Reflections: Chapter 7, “TOV Churches Nurture Grace”
Following the encouragement to promote empathy, resisting the culture of selfishness, in the previous chapter, the authors of “A Church called TOV” turned to the promotion of grace, resisting a culture of fear. Key to understanding the chapter is the following provided definition:
“Grace-filled goodness begins in forgiveness, forms into freedom, and resists fear- all because it knows that God’s design for the church is love.” (p. 116)
The authors present a series of characteristics that are essential to a functioning grace culture: generosity, forgiveness, relationship, response, equality, intimacy, and community. A TOV church is a group people who have been given grace by God received forgiveness, and, as a result, have a new relationship with God and people where they respond to each other with generosity and forgiveness. This results in a growth in the number and depth of relationships within the church. These relationships are mutually sustaining and Spirit-empowered.
Sounds great! According to the authors, the requisite items to create this dynamic are trust, reciprocity, and space to make mistakes. Do we have these in our churches? More to the point, do we as leaders have it in us to live with them?
I ask because, as much as the authors are concerned with leadership that is “toxic” or “power-based”, I know of no leadership that would self-identify that way. No one thinks of themselves as the bad apple. Rather we would say we are just pursuing things like “efficiency” or “excellence”. Perhaps we will say we are just protecting the integrity of the ministry. Maybe we like a “team-first” approach. Surely, we might say to ourselves, none of this is opposed to a healthy, loving church?
Well, no. Not necessarily. But the question, I think, needs to be treated as a real question, and not a rhetorical one meant to gloss over the more difficult underlying question: Do we promote freedom or fear through our leadership? Do people feel forgiven in your presence? Do they go to you expecting grace or criticism? Do they feel free to ask questions, or offer alternative ideas? Are jokes about others good-natured or at their expense? Do we promote roles and functions in our churches, or do we elevate positions? Do we have an accountability circle/leadership group, or do we have a clique?
If we don’t see a harvest of disciples who trust us out of love, who feel they can share their thoughts and lives openly, who will fearlessly take risks to bless the kingdom, then our pursuit of excellence, or efficiency, or team-players, or whatever else, may not be so benign. It may be that we give excessive value to something other than grace in our ministry, perhaps reflecting what we think God values in us.
We need, as leaders, to be honest about what we want for ourselves from the ministry (and we do want things; it’s only natural). We also need to be honest about what we are willing to do to get it. If we are not self-reflective in that specific way, I am not sure that we can develop a grace culture in our churches. Thankfully, God offers us grace. If we allow God to nurture grace in our relationship with Him, we will be much better equipped to nurture it in our churches.
Reflection from Brent Easey, Lead Pastor of St, Ann’s Community Church