Unity is a good thing.

Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity.” Psalm 133:1 (ESV)

I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” Ephesians 4:1-3 (ESV)

Uniformity is not always a good thing.

In 1962, Malvina Reynolds published a song titled “Little Boxes” The song was later recorded by the protest singer, Pete Seeger.

It’s a song protesting uniformity, where everyone looked, dressed, lived and acted just the same. I’m afraid the same can happen in churches, businesses and families.

Here are some of the words:

Little boxes on the hillside,
Little boxes made of ticky tacky,
Little boxes on the hillside,
Little boxes all the same.
There’s a green one and a pink one
And a blue one and a yellow one,
And they’re all made out of ticky tacky
And they all look just the same.

And the people in the houses
All went to the university,
Where they were put in boxes
And they came out the same,
And there’s doctors and lawyers,
And business executives,
And they’re all made out of ticky tacky
And they all look just the same.

It’s a light-hearted sounding song with a serious message that I believe is very relevant to leadership today. (You can listen to it on iTunes.)

The big question is how does unity, which is a good thing, degenerate into uniformity, which can be a bad thing–especially as it relates to the implementation of vision and ideas?

I am deepening in my convictions that we need unity in essentials and diversity in non-essentials. I think this applies to the family, the church, business, sports, government and leadership across the board.

In 1627, Rupert Meldenius said “In essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, in all things charity.

That pretty well sums it up.

I think any church or organization functions best when there is unity around:

  1. Purpose
  2. Values
  3. Vision
  4. Strategic direction

And where you have diversity and freedom to experiment around:

  1. Methods
  2. Practices
  3. Programs
  4. Implementation

When you force unity in both essentials and non-essentials you have uniformity which:

  1. Curbs creativity
  2. Robs people of using their God-given gifts and personality
  3. Chases away creative people
  4. Fosters boredom and lackluster performance

Denominations exist in part because of the unwillingness of leaders to hold minor and non-essential issues with an open hand and by making every aspect of what they do an essential where there can be no deviance from the way everyone does things. It can, and often does, create a stifling and suffocating environment in which to work…it just ain’t no fun!

One of my early mentors, Warren Myers, told me, “Major in the majors and minor in the minors. Don’t major in the minors.  Where the Bible is black and white, be black and white. Where the Bible is gray, be gray. Don’t make the Bible black and white where it is gray.” We could save ourselves a lot of organizational pain by following Warren’s advice today.

How much personal satisfaction can there be in doing a job that is completely programmed, where your muscles or brain are used to perform repetitive operations already planned and dictated by someone else?

There ought to be something in every job that’s satisfying to the person who does it. Unfulfilled people can be just as serious a problem as inefficient methods.

Creating a climate that gives people independence and freedom, without losing control, takes a lot of leadership skill.

I am becoming an avid fan of unity in essentials and diversity in non-essentials as we strive toward the same agreed-upon ends. I am opposed to the enthronement of methodology rather than the diversity of methodology. Best practices can become death practices to creative initiative.

+ What do you think? I would love to hear your comments on “Unity verses Uniformity!”