There’s a lot of talk about unity in the news these days. Division over politics, racial inequity, and pandemic response sadly separates even believers in the church, leaving pastoral leaders with new and increasingly difficult challenges.
Before he went to the cross, Jesus made a point of praying for all future generations of his followers:
...that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me. John 17:21-23
He prayed (and still prays!) for our unity for a purpose: so that the world may believe that the Father sent the Son. Such unity is possible, but it comes at a high cost. Jesus paid the price for our unity with his shed blood on the cross. He paid the price to save the world.
We, too, have a price to pay for unity. The apostle Paul instructs the young church in Philippi to emulate both the action and intention of Jesus in their relationships with one another:
...complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Philippians 2:2-11
Pastors in John 17:23 pastoral support groups embody Paul’s charge to the Philippians when in humility they surrender their own significance in favor of their fellow pastors. When they listen to other pastors’ life stories, when they engage with Scripture together, when they pray with and for one another, they model the way forward for the church at large. Instead of saying “what’s in this for me,” they live out instead “what’s in this for the other pastors in my group.” Jesus said, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” A watching world waits to see such costly unity portrayed in the church. To my fellow pastors in John 17:23 groups, I thank you for showing the way forward!