Communities of Performance or Communities of Grace? - extract from foundation module: Ministry Philosophy


Crosslands has just launched two new modules, aimed at supporting the training and equipping of leaders in the local church.   Here is a short extract from our new Ministry Philosophy module for you to enjoy.

These biblically rooted and deeply practical modules can be studied either independently or as a group.   They can also be taken as part of a learning track, a more rounded or in-depth programme of study, and are available to purchase online now.   If you would like to set up a Crosslands study group, contact us here.

Communities of Performance or Communities of Grace?

Our aim is not to make people moral. Our aim is for people to experience joy in Christ. That’s how Paul describes the aim of his ministry in Philippians 1:25: “Convinced of this, I know that I will remain, and I will continue with all of you for your progress and joy in the faith.” (Philippians 1:25) This is not some superficial health and wealth teaching. Paul is writing this from prison as he faces the very real possibility of martyrdom. Paul experiences joy in the midst of suffering and opposition because his delight is in Christ (Phil. 1:12-21). In Philippians 3:8 he says: “What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ.” Paul’s radical commitment to Christ arises from his delight in Christ. And that’s the pattern for our pastoral care. We are not in the business of cajoling people into commitment. Our job is to give people such joy in Christ that the treasures and temptations of this earth look like pathetic alternatives.

In a famous sermon entitled “The expulsive power of a new affection”, the nineteenth-century Scottish preacher Thomas Chalmers argued that we can’t simply tell ourselves to stop sinning. Sin makes promises, but it doesn’t deliver. What we need is to reorient our desires towards that which truly satisfies and liberates: God himself. If you told someone to destroy his house, Chalmers argues, then you might persuade him to do so reluctantly. But if you promised a far better house in its place, then he would gladly destroy his old house. Tell someone to stop sinning, and they may do so reluctantly and partially for a short period. But give someone a vision of knowing God and his glory, and they will gladly root out all that gets in the way of their relationship with God (Hebrews 12:1-3).

Performance versus grace

In Matthew 7:1-5 Jesus says:

‘Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way as you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.

‘Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, “Let me take the speck out of your eye,” when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.’

At first sight, these verses seem to rule out any pastoral care. Any attempt to call people from disobedience to obedience seems judgmental. But the key is the word ‘hypocrite’. Throughout the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus uses this term to refer to a self-righteous person; someone who does what he does to be seen by others or to establish his own righteousness (Matt. 6:2, 5, 16).

In contrast, the Sermon on the Mount begins with a blessing on all who recognise they are “poor in Spirit” (Matt. 5:3). Jesus says, “that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matt. 5:20) But that greater righteousness comes from God to those who hunger for it, to those who are poor in spirit, who mourn, who cry to God for mercy, who know themselves as recipients of God’s grace. If we do not pastor people with a strong sense of God’s grace, then we will leave them feeling condemned.

Imagine you worship the god of performance. Your identity, your sense of worth, and how you feel about yourself depend on doing a good job or putting on a good show.

Imagine you’re a church leader and you worship the god of performance. Suppose the Sunday meeting goes badly or your sermon doesn’t hit the mark. How do you feel? You may be disappointed; perhaps devastated or despondent. You get the Monday morning blues. Your god turns on you and crushes you.

Now imagine you worship the God of grace: the living God, the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. What happens when you let him down, when you fail, when you sin? Does he turn on you and crush you? No. He turns on himself in the person of his Son and crushes his Son in your place. As a result, what he extends to you is grace, forgiveness, and a loving welcome. And so on the Monday after the disastrous Sunday, you’re full of joy and gratitude.

In performance-oriented churches, people pretend to be okay because their standing within the church depends on it. A ‘sorted’ person is seen as the standard or the norm, and anyone who is struggling is seen as sub-standard or sub-Christian. In this kind of environment, to acknowledge that you’re struggling with sin is difficult and distressing.

But this is the opposite of grace. Grace acknowledges that we are all sinners, we are all messed up people. At a functional level, we all struggle and doubt. But grace also affirms this glorious truth: in Christ, we all belong, all make the grade, all are welcome, all are Christians (there are no lesser Christians).

Imagine such a church for a moment.  Here is Andrew: he sometimes uses porn because he struggles to find refuge in God. Here’s Pauline: she sometimes has panic attacks because she struggles to believe in the care of her heavenly Father.  Here’s Abdul: he sometimes loses his temper because he struggles to believe that God is in control. Here’s Georgina: she sometimes lacks assurance of her salvation because she struggles to believe God’s grace. When they come together they accept one another and celebrate God’s grace towards each other. They rejoice that they are all children of God through the work of Christ. And they remind one another of the truths each of them needs to keep going and to change. It’s a community of grace, a community of hope, a community of change.

If you enjoyed this extract you may like to consider further study with Crosslands.  Find more information here

Beth Butler