Over the past decade, OKWU has partnered with more than twenty church plants across the country, sending teams of students each summer to serve in a variety of ways. As a result, we have seen incredible stories take place: both in the communities served and in the lives of our students. One of those stories comes from Grand Rapids, Michigan, where students Luke (a pastoral ministry major) and Nicole (an exercise science major), connected with Pastor Chase Stancle and the Unison Christian Church.
Unison launched in April of 2015, and serves one of the most ethnically diverse regions in West Michigan. Their mission is to reach across ethnic, religious, and socioeconomic lines to transform their community for Christ. As this recent team shared, we heard incredible stories about the way this unity is lived out daily at Unison: from the leadership team starting every day with a quiet time of studying the Word together to weekly small group discussions where no topic of culture was off limits. As we watched the headlines become increasingly more divisive in recent months, we were challenged by the example of Unison, and reached out to Pastor Chase to learn more about this unique body of believers.
TOWER: Unison’s name is a great testament to your mission. Tell us what unity looks like there—in one of the most culturally diverse regions of your state?
PASTOR CHASE: Unison is a young church and ethnic diversity has been a part of our DNA from the beginning…We have openly said that we…want that multi-ethnicity to be more than just a bunch of different colored people in a room on Sunday: we fully expect to have tough race conversations and invite different people, cultures, and foods into our living rooms. We know the area we are called to serve is INCREDIBLY diverse but also very disjointed, so our intentional way of combatting that separation is to live out authentic multi-ethnic relationships in the community and invite others to engage as well.
Unity at Unison is family. We call ourselves the Unison Family. “Family” certainly has its fluffy feelings, but we also know that family isn’t always pretty…Like all healthy families, we hope for and strive toward being whole and cohesive, but we understand that we are not perfect and don’t hold ourselves to a standard that we could never attain. We don’t have all the answers, but we are very intentional. Racial divides didn’t happen organically, but over centuries of intentional efforts to separate. We must also be diligently intentional about bringing together what our ancestors worked hard to separate.
T: What are some specific stories from your church that show how unity works in the body of Christ?
C: One of the easiest to pick off the top has to do with multi-ethnic couples/families. So many times couples who have crossed that racial line in their most intimate relationships have a hard time finding a church home where they feel they can completely engage and be free to live and worship. Racial divides are thick, so multi-ethnic families are often torn between several worlds. At Unison, we have more multi-ethic family units than not, which is at least an indicator that we have a fostered a space where families who are regularly facing these challenges can have regular moments of freedom and rejuvenation…
Deeper… We just held our first formal race conversation, called “RACY”. It was a time dedicated to understanding the history of racism and then creating a space to heal and move in the [right] direction. If we are to really do this right, we need to have a space to process this stuff and know that we can ask dumb questions and express real emotions…We did this in collaboration with two other local churches and it was well attended and the outcome has already shown significant benefit in trust and cultural understanding.
T: What do you see as the practical role of the Church in reaching a broken culture?
C: In Psalm 97:10, followers of God are instructed to hate evil. In a practical sense, I think we must first develop a culture of truly loving what God loves and hating what God hates. When this is our motivation, our actions look a lot more in line with the character of God. Overwhelmingly, us Believers are so eagerly awaiting God to come and fix the problems with Jesus’ return that we are neglecting the fact that the plan has ALWAYS been to use humans in the redemption and preservation of the Earth. When we truly hate evil, like God, we are not content to see it prevailing around us. We say, “I can’t change the world by myself, but I can effect change in my sphere of influence”. When we hate hate, we expose and eradicate it from wherever we are. We make hate uncomfortable.
Practically that means, when we see hate, we immediately respond with love filled action. We rally. We speak against it. We act in complete rebellion of hate. If someone is being oppressed, we stand with them, making sure they are not alone but also lend our strength to the cause of their livelihood. Hate thrives in lonely, dark corners, but it is defused by the light of Christ.
During their summer as church plant interns, Luke and Nicole had an incredible opportunity to serve in the ministry of Unison: assisting with worship, church media, event planning, and anywhere else they were needed. As they became part of the local church culture, they gained new appreciation for inner city ministry and fell in love with the people of Unison.
Even more, they were reminded Church with a big C isn’t perfect, but it’s vital for followers of Jesus to learn, worship, and be together.
And they saw with new eyes the urgency for Christ’s church to be unified in community.