Five couples spread out in a Chicagoland living room. A young woman who grew up in a Korean church passes out the snacks. The empty nester couple helps set up chairs. A stay-at-home mom comes up from the basement where she helped her teenager set up games for the other kids. The business-owner husband of a couple with no kids prepares to begin the study for the group. Ten people with ten different stories that may have never intersected if it weren’t for one thing: their love of Jesus.
Something special happens when our collective love of Christ saturates our lives so much that it manifests in a love for one another despite all the differences between us.
Unity does not mean similarity. Diversity does not mean divergence. While the two concepts can seem to be at odds with one another, Jesus intends us to embrace and desire both. Like the concepts of grace and truth, we are called to embody two qualities that can cause tension but ultimately bring about more of God’s glory. Diversity does not make unity easier. It does, however, make it better.
Unity and Diversity in the World Around Us
The culture around us speaks very highly about diversity. Given our nation’s history of freedom fighting it’s no surprise that we value having different views and people represented. But it’s easier to claim the value of diversity without doing the work to live it out.
The Pew Research Center completed a study in 2008 that determined that about 60 percent of people stated they would prefer to live in communities that are politically, racially, religiously, and economically diverse. The same study, however, indicates that in the last 30 years our country’s communities are becoming less diverse and more similar.
When on autopilot, we gravitate toward what is comfortable. It’s just plain easier to be around people who share your life experiences and attitudes, and social science research has shown that we feel safer around people who are the same as us. As Christians, however, we are called to the mission of God, not to safety and comfort.
Unity in the Bible
Few people in our society talk explicitly about unity, especially in the church. Yet it’s one of the primary characteristics of the early church that is discussed in the New Testament. About one third of the “one another” commands in the New Testament are about the body of Christ getting along in one way or another. We see verse after verse telling us to avoid infighting and go out of our way to humbly serve one another.
Unity is to be one of our defining characteristics as Christians, and it’s to be a big part of our witness to the outside world. In Ephesians 4, Paul encourages the church to “make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit” (Ephesians 4:3). He reminds his readers and us that there is only “one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all” (Ephesians 4:5–6).
So, how does unity look in a small group? Here are some indicators that a small group embodies biblical unity:
- Members share goals and encourage and support one another to meet those goals.
- The group does not consider conflict bad because conflict leads to resolution.
- There is healthy communication with no secrets or gossip.
- The members think about each other often and communicate between meetings.
- Members confess and forgive one another.
- Members step up with help, support, and prayer when one member of the group is struggling.