The unnamed church was reaching many people. Members were sharing the Gospel. Members were inviting people to church.
Then it stopped.
How could something so positive stop dead in its tracks? It did not take long to discover the problem.
The church was reconfiguring its worship center and foyer. They needed a larger welcome center, so they reduced the worship seating capacity.
The focal point of the contention was the remodeling of the worship center. The old pews had been removed. The church was meeting in its family life center during the construction. A decision had to be made: pews or chairs?
No one anticipated the strong emotions that resulted. In fact, the controversy became known as the “pews versus chairs” argument. There were members with strong feelings on both sides.
In the meantime, the growth came to a standstill. The steady flow of guests almost stopped completely. The feeling of unity changed into an atmosphere of contention. One church member said it succinctly: “The change in the attitude seemed like it happened overnight. We went from an evangelistic church to a fighting church.”
Jesus on unity: Fighting the evil one
Jesus prayed a powerful prayer of unity to the Father. His followers obviously heard it because John recorded his words. As Jesus prays, he says these telling words: “I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but to keep them safe from the evil one” (John 17:15).
Understand the context in which Jesus was praying these words. He was praying for unity for his followers. He was praying that they would all be singularly focused on the mission he had given them. But he knew that Satan, called the evil one, would do everything in his power to distract the followers of Christ and destroy their unity.
The unnamed church was on a mission for Christ. They were going into neighborhoods and praying for the families in the homes. Many of those families started visiting the church. Some of them became followers of Christ. The excitement in the church was palpable. But the spiritual momentum stopped.
The evil one will try to stop Great Commission obedience and activity. He did indeed succeed at this church. The people started fighting over pews and chairs. Their spiritual and emotional energy focused on an incredibly trivial matter. Church members were more concerned about their seating arrangement than seeing people become followers of Christ.
Jesus on unity: The specific prayer
Jesus continued to pray to the Father, this time with a specific prayer on unity:
"I am praying not only for these disciples but also for all who will ever believe in me through their message. I pray that they will all be one, just as you and I are one – as you are in me, Father, and I am in you. And may they be in us so that the world will believe you sent me"(John 17:20-21).
A fascinating aspect of this passage is that Jesus prayed for those disciples in his immediate presence. But he also prayed for all future believers: “for all who will ever believe in me through their message.”
That part of the prayer is breathtaking. Jesus is praying for our unity right now. He is praying for our churches to be unified today. He looked over time and space and saw us in our churches at this very moment. And he simply prayed that we would be one, that we would be unified.
Jesus on unity: The reason for the prayer
While it may seem self-evident why Jesus prayed this prayer for unity, Jesus wants us to be certain we understand the importance of the matter. Read his words closely: “I am in them and you are in me. May they experience such perfect unity that the world will know that you sent me and that you love them as much as you love me” (John 17:23).
Did you get that? When Christians and churches are unified, unbelievers in the world will see the Gospel in that unity. The world will know that God sent Jesus. The world will know that Jesus came to die for our sins. The world will know that God loves them so much that he sent his one and only Son to be a sacrifice for us.
You cannot be a fighting church and be effectively evangelistic. You cannot be snarky and argumentative on social media and be effectively evangelistic. That divides Christians before the watching world
Unity is imperative for the Great Commission.
Your prayer for unity
Would you consider praying for unity among Christians and unity in the church? I would encourage you to begin the prayer by praying for your own attitude. Are you at odds with anyone else? Are you seeking to get your way in the church rather than yielding to the preferences of others? Are you more concerned about putting someone down on social media instead of lifting Jesus up?
Your prayer may indeed be one of the most important prayers you utter. Churches and Christians without unity are churches and Christians without the power of the Great Commission.
Such is the reason you need to pray for unity in your church right now.
Such is the reason you need to pray that you will be a source of unity yourself.
This article was taken from an upcoming book by Thom Rainer. The book has not yet been given a final title.