Friday, June 23, 2006


I want to attempt to give some very personal and fallible thoughts on unity. Having been married for 47 years, having been a parent for 45 years, and having pastored churches for nearly 50 years, I have ample reason for struggling with this very messy issue.

There isn't a lot of difference between a family, a church, or a denomination in terms of working with people. We are different from one another but people are just people at any level of association and unity will always be a work in progress.

Families often choose to struggle behind closed doors for whatever reason, but John Powell may be right when he said that a family is unhealthy to the level of it's secrets. A church tends to be a little more upfront with problems perhaps, or maybe not, but they have them. The denomination that pretends that only positive things are going on and refuses to deal with the real problems that everyone knows are there is as unhealthy as that family behind closed doors.

It is a rare person or group that can face their own weaknesses and openly deal with issues. But for unity to be maintained as a reality, a lot needs to be thought through and talked about sensibly, as well as openly, whether it's two people or thousands of people in the group.

How can people so different maintain unity? What are effective guidelines for building a united group...whichever group is being refered to? How do you agree on those guidelines? How do you hold people accountable who've agreed to those guidelines? You can see the questions are manifold. Answers are fewer. But some may be available for people willing to look for those answers.

We need to begin with a clear statement of scripture. In Eph. 4:7 Paul said we are to endeavor to keep the unity of the Spirit, the idea being He has already created us one in Christ. No need to create unity. He's done that. And notice there is no talk of a local church here. It's that One Body of verse 4 being refered to. We are one with all true believers and we know that group is made up of all who name Jesus as Lord. So, we must be able to maintain unity of some kind with differing churches, denominations, or away with the groups because unity IS to be maintained. Simple fact of scripture.

My goal is to to attempt to assist us in maintaining spite of differences whether personalities, gifts, preferences, denominations, or any other unique thing that is part of our makeup individually or as a group.

You can already tell I do not believe unity is equated with uniformity. It is really a spirit, heart, or attitude regardless of differences. It is that unique relationship where people, as strong as garlic and as opinionated as politicians, can walk away from encounters loving each other, respecting each other, and without giving up their uniqueness in an unhealthy way.This, whether those involved are strong, weak, outgoing, shy and reserved, or, as said before, strong as garlic. It is not a personality thing, it is a principle thing.

Unity doesn't eliminate struggles. In fact, true unity maintained necessitates struggles whether in a marriage, family, church or denomination. What follows in the weeks ahead will be one person's small attempt to give some handles that, perhaps, will help in the ongoing struggle of staying in unity.

Next time...four attitudes to be cultivated in any relationship.

Paul Burleson


Bob Cleveland said...


This is one of my favorite topics, I guess. I'll give two examples of unity, and one thought on why it's so hard to maintain.

Example one: My pastor and I. He's "Baptist born and baptist bred, and when I'm gone, I'll be baptist dead". I'm an ex-methodist, ex-presbyterian, a 5-point calvinist who speaks in tongues. Yet we are as fine as can be with each other.

I was talking with him last Saturday about that and he said "The baptist faith is big enough to accomodate all of that". I liked that. He states it'd be sin for him to drink any alocohol and I agree with him about him; it wouldn't be for me. I stand with Wade in that respect.

Example two: my best friend. He's a retired steel mill employee and I'm a semi-retired insurance broker. He's full-blown pentecostal whereas I'm much more reserved concerning that. Neither of us cares about our differences. He's too good a friend to worry about that, and he thinks the same of me.

The reason: principally, people are insecure in their faith. They get a lot of assurance from the agreement of others, with their beliefs. When someone doesn't line up with them, they feel threatened, and react. That may be because there's been an emphasis on "You cannot base your faith on your experiences" .. to the point that people discount them. Well ... Joseph Garlington said "A man with an experience is not at the mercy of a man with an argument". I agree.

Don't believe in healing? That's ok with me. I saw the blood blisters on my toes .. big blisters .. that disappeared from my feet in 8 hours, in Haiti, in 1970. Argue all you want. I know.

Don't believe unknown tongues is real today? Doesn't bother me. I know what happened to me in Jamaica in 1996, when 2 men saw pain disappear when I prayed over them.

Perhaps the establishment has settled for successful programs, at the expense of the sort of reality of experience that leads to unshakeable faith. Or not. I'm just a guy. But I do know what God has done in me, the least likely person I've ever met, to be used by God.

Anyway, thanks for the chance to spout off.

Kevin Bussey said...


How do you maintain unity and still lead people to change? I am really running into opposition in my church. It is a minority but they are the most vocal. I have guilt because some of them have been around forever and I'm new. But the church brought me here to bring about change and I have. I am need of serious help. This has been a very eventful week. I hope I have a job next week. :)

Paul Burleson said...

Hey guys, thanks for checking in.
Kevin, if you would send me your e-mail address I would appreciate it. I have a private word or two that might help your situation. Just post it as a comment and I'll get it or go to my web-site and my e-mail connection is there. The web is

Paul B.

Kevin Bussey said...


I sent you an email.


Bob Cleveland said...


I had an interesting chat with the newly-elected Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, over breakfast Saturday morning. He's the past CEO and Chairman of Protective Life Ins. Co., and couldn't stand retirement so he ran for public office. He's a fine Christian man who has written a book called "The Case for Character".

One of the more interesting things he said was it's too bad that theology separates us. In a rare flash of insight (or a more common occurence of an off-the-wall idea), I said theology doesn't separate us. Otherwise, those with differing theologies (and if we know enough to say we have any, we're all different) would always be separated. And we're not.

So it must be true that the walls, or separations, are things we decide to do. That being the case, so's unity.

I think lots of folks don't want unity with their brothers. They want to be right, instead.

I recall when my Dad died, I decided that God said He'd give me joy unspeakable and peace that passes understanding; but He never said we HAD TO be that way. SO ... I figured we had to decide that's how we'd be .. that we'd appropriate that in our life. The funeral was a wonderful, peaceful, joyous time.

Same for unity. I''ve decided.

Case closed, for me.

God bless.

Todd said...


Great to meet you in Greensboro. Flattered that a man of your age and experience has the interest in we young guys. I sense that would be the case were Wade not in the equation.

Don't you think we miss unity, at least in our denomination, because we seek uniformity rather than unity? The Apostles were not uniform, even disagreed on occasion, but offered us a picture of unity when Paul and Barnabas split up for a time. They both went out to plant churches for the same Lord and Kingdom of God.

Were we to allow for the kind of diversity that illustrates the "multi-faceted" grace of God (Eph 3) we might find unity much more to our liking than uniformity. We need more than a monochromatic vision of the Kingdom.

Paul Burleson said...

Todd, I think you are right, Too often uniformity is mistaken for unity. But real unity is an attitude and I'm going to address this issue in my next post which will be written very soon. Thanks for weighing in.

Paul B.

Bowden McElroy said...

I echo Todd's thought: too often, people say 'unity' but mean 'uniformity'. Uniformity appears to be more Zen-like than Christ-like: always in agreement, never ruffled, everyone happy.

I believe the problems in a church or denomination reflect what goes on in marriages/families. In other words, people who keep secrets, avoid conflict, and don't know how to disagree in love within their family aren't going to be able to do so in their church.

If we want to strengthen the denomination, we need to strengthen the local congregation. If we want o strengthen the congregation, we need to make marriages and families as healthy and godly as possible.

[Are you really surprised a therapist would boil it down to that! :)]

Paul Burleson said...

Bowden, In my pastors conferences I teach the guys that marriage and family life are the real seminary for ministry training. In fact, I believe a pastor is usually to the church what he is to his family, distant, close, controlling, serving, whatever skills relationally there might be are usually developed in the family.

I don't take this too far but there is a real connectedness here in my opinion. That's the reason I break my conference into four sections in order of important. They are...being the Person...Partner...Parent...God intends in order to be the Pastor...God has called you to be. Seems to ring a bell with them.

Paul B.