Community of grace not performance

The Gateway is part of the Newfrontiers family of churches, which has always been noted for its message of grace. Within the wider Christian world, there has often been a drift towards excellence and entertainment as Churches grow bigger. A good friend noted recently that excellence was a key value for their church. I don’t want to be poor and embarrassing in how we do things, but I don’t want “excellence” to mean that we limit participation to the professionals and end up with a church like a football match where 22,000 people in dire need of exercise watch 22 people in dire need of a rest! We want to be a community of grace not performance.

My friend Howard Kellett wrote on just this danger recently and quoted an excellent comparison by Tim Chester between a community of grace and a community of performance.

Is your community a community of performance or a community of grace?

Try these diagnostic tests …

Communities of Performance
• the leaders appear sorted
• the community appears respectable
• meetings must be a polished performance
• identity is found in ministry
• failure is devastating
• actions are driven by duty
• conflict is suppressed or ignored
• the focus is on orthodoxy and behaviour (allowing people to think they’re sorted)

Communities of Grace
• the leaders are vulnerable
• the community is messy
• meetings are just one part of community life
• identity is found in Christ
• failure is disappointing, but not devastating
• actions are driven by joy
• conflict is addressed in the open
• the focus is on the affections of the heart (with a strong view of sin and grace)

How do communities of performance impede mission?

Communities of Performance
• talk about grace, but communicate legalism
• unbelievers can’t imagine themselves as Christians
• don’t attract broken people
• the world is seen as threatening and ‘other’
• conversion is superficial (people are called to respectable behaviour)
• people are secretly hurting
• people see faith and repentance as actions that took place at conversion
• the gospel is for unbelievers

Communities of Grace
• people can see grace in action
• unbelievers feel like they can belong
• attract broken people
• people are loved as fellow-sinners in need of grace
• conversion is radical (people are called to transformed affections)
• people are open about their problems
• people see faith and repentance as daily activities
• the gospel is for both unbelievers and believers

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, all struggling, all doubting at a functional level. But grace also affirms that in Christ we all belong, all make the grade, all are welcome, all are Christians (there are no lesser Christians).

Interesting and challenging stuff. So how are we doing? How can we more a community of grace?

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