One of the responsibilities of leadership is risk management. We have to ask, what risks do our actions create? What risks must we work to minimize? Which risks are appropriate for us to take as an organization?
Jesus’ prayer in John 17 is a risk management prayer for his bride. Whereas corporate risk management focuses on minimizing liabilities, protecting assets, and maximizing return on investment, Jesus’ risk management is focused on maximizing God’s glory, protecting the unity of the body of Christ, developing an intimate connection with the triune God, and advancing the mission of the church.
The Holy Spirit is working in wonderful ways to unify us for his glory across Canada. I’m amazed at the increasing desire to partner expressed by local leaders, churches, and denominations. This move toward unity in the mission of Christ and for the redemption of Canadians honours God and encourages all Christ followers.
Our greatest risk
So, what is the greatest “risk” we face as we seek to be faithful in mission?
The simplest way to derail God’s work in the world is to sabotage the unity of God’s people. The body of Christ, unified and filled to overflowing with the power of the Holy Spirit, is a powerful agent for the kingdom of God. But many great movements of the Spirit have been derailed through disunity. Fuelled by pride, preoccupation with our own status, fear of loss of control, etc., Christians’ failure to get along stunts the work of the Spirit.
Jesus understood the challenges his followers would face in remaining unified as the people of God. “My prayer is not for them alone,” he cries in John 17:20–21. “I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.”
What follows is Jesus’ prayer for us – all who believe in the message. What is his greatest concern for us? Unity.
Unity of vine and branch
In Jesus’ teaching ministry and in this prayer, the model for unity is the relationship between the Father and the Son; the foundation for unity is abiding in the Father and the Son; and the purpose of unity is “so that the world may believe that you have sent me” (John 17:21). He prays that we may experience a cycle of faith leading to unity, leading others to faith.
This unity isn’t based on human thought, doctrinal alignment, mutual regard, or similar philosophies of ministry. He doesn’t pray that we would understand the “right” way of doing church, but that we would be in relationship with the Godhead. This is the vine and branches (John 15) played out in the life of the church. Jesus knows his followers will live in environments that are hostile to the gospel, making it even more important to be rooted in the Godhead, expressing unity of heart, mind, and mission.
This unity isn’t self-centred salvation encouraged by subjective, individualistic philosophies. This relationship of believers with God is built on a community who together experience oneness with God.
In other words, our unity in Christ is focused on the triune God for his glory, not our preferences, personal agendas, or comfort.
Jesus is praying that his followers – that you and I, and all who claim the name of Jesus – would be so united in Christ, following the Father so obediently, united with each other so intimately that our friends who do not know Jesus would look at our lives and say, “Obviously, Jesus did what these followers of his claim he did.” He is praying that the very way we do life and mission together would be proof of Jesus’ life and ministry on earth.
When we work together as Christians, we reflect the truth of the transforming power of the gospel. God is on the move among us and inviting us to work together across churches, across provinces, and across denominations for his glory and for the witness of Jesus in Canada