20“I am praying not only for these disciples but also for all who will ever believe in me through their message. 21I 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
Jesus was thinking about each of us as He was praying this prayer. That we would not be a fractured and scattered people who compete instead of collaborate. That we would find our unity with each other through our common bond with Jesus. Jesus puts so much into this prayer because our unity as The Church is the literal proof that this whole Jesus thing wasn’t a fluke or myth. How else could you explain a unity that spans centuries, traditions, cultures, personalities, genders and generations? The frightening reality is that if our unity is the proof Jesus was sent then our division will be used as proof that this whole Jesus thing was nothing more then a quaint bedtime story for the weak-minded. Could it be that the very reason The Church is on the decline is because we are so splintered in our spiritual expressions that from the worlds point of view that don’t see Jesus at all?
About a year and a half into our New Hope church plant in Seattle I had been invited by a local Baptist Pastor to participate in the National Day of Prayer Breakfast for our community. Pastor Steve Ulmer was in his 70’s and had asked me to pray over the church’s in the area. He had been pastoring his Baptist Church for a couple decades and was very generous to invite this new young upstart church planter to join in with these other pastors who had been in the area for many years. New Hope Seattle was meeting in the cafeteria at the local Community College and we were nearing our two year anniversary. Everyone on the team was still excited but the weekly set up and strike required for a mobile church was starting to wear on them. I remember getting up in front of the group at that prayer meeting and praying the very words Jesus prayed here in John 17. I said, “Jesus is always answering our prayers. Wouldn’t it be amazing if we answered one of Jesus’ prayers for a change?” What if this impossible unity Jesus prayed for began to happen in this very room today? After the prayer breakfast ended Pastor Steve pulled me aside and thanked me for participating. Then he asked me a question that stopped me in my tracks. Steve said, “Did you mean it? Did you mean what you just prayed in there?” I said, “Oh you better believe I meant it. I haven’t seen it. But, I meant it.” He could see the sincerity of my heart and this man, who I would later find out was a quite a prayer warrior himself, decided to put this prayer in to action. He proceeded to describe his situation with his church. They had a great church building just off the main thoroughfare and his church as they grew older were literally dying off. His church was to the size where we was having a hard time keeping up with just the sheer maintenance required with their building. He asked if we would want to rent the building for our new church plant and they could move their Sunday service to later in the day to accommodate our two morning services. In that moment I can only describe it as a Holy Spirit unction because I responded to this generous offer by saying, “What if God has more than a rental agreement in store for us?” He looked at me and I looked at him for an awkward moment as neither of us were really sure what that meant. Then, we decided to explore this unique relationship between a 29 year old Foursquare Church planter and a 72 year old Baptist Pastor. We met together every week over the course of that summer of 2006 and shared our journals and our hearts with each other. As we prayed together and shared a mixture of vision and heartache that every pastor knows our hearts were knit in such a unity that even if we did nothing else together I knew I had found a true brother and mentor in the faith. When running the gamut of church traditions you’d be hard pressed to find two more different Christian expressions. Yet, one day over coffee Pastor Steve said something that made me almost fall of my chair in that Starbucks. He said, “I’ve been praying about it this and I believe the Lord has said that the vision He gave me for our church will find its fullness through your church. I don’t want you to rent from us. I want to gift the building to New Hope Seattle.” Once I got over the shock of this offer to give us a 1.2 million dollar property I thanked him profusely and then said something that knocked his Grandpa socks off. I said, “I will pray this thorough with the team but I truly feel that the only way we could move forward with this miraculous offer is if we merged our churches and you stayed on as assistant pastor and a mentor to me.” How in the world could this work? Well, if Jesus prayed it then He would do it. Not only did everyone from our church plant made up largely of 20 somethings and young families agree to the merger but every last member of Richmond Highlands Baptist in their 50’s. 60’s and 70’s voted yes. I kid you not. There was such a great unity of spirit for this ludicrous idea that even the half deaf 80 year old organ player declared with great gusto, “Get rid of the organ and bring in the drums!” This would go on to be one of the greatest miracles of unity I have ever witnessed in my life as Jesus united generations and traditions to become the living proof to Seattle that He was sent for them! It was about moving out the pews, or switching from hymns to choruses. This unity wasn’t even about seeing eye to eye on everything, but rather heart to heart. So much more then the gift of the building was the gift of relationships with people that were completely different from me and yet completed the picture of Jesus to our city!
Lord, You are always answering our prayers. I want to answer Yours. The Church as a whole seems more fractured and divided then I have ever seen it. This kind of unity I saw in Seattle is only possible through humility and holding loosely to our man-made kingdoms so we can build Yours. There are so many in this younger generation that doubt You were sent for them because all they see a church divided. Would You make us One. Help me to do my part by zealously pursuing the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace in every relationship in my life.