Here’s my final post based on my talk on ‘Communities of Grace’ to the Evangelists Conference.
How can we create communities of grace? Let me suggest seven ideas:
(1) Make the connections
We need to teach grace. We need to often speak, pray and sing of the cross. But we also need to make connections with people. Plenty of people believe in justification by faith for the final day, but doubt justification by faith for the next. On a Monday morning in the workplace they are still trying to prove themselves, to find identity in their achievements. We need to paint a picture for people; to show them what grace in action looks like; to fuel their imaginations, tell stories.
(2) Welcome the mess
Welcome messy communities. Welcome messy people. Obviously you’ll want them to change, to become more like Jesus, to be set free from their slaveries. But don’t make your welcome dependent on change. Don’t suppress conflict. Don’t hide problems.
(3) Stop pretending
Don’t hide your own problems. You’ll need to exercise some discretion. Let everyone know you struggle. Let some people know what you struggle with. A break through moment in our context was when I confessed long-standing sin to a small prayer meeting. I didn’t do it to create a break-through moment, but that was the outcome. Other people suddenly felt able to confess their sin and it has led to a time of change and accountability throughout the community.
(4) Stop performing
Don’t put on a show. Don’t push people to perform, to produce results, to get it right all the time. Give people permission to fail. We’ve realised that polished Bible studies and articulate prayers disenfranchise semi-literate people.
(5) Eat and drink with broken people
The Son of Man who receives all authority in Daniel 7 comes eating and drinking (Luke 7:34). Jesus eats and drinks with sinners. It’s a powerful expression of community. We think we are enacting grace if we work among the poor, if we serve them. But we are only half way there. It is not really grace because we still act from a position of superiority. We think we are humble when we serve. But we have missed the dynamic that is going on. What we really proclaim is that we are able and you are unable. I can do something for you, but you can do nothing for me. Think how different the dynamic is when we sit and eat with someone. We meet as equals. We share together. We behave as friends. We affirm one another and enjoy one another.
(6) Give people time to change
I think there are some tensions and questions here, but we need to give people time to change. How long did it take for you to become perfectly like Jesus? Of course, you’re still changing. There are some sins we’re prepared to work on over a lifetime, but there are others where we demand instant change. Why is this? The answer, of course, is that we want them to become respectable. We don’t want a messy community. So we say, ‘You’re saved by faith, but to become part of the church (e.g. to be baptised) you need to change your life.’ So which is it? Are we saved by works or are we saved by works?
(7) Focus on the heart
What’s your agenda for change? All too often we focus on behaviour. We can list the behaviours we would like someone to stop or start. But Jesus says our behaviour comes from the heart (Mark 7:20-23). Our focus needs to be on the heart. Our job is to help people love God and treasure Christ. In Philippians 1 Paul says the aim of his ministry among them is their joy (1:25-26). He wants them to find joy in Christ – only then will people turn from the pleasures of sin. I do need to describe a life that pleases God. But my job is not to go round telling people to reform their lives or change their behaviour. My job is help people find joy in Christ.