ICOC Unity Conference
Los Angeles, California
Friday, November 15, 2002
Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit -- just as you were called to one hope when you were called -- one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.
Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.
Almost 23 years ago God drew spiritual leaders from the traditional Churches of Christ and the campus ministry churches to the Boston Church of Christ. Along with men and women converted in the Boston ministry, this group was molded by God into a unified leadership resolved in the dream to evangelize the world. From this beginning, God provided the leadership, resources, and faith to ignite an explosion of growth resulting in 430 churches that are now spread around the world. And yet, as with all movements in which fallible men play a part, the past two decades of growth have come hand in hand with many high and unexpected costs. The failure of leadership to evolve with a maturing church resulted in strained relationships and hurtful short-sighted church-building strategies which threatened the unity of our brotherhood -- the very foundation of our strength. During the week of November 11th, a week that will be forever remembered by those serving in the world sector leadership groups, we gathered together in Los Angeles, California for a time of candid reflection. Clearly, we would not move forward until we were able to make peace with the tremendous emotional, physical, and spiritual cost of the last 23 years.
Ephesians 4:1-6 became the guiding scripture in our time together. We had prepared ourselves with a day of prayer and fasting on November 6th, and once together in LA we devoted ourselves to prayer and unity. There were four steps that allowed us to reconcile and unify. 1) The humble resignation of our world missions evangelist. 2) The resolution of conflict among leaders through repentance and forgiveness. 3) The decision to dissolve the world sector leaders group. 4) The recommitment to the mission of evangelizing the world.
The first night of our meeting we had a powerful worship service of singing, scripture reading, and prayer. This set the tone for the humble and apologetic resignation of our world missions evangelist. The Spirit of God moved from that moment to produce further confession, repentance, and forgiveness in the hearts of many others. The ensuing days were filled with incredible fellowship. The atmosphere was that of a family reunion as many rejoiced to see the faces of close brothers and sisters they hadn't seen in years. At the same time, there was a spirit of revival as distrust, emotional distance, and doubt were washed away by tears of apology and forgiveness. We could see God restoring unity in our fellowship and Satan being defeated in his attempts to divide.
With a renewed spirit of unity in the leadership, we felt confident to make some important decisions. One of the first decisions was to dissolve the world sector leaders group. The numeric and geographic growth in the kingdom had outstripped the spiritual ability of this small group of men and women to supply the leadership necessary to sustain healthy church growth. In an effort to maintain the speed of growth from the early years, this group had overextended themselves, their families, and the churches. The resulting spiritual damage was evidence enough that the kingdom had outgrown this leadership model. We needed a new approach that included more people and that could surface creative solutions to the new challenges we were facing.
After consideration of all the facts, we realized that there was a workable means of expanding the number of decision-makers, continuing world cooperation, and remaining unified. There are nine world sectors (CSA, Northern Fed, Pac Rim, NEEM, Comrades, ACES, China, The NET, and the Middle East) each with leaders capable of working together as teams to lead the evangelization of their respective fields. If we could figure out how these nine groups could cooperate and be unified, then we could enter a new era of leadership for the kingdom capable of navigating the evangelism of the world in the 21st century.
A transition team was selected and charged with moving this idea from concept to working reality. The miracle of miracles came 36 hours after the team began this work, when they reported that their efforts had been successful. They proposed the formation of a Unity Meeting that would be comprised of representatives from each world sector leadership group. This meeting would take place twice a year with the second meeting including a kingdom leadership conference for every member of the nine world sector leadership groups. The responsibility of the Unity Meeting and conference would be to make sure that we remain cooperative and unified while we continue the task of evangelizing our various sectors of the world. In a great testimony to humility and the power of God, the leaders in attendance were able to joyfully agree to the plan and unanimously approve it before we returned home.
This refreshing, new emphasis on teamwork and consensus will reduce our dependence on any one individual and place the emphasis on God and the leadership of His Spirit. Our prayer is that this spirit of unity, teamwork, and consensus will be embraced by every disciple as we seek to involve more and more disciples in the key decisions of the churches. The future promises to be greater than the past as we remain devoted to God, willing to learn, and determined to be unified in our quest to see God's dream of an evangelized world become a reality.
May grace and peace be with us all,
The brothers and sisters of the Unity Conference