Is Grace Operating In Your Church? 5 Things You Can Look For

grace1We talk a lot about Grace in church these days but do we know it when we see it?  How do we know Grace is at work in a community?  It’s not uncommon to find a church that talks about Grace but scratch the surface and rules and religion start rearing their ugly head.

In Acts 11 Barnabas travels to Antioch and is “glad and encouraged” because he sees the Grace of God at work in the fellowship there.  But the Bible doesn’t mention what evidence he saw.  How does one see Grace at work and know that it is grace?

So I came up with 5 things I believe you will see increasingly as a group of people experience the Grace of God in their gathering.  Think of them as 5 pieces of evidence so to speak:

 

1) The Prodigals Return Home

There are literally tens of thousands (if not hundreds of thousands) of sons and daughters of God out on the fringes of society who, like the Prodigal Son Jesus tells of, are afraid to come home because of the reception they fear they will receive.  They are out there; sitting just off on the horizon.  Some grew up in the church and were burnt by it.  Some are involved in habits and lifestyles that have meant they have become “other” to what they perceive of as church.

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Either way, they miss their Father and want to come home!

But the prodigals are often afraid they will be met at the front door by the older brother sitting in judgement and declaring, “Yes, you can come back if…”.

A community of Grace will welcome the prodigal home and celebrate their return with a big party!

 

2) Honesty and Transparency replace Masks and Religiosity

Last week I mentioned in a post how a couple pastors in a video chat with Peter Rollins expressed their frustrations with trying to be honest and transparent with their congregations.  One church lost half the congregation when he started being open about his own doubts and struggles.  Another pastor chimed in that he knew honesty would be too much for the church to handle suddenly so he increasingly became more transparent over the course of a year.

The church should be the most honest and truthful place there is but sadly those qualities are not the first things that come to mind.  That’s because even though people say they want honesty…they really don’t.

It’s too destabilizing.  If you’ve set your pastor up as the “Holy Man” the last thing you want to hear is his struggling with doubt or saying he can’t reconcile certain portions of scriptures with what he knows of God.  As Rollins suggests, it’s OK for the people to struggle and doubt so long as “the system and structure” keeps believing for me.

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In affect it’s the Emperor With No Clothes syndrome.  We know you’re naked and you know you’re naked, but if no one mentions it, we can maintain the illusion. And make no mistake, the one who does mention the Emperor has no clothes will not be celebrated…he or she will be vilified.

In a Grace filled community the saints can wrestle through issues of doubt and unknowing together in honesty and transparency.

 

3) Generosity of Time and Money

People with “baggage” tend to get ignored.  Show me a person with “issues” and I’ll show you someone who has to invite themselves to other people’s get togethers. In church circles this doesn’t change much.  Certain people (i.e. rich, beautiful, educated, gregarious) attract others, and certain people (i.e. poor, unattractive, boring, emotionally scarred) repel people.  On this issue I point the finger purely at myself.  I am naturally drawn to the first category and make polite excuses to the second.

But Jesus seemed to spend a lot of time with that second category.  He was drawn to them.  He loved them.  He saw them through the eyes only a father can and when we see people through the Father’s eyes, it changes how we see them.  Time spent with them is not “religious charity” but generous love

On the issue of “generous with money” I do know there is a difference of opinion in “Grace circles” on the area of “tithing”.  (Giving 10% of your earnings to the ministry)  I believe though that a community of Grace will have no need of a “tithe” as all needs will be met in a manner according to Acts 4: 32-36 “Nor was there any among them who lacked…”  Perhaps a legalistic requirement of tithing is actually preventing generosity?  Just a thought…

 

4) There is a Grace towards “other”

In a community of Grace hostilities end!  Jesus showed us the way by breaking bread and sharing a table with everyone from corrupt government officials to prostitutes.  In grace there is no “other”.  There is neither “Jew” nor “Gentile”, male or female, slave nor free, but all are one in Christ. (Galatians 3:28)  I recently wrote a post about how the president of Exodus International Ministries, who were openly antagonistic to the gay community, apologized for the way both they, and much of the church, had treated them.

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Religious people were always critical of who Jesus was spending time and being friends with.  If the self righteous are upset with who you are sharing a meal with, it’s a pretty good indication Grace is evident in your life and your community.

 

5) Jesus is King

You would think that for a church, this would go without saying…but it doesn’t.  Churches sing about Jesus, talk about Jesus, and attempt to get all around them to “accept Jesus”, but if Jesus really showed up and attended their church, in 6 months they would want him gone!

There is this funny comic that shows all these Republicans in America talking about America being a “Christian Nation” and about America returning to God.  Then Jesus shows up and they are all excited because now he’s going to vindicate them and prove they were right all along.  They get him to address Congress but of course Jesus starts giving them the Sermon on the Mount about blessing the poor, the meek, and the marginalized.  The comic ends with the congressmen kicking him out the door and calling him all kinds of names.

It sounds ridiculous but thats exactly what happened 2000 years ago.  The religious Jews were waiting for God to send the Messiah and lead them in triumph over their enemies.  Instead they got a Messiah who told them to “love their enemies”.  They wanted God who would show the world He was on their side.  Instead they got a God who was calling all creation back home.

They didn’t like that so they killed him.  But God validated Jesus and his Way by raising him from the dead.  A community with Grace operating will attempt to imitate Jesus’ way to their neighborhood, their city, their country, and to the world.  They would truly welcome Christ as King!

There you go.  There are 5 pieces of evidence that Grace is at work in you and your church.  This is certainly NOT an exhaustive list.  What would you add?

 

4 comments

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  • Glenda

    Reply

    as always, interesting and thought provoking. Jesus is certainly more than we imagine or try to understand.

  • Heather Johns

    Reply

    Great post, Steve. It’s funny, though, how we in our limitations seem to only be able to do one thing or the other. We attended a church for years that operated on grace principles and displayed many of the attributes you mentioned. However, when my husband lapsed into prescription drug addiction, grace abounded to the point that no one held him accountable. We’ve been attending a denominational church for the last several years for the strong accountability it affords, but have been feeling a bit beaten and bruised of late from all of the legalism. I think that striking a good balance is a very hard thing.

    We do have one pastor who asks how God has demonstrated his grace in your life along with prayer requests. It’s refreshing and helps keep the focus on the Lord’s strength instead of our weakness.

  • Steve

    Reply

    Hi Heather, thanks…glad you enjoyed the post! The last point you made is why I’m not a big advocate of “accountability” in church circles. There is a tendency to keep the focus on the sin. I like to keep the focus on Christ’s finished work.

  • This is one of your best Steve! “Show me a person with ‘issues’ and I’ll show you someone who has to invite themselves to other people’s get togethers” – this line struck me hardest. Really good.

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