Jesus prays: “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” (John 17:20-21).
In this prayer, we catch of glimpse of what is most important to our Creator – oneness, unity. He desired that His followers would be as united as the Father and the Son are, a perfect unity of love, fellowship, and shared purpose.
Unity is essential to the Christian witness. Jesus desires unity for his Church so the world will “know that you sent me and have loved them even as you loved me” (17:23). It is a prayer that can be shared by every person who makes the mission of God central to their life.
How does being “one” help with the mission of God?
We must “declare the praises of him who called us out of darkness” and we must demonstrate his love by living “such good lives among our neighbours that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us” (1 Peter 2: 10 – 12, NIV). Declaring is the easy part.
Demonstrating unity, in community, and becoming the living example of the power of God at work, can be more challenging. Eric Black (2018) writes, “To maintain the harmony and unity called for by Christ, Christians must learn to navigate their cultural differences.” He adds, “communicating the gospel requires the ability to move beyond tensions generated by cultural misunderstandings”
Jesus calls us to adapt our lives and our communication of the Gospel to each specific culture and context. The Triune God in the person of the Son came and “made his dwelling among us” so that we could see “his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14, NIV). We are called to move into our neighbourhoods, embracing diversity and demonstrating Christ’s love.
As I travel the world, I enjoy talking about the joys and challenges of leadership with leaders and pastors from other cultures. Not unlike the early church, there are times when we are called upon to navigate theological differences, address the abuse of power, and wrestle with conflicting values.
As I navigate these cultural challenges with my international friends, I see God at work as they communicate the Gospel in the power of the Holy Spirit in their contexts. Wesley Granberg-Michaelson reminds me to, “listen to […] those voices speaking to us from the global Christian community,” highlighting the fact that in the church, “relationships between its diverse parts are essential for its health, fruitfulness, discernment, and empowerment” (2018).
I have lived and worked cross-culturally most of my life and have made my share of mistakes. Early in my pastoral ministry in Harare, Zimbabwe, I found myself embroiled in a nasty interpersonal conflict. My initial response was to be defensive and to take a stand ‘on principle’. Unfortunately, ‘my principle’ conflicted with ‘God’s principle’ of unity and oneness.
A senior Zimbabwean pastor came to see me and gently explained some cultural nuances that I had missed that were causing offense. He talked me off ‘my principle’ and back into unity. I needed to seek forgiveness and demonstrate some humility so that the unity of God’s people was not damaged. I am forever grateful for his wisdom, humility, and gentleness as he helped me improve my cultural intelligence and represent Jesus more clearly.
One of the most important responsibilities we carry as witnesses of God’s love is to pray this prayer of mission and ensure our relationships in the church are filled with the peace, love, and the grace of God.
Eric Black. “Cultural Intelligence: Does Jesus Care About Yours?” Baptist Standard. August 01, 2018, accessed February 26, 2019. https://www.baptiststandard.com/news/texas/cultural-intelligence-jesus-cares/.
Wesley Granberg-Michaelson. Future Faith: Ten Challenges Reshaping Christianity in the 21st Century (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2018), pp. 151-152.
Murray Cornelius is the Executive Director of International Missions for PAOC. He has served in this role for the past 12 years. Murray and Cindy enjoy spending time with their two adult sons and two grandsons.