The third rung of the Model of Christian Unity, following the individual and family, is the church. Strong individuals and strong families should make for a strong church; however, that is not always the case. Bringing together two or more strong families full of righteous individuals does not guarantee church unification where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. The lesson behind this unfortunate reality can be illustrated with food. There are some who love a thick juicy steak and also love a good bowl of ice cream; however, steak a-la-mode is not likely to be a winning menu item.
Ideally one plus one equals three in the synergistic realm or at a minimum one plus one should equal two in the compatibility realm. However, one plus one can equal one, or even a negative number when there is no synergy. Such is the potential when bringing people together in church to form a congregation. This is why strengthening the church is a critical and challenging aspect on the journey to unifying disparate Christians toward a stronger society.
The Biblical case for strengthening the church comes from the 12th chapter (verses 12-27) of Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians as he addresses the diversity of spiritual gifts and the various positions within the church. Paul provides a detailed analogy of different parts of a body and how they work together to create one body of Christ.
There is no shortage of elements that weaken and divide the church including politics, social Issues, sin/pride, racism/prejudice, culture, ministerial conflicts, generational differences, gender conflicts, personality conflicts, bigotry and harsh evangelism. At times these elements, especially when combined, can become powerful deterrents to unity in the body of Christ within a congregation.
Strengthening the church focuses on the individuals and families within the church. Humans are complex beings and follow basic physiological patterns that when understood can help motivate people to reach their full potential as children of God. Shuster applies Maslow’s model of needs hierarchy to the church to create a Spiritual Hierarchy of Needs including: 1) Faith (physiological level); 2) Well-being (safety level); 3) Belonging and Affection (level of the same name in Maslow’s model); 4) Value (Esteem level) and 5) Discipleship (Self-Actualization level).
As church members move up the pyramid of the spiritual hierarchy they also move from left to right in the Christian Continuum. For example, the Laboring Christian is one who has effectively realized the four bottom components of the Spiritual Hierarchy of Needs and has entered true discipleship in Jesus Christ, while the Departing Christian is struggling with faith and well being.
The Spiritual Hierarchy of Needs integrates the object lesson taught by Paul in the analogy of the body of Christ regarding the psychology of human nature and the serialization of needs fulfillment. When churches begin focusing more on strengthening individuals and families than on programs and fund raising then the body of Christ will be strengthened and unified.
Next we look at strengthening the community.
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