the shape of leadership

In This Together

The church is the one place where unity can happen

Jay Newland on May 29, 2020

Listen long enough, and you’re bound to hear it: “We’re all in this together.”

This seems to be the American tagline for the pandemic. It’s on social media and in advertisements. I’ve even heard radio DJs use it to fill space between songs.

COVID-19 is a common threat. But is the notion of being in this together really reassuring the troubled masses?

Early in this crisis, a Twitter compilation of John Lennon’s “Imagine” received more backlash than fanfare as people mocked the Hollywood superstars’ disconnect from the real world. Now, a new hashtag is gaining traction: #NotAllInThisTogether.”

This illuminates a very real truth in America today: We are all experiencing the same struggle, but we are not all living the same story. It’s as if COVID-19 is the title of a book containing billions of short stories from around the world. “We’re all in this together” sounds increasingly tone deaf considering the different ways people are experiencing the pandemic.

Some differences are obvious. People living in urban hot spots often face more restrictions, while rural residents may have less access to medical care. Beyond geographic disparities are socioeconomic and racial divides.

As elected officials seek a balance between safety guidelines and economic fallout, the cries of the middle and lower classes grow louder. Lost in the crowd are many of the personal stories of struggle — the small business owner who is on the verge of closing, the taxi driver with a compromised immune system, and the worried family members who can’t visit their loved one in the hospital.

The pandemic has highlighted ugly realities of racism and inequality. We’ve seen discrimination against Asian-Americans, disproportionately high death tolls in minority communities, and a lack of consideration for the elderly.

Clearly, the everyday struggle with COVID-19 cannot be captured in one hashtag. The heartaches and stresses are altogether different for different people. But where the culture is failing, the Church can succeed.

In fact, the Church’s first wave of success was the original “all in this together” moment. According to Acts 2:44, all the believers “had everything in common.”

The togetherness of the Early Church is amazing considering the cosmopolitan nature of Jerusalem, situated in the diverse Roman Empire.

This should inspire churches today. We have an opportunity to experience genuine unity in the midst of our present circumstances.

Common Devotion

Acts 2:42 says the believers “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.”

The Early Church operated in a world that offered Judaism, stoicism, paganism and a host of other belief systems. In some areas, the gods people worshipped varied from one house to the next.

In the midst of this pluralistic society, Christian converts gathered to listen to the teachings about Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. They left behind old ways of living and agreed to follow the way of Christ.

Before COVID-19, individualism was at its cultural apex. “You do you” was a popular life mantra. Although this way of thinking won’t erode anytime soon, the isolation and pain from this season is taking a toll.

The lack of community is opening minds and hearts to reconsider the weary path of individualism. Moreover, with so many conflicting narratives and opinions, truth can seem elusive.

Where the culture is failing, the Church can succeed.

Here is where the Church can really shine. Church leaders have the opportunity to celebrate the power of a Christ-centered community devoted to one Savior and one common truth.

Jesus said, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). Many today are weary and burdened, and we can point them to the One who offers rest for the soul.

Common Worship

On the Day of Pentecost, people from “every nation” were staying in Jerusalem (Acts 2:5). Though they spoke many different languages, they all heard the wonders of God declared in a way they could understand (verses 9-11).

This diversity was a testimony to the limitless power of God’s saving grace. The Lord wants people everywhere to know and worship Him.

Today, worship remains a powerful unifying language for the Church. I have talked with so many people who point to their first worship experience as the moment when God revealed His presence in a life-changing way.

To magnify the unifying power of worship in this season, church leaders should encourage and highlight diversity — whatever that may look like in their setting.

For some churches, diversity is all around them. Others can celebrate diverse backgrounds and stories. Either way, celebrating the miracle of “everything in common” begins with the common language of worship.

Common Spaces

Following Peter’s powerful sermon, the new believers began to form community — in the temple courts and in homes (Acts 2:46). Luke doesn’t give us many details of what these spaces looked like because what was happening in them was the true focal point.

Our common spaces may be virtual gatherings, drive-in church services, sanctuaries with families spaced six feet apart, or a combination of these. However we come together, we can celebrate the many spaces where “everything in common” happens.

Some events may be cancelled, but the Church continues to meet wherever Christ can be taught and worshipped. Instead of losing ground, the Church is able to move into new spaces. This represents an opportunity to advance the gospel through innovative ways.

Common Generosity

The Early Church included people from different economic situations who gave generously to one cause. Amazingly, this involved the selling of possessions and property to help people in need (Acts 2:45). The joy of knowing Christ’s saving grace helped the first believers realize souls were worth more than their possessions.

For church leaders today, encouraging believers to remember the priceless worth of knowing Christ is critical during this time of great need. Whether someone is wearing a face mask or not, it’s hard to see much joy on people’s faces in our world today. And considering the millions who are broke, unemployed and isolated, it should come as no surprise.

Less obvious, though, is the reality that what was valuable to most people three months ago (getting a new car, going on vacation, etc.) is now a distant memory. Hence, there is a practical and spiritual void that material possessions will not fill right now.

No doubt, this is a great opportunity for the Church to fill this gap by showing their communities the joy of generosity. To accomplish this, leaders can frame generosity discussions around the concept of worth. At a time like this, it is apparent that buying more stuff is not as important as seeing more needs met.

All over the country, Christ followers are rising to the occasion. Churches are meeting needs by partnering with Convoy of Hope, Rural Compassion and other local ministry partners.

May this uncommon joy and generosity become commonplace in more churches. As Christians come together and sacrificially serve and give, the miracle of Christ’s Church is on full display — the miracle of many different people truly having everything in common.

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