Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Unity in Diversity

I took piano lessons for years as a kid and a teenager and eventually practiced enough that I could read music and play some songs pretty well. However, I eventually gave up playing the piano because it was such an enormous amount of work for me. Vast amounts of effort could cover up my lack of natural ability to some extent but it eventually became apparent that something about me just wasn't gifted for this specific task. As a result, I am genuinely impressed whenever someone sings or plays an instrument as if music were actually their first language. It is as if their brains are wired a bit differently in a way that allows them to very naturally translate black dots and lines on a page into a pleasant and impressive mixture of sounds.

It is because of this experience and many, many others like it that I often find myself reflecting on the truly amazing variety of ways in which God has gifted people. It is simply fascinating to me to see the way that God has gifted other people to do things that I simply can not do. Of course, committment and harwork can take you pretty far. I was able to play the piano, after all, despite my lack of talent for it. It just became more obvious with every hour that I practiced that even enormous amounts of practice could only take me so far while others seemed to have a God given ability for creating music. Their hours of practice and dedications would enable them to do things with an insturment that I could not.

I find this variety of gifts even more fascinating as a pastor when I think about the various ways that people in our congregation are gifted. Obviously, as the pastor, I have a pretty important role in our congregation and as I look back on my life, I can see ways that God has gifted and shaped me to fulfill that role well. As a result, I pour enormous amounts of time and energy into further developing the gifts that God has given me to be a pastor just as someone else might spend hours developing their gift in front of the piano. However, a congregation full of me would be a pretty dysfunctional church. The budget would never be balanced. The building would fall into disrepair. Our children wouldn't have anyone who knew how to communicate the gospel on their level. People would think that music had ceased to exist as an artform. And we would probably be more likely to write a lengthy paper about the mission of the Church than we would be to actually carry out that mission.

This is similar to one of the problems (possibly the problem) Paul addresses when writing 1 Corinthians. It seems that the christians in Corinth were all seeking to acquire the same spiritual gift, that of speaking in tongues, because they felt this was the most superior spiritual gift and if they could acquire it then they could wear it as a badge of their spiritual superiority. This pursuit of the same gift seems to have led to divisions and factions in the congregation as some boasted of their spirituality as being greater than that of others.

In 1 Corinthians 12, Paul writes to this congregation to show them that their thinking about spiritual gifts is wrongheaded in two closely related ways. First, he wants them to see that the Holy Spirit has gifted them in a variety of ways and therefore, they should not all pursue the same spiritual gift. Secondly, he wants them to see that spiritual gifts are just that; they are gifts and not badges of spiritual honor to be boasted about. God has not gifted them to build each of them up individually. God has gifted them so that they might use that gift in cooperation with the gifts of those around them to build up the church. Paul then compares the church to the human body and says that the different members of the church must be unified in purpose just as the members of a human body are unified. If one part of the body were to somehow decide that it wanted to do its own thing, it would harm the whole body and the body might even fail.

Therefore, as the Church, we are called to exhibit unity in our diversity. Somewhat ironically, when the church at Corinth sought uniformity by all seeking the same gift, they actually ended up with arrogant boasting which led to division, the very opposite of unity. In contrast, Paul encourages the diversity that exists in his congregation and commands these Christians to use their diverse gifts for the good of the whole community, which will lead to a genuine unity.

If we are to succeed as a church we must exhibit this same kind of unity in diversity. We must use our various gifts and talents for the good of the community. This is true in a very practical sense just because it takes so many different talents and abilities to carry out the many different ministries of a church. However, I think it is also true in a much deeper way. Exhibiting unity in diversity is part of our very identity, it is a part of what it means to be an image of the Triune God. The Trinity exhibits this same unity in diversity because even God is not an isolated, uniform being. God exists as three separate and diverse persons who are so intimately bound together and united that they are one. As our congregation functions less like individuals who are loosely associated to each other and more like a body that is united in identity and mission, a body of variously gifted people bound up together in a common salvation; we will not only carry out more successful and efficient ministry. We will actually become a truer image of the God we were created to reflect in this world.

1 comment:

Christy Gunter Leppert said...

Dave, this is awesome. If I have learned anything in my current assignment, it is this. Every pastor must humble themselves to their people. We learned a whole lot in seminary but we did not learn how to humble ourselves. That's one we have to figure out on our own.

I'm really proud of you, Dave.