ST. LOUIS – Bob Ingle says church unity is a bit like a kiss—the actual experience is so much different than a description.
“The dictionary definition of a kiss is pretty mundane. But, if you’ve ever experienced a kiss, you know it’s far better than the definition.” He says church unity is similar: “You can give a definition of unity but the experience is far sweeter and you know it when you have it and you know when you don’t. And it’s an awful thing when you don’t.”
Ingle, lead pastor at Waypoint Church in St. Charles, recently authored a book that serves as resource material for a new course on developing congregational unity – Church Undivided. He says the book is necessary because he too often sees Christians get caught up in subjects that end up distracting and dividing the church from its evangelical mission.
“Nobody is dividing over stealing. Nobody is dividing over adultery. We’re dividing over ‘do we wear a hat in church?’”
This year’s reactions to the coronavirus pandemic, racial issues, and presidential campaign are recent examples, Ingle says, of issues that have divided and stressed believers.
Ingle says that often Christians tend to be “black/white people” who want clear answers. However, not every issue in a church has a clear ‘yes’ or ‘no’ biblical answer.
He points to 1 Corinthians 8 where controversy and division were fostered in a church over whether meat sacrificed to idols should be eaten by believers.
Individual opinion varied because of each member’s spiritual maturity and interpretation of Christian teaching, Ingle explains. Paul’s response was surprising but practical.
“Paul didn’t give a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer to whether believers should eat meat consecrated to idols. He gave a ‘yes’ and ‘no’ answer,” Ingle says.
Church Undivided is written for pastors and lay people. It originated from a series of sermons Ingle preached several years ago at Waypoint. He says the unity sermons generated a great deal of discussion from church members on what next steps to take. The book helps points church leaders and members in that direction.
Ingle says in church controversy over non-theological issues “mature Christians need to grow in love. Immature Christians need to grow in faith. Both will grow in unity.”
He says that concept also confronts individuals about whether they want to be part of unifying or dividing the church. Believers should “want the gospel more than personal preferences.” If an individual doesn’t want that, they might be a weak believer no matter how long they’ve been a Christian, he says.
The Church Undivided course is a no-cost, 7-week session beginning in January. Ingle hopes the book and teaching series will help churches to grow in demonstrating unity.
The session starts with the biblical description and basis for church unity, then provides practical steps to applying it in a congregation. There’s no cost for the series because a support website provides free resource materials for pastors and study groups. (The book, if used, is for sale, although Ingle says the online materials can be sufficient).
“It’s for all believers who love the church,” Ingle says of the series. Resource materials include sermon starters for pastors as well as discussion topics for small groups and Bible study classes.
Several St. Louis area churches have signed up for the January teaching series, which will be facilitated by St. Louis Metro Baptist Association leaders Michael T. Byrd, Sr., and Jason Zellmer.
Byrd is Director of Church Relations and Faithful Men at the association; and, Zellmer is Director of Church Planting and Development.
Byrd also helped plant Faith Community Bible Church in north St. Louis City and is the lead pastor there. The congregation is using the Church Undivided series in Sunday gatherings and online Bible studies.
Zellmer is Director of Church Planting and Development for the St. Louis Metro Baptist Association. He pastors Redemption Road Church, Winfield, which is one of the churches he helped plant.
The Church Undivided series “is something that all MBC churches can participate in,” Byrd says. “no matter the size or context of our churches. Unity is something that we must pursue.”
For more information about the book and teaching series, visit the Church Undivided website at www.churchundivided.com or email firstname.lastname@example.org.