Placing a high value on unity

Meredith Flynn —  September 20, 2012

COMMENTARY | Nate Adams

A couple of days after the recent IBSA Board of Directors meeting, I traveled to Texas for a meeting with other State Executive Directors and leaders from the North American Mission Board. Our special speaker during that meeting was Dr. Jimmy Draper, past president of LifeWay Christian Resources and respected Baptist pastor and statesman for many decades.

Speaking primarily from John 17, Dr. Draper focused our thoughts on Jesus’ prayer for unity, and invited us to consider what might happen if we as Baptist leaders enjoyed the type of unity for which Jesus was praying. To be frank, relationships between many state conventions and NAMB have been strained for the past couple of years, as NAMB’s new strategies have reduced funding through state conventions.

During that same meeting, however, a committee of State Executive Directors that has been studying NAMB’s new direction and its impact on state conventions presented a very encouraging report. The committee and NAMB President Kevin Ezell then presented a new plan for state conventions and NAMB to move forward together that met with unanimous approval.

More important than the consensus being unanimous, however, was the fact that it was unifying. And there is a difference. As Dr. Draper shared with us later that evening, Jesus did not ask that everyone agree on everything (unanimity), or that everyone be the same (uniformity), or that everyone express themselves the same way (unison). In praying for our unity, Jesus was asking that our deep and resilient love for Him and for one another keep us together in spite of our differences, harmoniously moving toward a lost world in His name.

Listening to this teaching on unity, and watching it unfold in our Texas meeting, my mind returned to Illinois, and the IBSA board’s recent consideration of acquiring property for a leadership center in Springfield. You can read about that decision in the September 24 issue of the Illinois Baptist (online here), so I won’t recount the details in this post. But what pleased me most about the board’s action was that it also placed a high value on unity.

It’s challenging to know, sometimes, the common direction in which a thousand diverse Baptist churches from all over the state should go. Though most of the IBSA board and staff felt positively about the value and strategy of a Springfield leadership center, we decided to write a letter outlining the opportunity to all IBSA churches, in addition to the information provided in the Illinois Baptist and the IBSA website.

For the next two weeks, about 50 e-mails, phone calls, and personal conversations helped me “take the pulse” of Illinois Baptists on the subject. A majority of the feedback was positive toward the opportunity, but a significant minority expressed concerns or opposition.

The IBSA Advisory Committee and I, who had been studying the opportunity most closely, then faced a challenge. It appeared that both the decision to move forward with the acquisition and the decision to back away from it would be met with some disappointment. We prayed and discussed, and in the end we proposed an amended motion that we believed was a vote for unity, rather than for or against property.

The amended motion, adopted overwhelmingly by the full IBSA board, backs away from the property at the current price, and backs away from borrowing money. At the same time, it leaves the door slightly open for donors to step up with contributions, or for the seller to step down in price, though both of those scenarios are unlikely.

As I wrote earlier, it’s challenging to know, sometimes, the common direction in which a thousand diverse Baptist churches from all over the state should go. We can’t always count on unanimity, or uniformity, or unison. But we can explore new ideas, listen to one another, and make decisions that place a high value on unity, trusting God to keep moving us forward, together.

Nate Adams is executive director of the Illinois Baptist State Association.

Meredith Flynn

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Meredith is managing editor of the Illinois Baptist newspaper.