San Francisco’s Millennium Tower is in trouble. The 58-story tower is home to some of the city’s wealthiest people, its apartments among the most expensive and desirable in the city. But recently its residents have begun to notice some troubling issues. Engineers who studied the building have been alarmed to find it has sunk 16 inches in the 7 years since it was built. Not only that, but it has developed a 2-inch lean at the bottom which translates to a 6-inch lean at the top. Not surprisingly, the tower’s residents are more than a little concerned.
The problems with Millennium Tower begin at the bottom, all the way at the foundation. The first warning of the tower’s problems came when residents noticed floor-to-ceiling cracks running along the walls of the underground parking garage. These were new. These were alarming. Engineers installed stress gauges in some of the cracks and found they are slowly growing. They expect the tower will settle before it leans far enough to pose any great danger, but they can’t guarantee it. The tower isn’t necessarily doomed, but it is in considerable trouble.
Lately I’ve found myself pondering unity in the local church and considering that cracks in the unity of a church often begin at the bottom. They often begin at the foundation and work their way up to the roof. What I mean is that disunity often begins with the membership and spreads toward the leadership rather than beginning with the leadership and spreading toward the membership. This is not always the case, of course, but often it is.
Great ruptures in the church often begin with just one member gossiping about another or just two quarreling members who have no desire to pursue reconciliation. Great division often begins with a clique that refuses to integrate with the rest of the congregation or with a small group of people who make a disputable matter into a matter of spiritual life and death. Sometimes it’s one person who asks questions meant to cause others to doubt the good intentions of the pastors. The greatest rifts can have their genesis in even the most innocuous words or actions.
The issues with Millennium Tower begin at the foundation but spread all the way to the roof. The issues in a local church often begin with the membership—even with members who are rarely present or barely contributing—and soon consume the entire congregation. There is a crucial implication here. You may not feel like you have an important role in your church. You may feel like you are of no account. But you have the power, the ability, to bring disunity to your church. You have the ability to undermine its health and stability, to set in motion a series of events that might eventually destroy it. The little cracks that begin in the foundation can migrate upwards, widening all the while.
But if that is true, so is the opposite. You have the ability to promote and maintain unity in your church. And your task as a member of a church is not only to avoid disunity, but to actively pursue unity. You are to pursue unity by submitting to the duly-appointed leaders of the congregation (Hebrews 13:17) and by engaging in loving relationships with your fellow church members (Galatians 6:10). Most of all, you pursue unity by walking “in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:1-3). If disunity begins at the bottom and works its way to the top, so too does unity. A strong foundation stabilizes and supports the entire structure. What are you doing to actively pursue unity within your church?