of maintaining
the unity of the Spirit in the bond of love. Since this condition did change for the better by God’s grace and Christian
instruction, there is hope for churches today.
The 9 Facets of Congregational Harmony
Harmonious community involves loving relationships within the church. This is seen in the following: (1) lack of jealousy
and quarreling, (2) lack of lawsuits between church members, (3) wise exercise of spiritual freedom, (4) unselfish celebration
of communion, (5) not viewing various spiritual gifts as signs of spiritual maturity and superiority, (6) appreciation for
the role of each member of the body with his or her own gifts and graces, (7) orderly worship, and (8) good marriage, family,
and work relationships (1 Cor. 3:3; 6:1-12; 8; 10:14-11:1, 17-34; 12-14; Eph. 5:22-6:9). Such a healthy church remembers Jesus’
words that people will know we are his disciples by our love (John 13:35). It also becomes a healing church where people’s
broken hearts and shattered lives are mended through intimate relationships (Crabb; Murren;
1. Personal Holiness
Paul rebukes the Corinthian Christians for their lack
of love seen in tolerating sexual immorality among church members (1 Cor. 5). Christian love does not contradict the holiness
of Jesus Christ. It is that holiness to which he calls his body in every arena of life as outlined in the epistles.
As Joseph M. Stowell writes in his book, Shepherding the Church
When righteousness becomes the prevailing attitude of a body of believers, it establishes
a peer pressure that stimulates all believers to the truly good life in Jesus Christ. A church full of persons who love the
lost; of husbands who love their wives; of people who willingly serve; of lips that are slow to criticize, slander, and gossip,
but rather are dedicated to healing, helping, and encouraging; of finances that are focused on glorifying God and of Christians
who are passionately addicted to acts of compassion will produce an environment that stimulates others to make a similar
contribution to the group. (68)
2. Family Relationships
Martin Luther described the home as a miniature church. He’s right. However we view and practice
Christian love at home spills over into our congregational life.
3. Leadership Relations
Harmonious community also grows through healthy pastor-church leadership relationships. They receive the equipping
ministry of their pastors and attain the unity of the faith (Eph. 4).
The Apostle Peter speaks to loving pastoral
oversight in 1 Peter 5:1-3. The writer of Hebrews speaks of parishioners’ wholesome relationships with their pastoral
leaders in Hebrews 13:17. First Timothy 5:17-19 calls churches to guard their pastoral leaders from being hindered by either
inadequate wages or malicious accusations.
Also, a harmonious church body sees itself being in ministry at work,
at home, and in society. As Ogden says, “The broken world we live in needs a called army to address the enormous pain
that is the result of our sin. Only people who know they are ministers can be compassionate tools of God’s healing work”
(21). That army will be set free only as the relationship between the pastor and a church’s leadership “become
conformed to the biblical description of ministry” (85).
Unfortunately, the lay leadership of many churches
without biblical harmony desires pastors who can do the ministry instead of leading them in the ministry of all Christians.
Such a passive church becomes an audience and not a body. Then the audience becomes the critic of the latest pastoral performance.
Ogden confronts such an unhealthy attitude by stating “the biblical emphasis is not on the ‘omnicompetent’
pastor, but a ‘multigifted’ body” (75). Divided churches and churches with pseudo
harmony frequently abuse their pastors by “cutting their salary or slicing away at their integrity with gossip”
(Hansen 124). 4. Balance in Ministry
Loving congregations also harmonize the
biblical principles of the Church’s ministry for the sake of balance. When a church is out of balance it is known only
as “The Soul Winning Church; The Experiencing God Church; The Family Reunion Church; The Classroom Church; or The Social
Conscience Church” (Warren, Purpose 122-124).
5. Church Growth
The most recent
studies of growing churches find the principles of unity and spirituality to be foundational to church growth (Gabel 30).
Genuine Christian love within a congregation works like a powerful magnet in drawing people to Christ and to Christ’s
church. The effective assimilation of new members exemplifies the ability of a loving church body to accept and affirm the
place and uniqueness of additional people. Another example of harmony and love within a congregation is the presence of healthy
6. Church Government
A harmonious church structures itself for
the sake of incarnating biblical principles of being the body of Christ in the world and not for the sake of internal control
and power. Unfortunately, some churches are neither spiritually passionate nor loving enough to change their functional structures
to reach people for Christ (Schwarz 28-29; Warren, Purpose 65-66). On the other hand, some churches go beyond changing their
functional structures to redefining basic Christian teaching and moral truth for the sake of gaining more members.
7. Pastoral Leadership
For pastors to lead a church without the motivation of love is
unproductive (Galloway, 20/20 89; Warren, Purpose 212-216). One “study demonstrated that while pastors of growing churches
are usually not ‘people-persons’ who lose themselves in interaction with individuals, yet on the average they
are somewhat more relationship-, person-, and partnership-oriented than their colleagues in declining churches” (Schwarz
22). This insight fits with two of Schaller’s and Tidwell’s descriptions of a healthy church as having “a
pastor who likes people, is responsive to people’s spiritual pilgrimage, and is fulfilled as pastor of that church”
In working toward building trust and a healthy sense of community, pastors practice the essential points
found in a study of effective leaders. First, they offer the church general rather than tight supervision. Second, they treat
the church’s various ministry and administrative groups like adults with brains who want the church to improve. Third,
they spend more time with people on their turf and talk primarily about how their pastor can help or support them. Such modeling
behavior builds a healthier community than talking about problems and budgets (Hunter, “The Effective Group Leader”).
8. Helping Leaders
In November’s article on the church’s nervous system, I shared about involving
church leaders in a special workshop to help restore harmonious teamwork. These workshops can also help improve harmony within
the whole congregation as well. Both pastors and church leaders along with their families need to be ‘prayed for
not preyed on.’ Churches across America are catching on to the importance of such intercessory prayer.
R. Syverson’s online guide for prayer provides daily themes with specific prayer requests
for pastors: Throughout the week, you will be given guidance on praying for the pastor’s ministry; the pastor’s
relationship with God; the pastor’s relationship with the congregation and the community; the pastor’s leadership,
guidance and direction; the pastor’s protection, health and wholeness; the pastor’s stewardship and priorities,
and last but not least, the pastor’s family. Use these themes in praying for other leaders as well.
Pastors can train church leadership in identifying and dealing with antagonists who
often become clergy and/or church killers. VanVonderen asks, “Is it any wonder that our
Adversary, the ‘Wolf,’ majors in destroying relationships inside the body of Christ? Is it any wonder he wants
to drive people out of the church altogether?” (39).
Moeller points out that as a pastor “I could
almost predict the appearance of trouble in my church according to how much progress we were making spiritually” (64).
This insight would mean that any church making significant progress toward health should expect a spiritual crisis. Thus,
“churches must utilize spiritual resources to deal with spiritual problems, not just in crisis, but as a regular part
of their life together” (Moeller 193).
Too many churches, like some armies, are demoralized by number of
people they loose due to ‘friendly fire’ within the ranks. These ‘dechurched’
people may not leave their faith in Christ. They do leave places where the lack of Christian harmony caused them deep pain.
As pastor, family members and people gain spiritual maturity in both their
attitudes and relationships, much fruit will blossom. Many people will notice how wholesome the sense of community arises
within the church. Local church leaders will perceive themselves to be a team. The church staff will discover a new sense
of harmony in ministry. As a church continues to develop healthy relationships, a congregation finds itself with healing ministries
that connect people with God and others. Ultimately, the healthiness of these relationships within the body of Christ are
rooted in our relationship with God.
John M. Crowe, D.Min. Goldsboro District Newsletter Editor
The content of this article comes from my dissertation: “PREACHING FOR A WHOLE PERSON RESPONSE IN DEVELOPING A
HEALTHY CHURCH.” Diss. Asbury Theological Seminary, 2001. The contents are protected
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