In John 17, as Jesus is preparing to die, He prays over his disciples and generations of future saints. He prays for joy, for love, and for unity.
Verse 11 says, “I will remain in the world no longer, but they are still in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name, the name you gave me, so that they may be one as we are one.” Jesus desires for the members of His church to be united with each other in the same way that He is united with the Father.
He asks for protection for the saints, not from hardship, but from the evil one who would love to tear us apart and make our mission fruitless. We are not of this world, just as Christ was not of this world. But rather we are sent into the world as Christ was sent (vs. 16-18).
We see that protection comes through sanctification by the truth of His Word (vs. 17), and through unity. We know that a house divided against itself cannot stand, and so it is with us, as a church, as a staff, as a team. How do we achieve lasting unity among our leaders, our volunteers, and our people?
Jesus longs for the love of God to be in us (vs. 26), for love brings unity. In John 13:34-35, Jesus says “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
Jesus says we will be known as His disciples by our love. We are to be rooted in love for one another, just as the persons of the Trinity – Father, Son and Holy Spirit – are marked by love. This means that just as the Trinity displays relationship, submission, sacrifice, humility, diversity, and unity, so should we.
In addition to love, unity requires a common mission. Jesus says in John 17:3, “Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.” Knowing Jesus has to be the mission. Not reputation, not success, not assurance of blessing or achievement of personal gain. Jesus alone.
How do we achieve unity in our church and our teams? What does this look like day to day? Unity won’t happen by accident, without being disciplined and intentional. Here are a few ways to build unity in your teams:
Know your common mission. Evaluate your goals, your opportunities, and your vision, and communicate that clearly to your team. They cannot work effectively for long, unless they know what they are working for.
Establish trust. Demonstrate to your team that you are reliable. Make a habit of showing up when you say you will, where you’re supposed to be, with the work you promised complete.
Be humble. Love is not self-seeking. Pride destroys unity when we each seek our own good rather than that of the team and the mission.
Celebrate victories together and reflect on failures together. One person’s victory belongs to the whole team, and if something goes wrong, no one should feel alone. This doesn’t discount taking responsibility for your sphere of work, but someone who shifts blame is not a leader others will want to follow.
Speak truth in love and keep short accounts. Though sin should certainly be dealt with scripturally, conflict is not always exclusively a result of sin. Be honest with each other about how you feel, where you think improvements can be made, where your team is not unified, and take it like a champ. Be humble enough to accept constructive criticism with joy and offer grace in abundance.
Recognize the differences in your personalities, needs, and love languages. Diversity is one of the most important components in any balanced team of people. This will inevitably result in a variety of communication styles, organizational styles, work environment preferences, social behavior, and emotional reactions. Challenge each other, but don’t force someone into a mold they will never be able to fill.
Have fun. Plan parties. See each other outside of work, and don’t talk about work. Show your team that they are valued. Know what is going on in each other’s lives. Be best friends.
Jesus says of us, “I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” (John 17:22-23)
We want the world to look at us and see God’s love. The truth of the gospel will be believed because of how we love one another. If this is our common purpose, then unity will be the natural overflow of how we love each other and live together for the glory of God.