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Empowerment and unity

By Sam S. Rainer III

The Apostle Paul was an unlikely messenger. The Philippian church had little to give, yet the inadequate messenger was supported by the church for the advancement of the Gospel. It was a partnership of true joy. This partnership represented God’s people with differing gifts joining together for a common mission. They were unified because they knew what really mattered.

As a pastor, it excites me to see people pumped about what really matters. One of the great joys of ministry is shepherding a passionate congregation. I relish seeing our people serve with excitement in their areas of giftedness. But one of the great balancing acts in ministry rests between empowerment and unity. While the two are not mutually exclusive, one often comes at the expense of the other.

Clearly, the ideal church (no, it doesn’t exist) would be one in which all members are empowered individually to work together for a common purpose — a partnership like the one between Paul and the Philippian church. When individuals in the church are empowered, however, sometimes they can begin to work outside the bounds of unity. In other words, you lengthen the leash too long and some people will do their own thing.

I’ve listed four ways for church leaders to help balance individual empowerment and corporate unity. Feel free to add your own thoughts in the comments.

Work around, not against. Some hurdles you barrel through. Others, you walk around. As a pastor, I’ve been tempted to barrel through a few “passionate” people. From my perspective they were not serving in unity with the church. From their perspective, they were empowered to use their gifts. Most of the time, these battles are not worth fighting. Work around people, not against them.

Talk straight with love. People appreciate transparent leaders. And most know when leaders act in love or spite. Some may never agree with your leadership, but they may not be vocal opponents if you talk straight and love them. Conversely, those who support church leadership will likely give more backing when love and transparency are present.

Give it time. Rather than slaying them, realize that some sacred cows will die a natural death. And many times, most of the people in the church realize that these cows are already past their prime. Instead of causing a big stink just let them fade away. Most people in the church will focus on what the leaders believe is important. If your main focus is on slaying cows, that will be where people focus their attention. Take the focus off elimination and on primary objectives, and time will take care of the rest.

Reinforce the positive. Don’t focus the majority of your energy into eliminating the minority not on board. Rather, focus the majority of your efforts on multiplying the majority who are on board. When you praise those modeling unity, a healthy majority builds. When you spend a lot of time criticizing, an unhappy minority builds.

Sam S. Rainer III is the president of Rainer Research and senior pastor of First Baptist Church Murray, Murray, KY. [www.rainerresearch.com] [www.fbcmurray.org]

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