Jesus’ prayer for unity among his disciples has rung out down through the generations. Nigel Irwin believes this prayer remains in effect to this day. He tells us about an international movement that encourages churches in every city and town to function as one to advance gospel transformation.

I cannot think of too many endeavours more exciting and inspiring than to be part of God’s answer to the prayer of Jesus in John 17. As he turned his face toward Golgotha and the cross, Jesus earnestly prayed to his Father that his followers would be one—that they would walk in unity, so that the world would know that the Father sent the Son, and loved them even as he loved Jesus. 

As we know, God answered Jesus’ prayer through his death and resurrection, making us one, which was his ‘manifold wisdom’ from the beginning (Ephesians 2:14 and 3:10). 

Followers of Jesus are subsequently commanded to maintain this unity, established through Christ by the Spirit, in the bond of peace (Ephesians 4:3). New Zealand’s inaugural Movement Day event last month was coordinated in obedience to this command.

Movement Day in New Zealand

Following in the footsteps of 30 other global cities in 2019, Wellington hosted New Zealand’s own expression of Movement Day on the 14th and 15th of May at the Salvation Army Citadel in Vivian Street.

Leaders from throughout the nation came together to celebrate all that God is doing, and to accelerate the advance of the gospel in Aotearoa. We heard powerful transformation stories from 14 cities and towns, from Northland to Invercargill. We also heard specialist perspectives on unity and collaboration from key speakers such as Tak Bhana (Church Unlimited), Dave Mann (The Hope Project), Stuart Lange (NZ Christian Network), and Mark Powell (NZ Christian Network). 

Additionally, our international guests Roger Sutton (GATHER, United Kingdom), Ian Shelton (OneHeart Australia) and Craig Sider, (President of Movement.org, New York) helped us to see that we are part of a truly global move of the Holy Spirit to promote and strategise unity for the sake of Christ.

Multiplying impact through unity

The key principle behind Movement Day is the call of God for his church in every city and town to function as one. As stated on Movement Day’s website,

The goal of a MD expression…is to accelerate a gospel movement—catalyzing highly trained, motivated and committed leaders determined to find solutions to the “stubborn facts” plaguing a city or region. We define “stubborn facts,” as crime, poverty, spiritual apathy, struggling educational systems, unemployment, etc. Our approach: multiply the impact of one, through the unity of many. 

We can see the dysfunction and pain in our towns and cities. As we are moved to weep over these things, I believe God is calling us to collaborate as churches with each other, and with Christian leaders in the marketplace, para-church, and civic government spheres, to address the pain and felt needs of our town or city, for the sake of Jesus. 

When our communities see the church working together and with leaders from other spheres, they see the unifying power of the gospel, where it is Jesus Christ alone who is glorified, rather than any one church or denomination. A divided church contradicts the unifying principle weaved throughout Scripture, of God bringing his people together as one with Christ and each other.

Building God’s Kingdom

Critical to unity is an absolute commitment to ensuring that we are primarily interested in building God’s Kingdom, not our own empire. As church leaders, there is a temptation to build our own particular congregation in prominence and influence. Pride is a subtle but powerful obstacle to unity because we can often struggle with the blurring of boundaries around our church congregations, as our churches come together and work as one.

Movement Day is not an advocate of dissolving denominations. On the contrary, we believe our denominations bring vital strengths to the one church in the city/town. However, the Apostle Paul’s epistles were written not to denominations, but to cities. 

Consequently, when we read his exhortation for the church to be one, we must read that firstly in the context of the one church in the city, rather than individual churches isolated from one another. 

Paul’s teaching to the church in Corinth was that we need every member of the body to bring their unique gift, combining it with all of the others to present a cohesive and powerful whole in our pursuit of gospel transformation in the town or city in which we’re placed. 

We can tend to assume this teaching relates primarily to our local congregation, however Paul began his letter with the words, “To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours” (1 Corinthians 1:2). It is clear then that when Paul speaks of the Body of Christ in its diversity, he is calling us to unity at a broader level than just the congregation.

Our Movement Day expression was focused on setting aside our own agendas, telling the stories of God at work, and seeking him for leading and strategy as we headed home to our towns and cities to accelerate the advance of gospel transformation. No one speaker or region was given preference or prominence; rather, everything was done for the glory of God alone. Following Paul’s exhortation to the Colossian church, we were intentional about ensuring that everything we did, in word or deed, was done in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him (Colossians 3:17).

The next Movement Day

This will not be a one-off event. As we gather the leadership team together in the coming months, we will be seeking God for guidance on when to plan for the next Movement Day event. 

I encourage you to keep an eye out for news of the next one. In the meantime, I welcome your contact if you’re interested in talking further about how we as Baptists might be champions for unity in the many places we’re called to lead throughout Aotearoa New Zealand. 

Story: Nigel Irwin

Nigel has been senior pastor at Whanganui Central Baptist Church for almost seven years. He is also director of City by City and executive director of Movement Day New Zealand. Nigel is married to Suzanna and they have a 10-year-old foster daughter and two impossibly cute dogs. Nigel can be contacted about Movement Day here.

Scripture: Unless otherwise specified, Scripture quotations are from New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright ©1989 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.