When thinking of a word to describe the current cultural and political mood, "unity" is probably the last word that comes to mind. "Factions," "tribalism" or "dissension" would be more fitting.
But in the midst of an angry and outraged culture, one entity ought to stand out. The church.
Since becoming a pastor a little more than a year ago, unity is something I've been thinking a lot about. I've been slowly preaching my way through the book of Ephesians, which is sort of a how-to guide when it comes to preserving unity within the church.
Notice I said "preserve" and not "create." Why is that? Because, thankfully, Christian unity isn't something we are meant to manufacture from the goodness of our hearts; it's something we are given and called to protect (Eph. 4:1-3).
When a person comes to salvation in Christ, they become a new person within a new people group: the family of God (Eph. 2:11-3:13). When we enter this group, we check our identity at the door and see one another as equal in value, dignity and worth. We do not divide into factions based upon social status, ethnicity or intelligence.
"There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus." (Gal. 3:28)
It is this "oneness" that we have been given that ought to be a tribute to the power of the Gospel in the midst of a divided world.
Now, the fact that the Bible commands Christians and churches to preserve this oneness logically infers that we can tarnish and destroy it. That is pretty much Paul's point in the second half of the book of Ephesians. It is the destruction of this oneness that leads to Christ's church seeming all too ordinary - just another social club amongst the rest that are competing for our time and attention.
As a pastor who works with teens, I am all too aware of what the destruction of this oneness does in terms of drawing and keeping teens in the church. Only 15 percent of millennials, those born between 1980 and 2000, are professing Christians. Some studies report that up to 80 percent of teens are leaving the church at 18 and not looking back.
Why? What's drawing them away? Is it our culture's influence and appeal to a godless lifestyle? Is it the breakdown of the home? Is it godless politicians? Is it the removal of God in our schools?
Surely, all of this and more are contributors; however, I am convinced that the primary reason we are losing our youth is because they have grown up in churches and Christian homes that do poor jobs of preserving the unity we are given in Christ.
So, what's the solution? More Christlikeness.
In the book of Philippians, Paul writes, "Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility, value others above yourselves."
If you think that's easy to do, you've never given it a serious try before. But why are Christians to love others and put them ahead of ourselves? Because this is exactly what Christ did for us when He humbled Himself, even to the point of death on a cross where He died so that we might live.
In the book of John, Jesus says that people will know that you are His disciples, if you love one another. And so, in a divided culture, Christians' love and unity ought to stand out. People ought to look at us and say, "What love is this? Why do they love each other so?"
And when that happens, the gospel of Jesus, which offers salvation by grace through faith, will be an oasis within a dry desert.
Zach Broom is youth pastor at Pequot Lakes Baptist Church.