Leading Through Grace

A Place for Grace

Church should be a place of forgiveness and renewal, but unfortunately some churches are far more judgmental than they are graceful. In fact, in “The Jesus I Never Knew,” Philip Yancey tells of a prostitute who’d been renting out her 2-year old daughter to men. She made more money in an hour than she could earn all night.

Shocking as this was, when a Christian asked her if she’d ever been to church her response was even more shocking. “Church” she said, “Why would I ever go there? I was already feeling terrible about myself. They’d just make me feel worse.”

Leadership and Grace

Grace is the function of leadership, and it’s important for leaders to ensure that behavior in the church is aligned with grace. By definition grace is unmerited favor, and making church a place of grace and not condemnation is critical.  When it exists, grace increases trust and good will in the church.  It deepens relationships and results in church growth.

Lessons on Grace from our Founding Fathers

A clear example of how this works is found in a story about two of our country’s most esteemed leaders, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson.  They’d had a lifelong friendship, but they also had differences, so for a period the two were estranged.  However, they reconciled and began a series of 158 correspondences between 1812 and 1826.

The strength of their friendship is evidenced in an incident that occurred in 1823.  A series of letters that Adams wrote earlier were reprinted in the newspaper.  Adams had been critical of Jefferson, calling him a “duplicitous political partisan.”  The newspaper obviously tried to stir up trouble, but Jefferson responded with grace and forgiveness by writing the following to Adams:

“Be assured, my dear sir, that I am incapable of receiving the slightest impression from the effort to plant thorns and to sow tares between friends who have been such for nearly half a century.  Beseeching you then not to suffer your mind to be disquieted by this wicked attempt to poison its peace, and praying you to throw it by.”

So relieved was Adams that he insisted Jefferson’s letter be read aloud to his entire family. Jefferson extended grace to his friend and that gift demonstrated his love and admiration for Adams. Jefferson’s actions depict what good leaders do; they forgive by disassociating actions from the person’s value. It reminds me of what philosopher Soren Kierkegaard said in Works of Love:

“Through forgiveness love covers a multitude of sins. Silence takes nothing away from the multitude of notorious sins…forgiveness takes away that which still cannot be denied as being sin.  So love strives to hide the multitude of sins; but forgiveness is the most outstanding way.”

Growing the Church Through Grace

In our church leadership consulting we encourage pastors to practice forgiveness. When leaders forgive mistakes, they demonstrate value for people beyond their actions.  In a very real sense, extending the gift of grace breaks down barriers and deepens relationships. Using Kierkegaard’s description of forgiveness, Jefferson demonstrated not only that he valued Adams, but also that he loved him.  Unfortunately, the prostitute needed this, but sensed she wouldn’t experience it in the church. Effective leaders embrace grace through forgiveness.  That doesn’t negate accountability, but trusting people and giving them grace does cover a multitude of sins thereby motivating church members towards deeper engagement in the church body.