Years ago, my kids set up a lemonade stand out on the sidewalk in front of our DC rowhouse. There’s a lot of foot traffic in our city and we know many neighbors. Our kids churned through the lemonade fast and made an embarrassing amount of money quickly.
Along the way, a few friends stopped as they walked by, not carrying cash, and we gladly gave them a small plastic cup of lemonade. We insisted that the kids had made plenty and we were glad to share with them, only to find that multiple people slid envelopes with spare change through our mail slot over the next few days. They just couldn’t accept even a small cup of cold lemonade. Grace is scandalizing.
Our churches can tell a better story, though. We can surprise people with grace. The beauty of church planting is that we get a chance to help shape the culture of a new church plant. Changing the culture of a long-existing church can be like turning an aircraft carrier around. But church planting gives much more freedom and agility.
The single most significant factor in cultivating a culture of grace is the ability of the pastor, the leaders, and the church to enjoy.
Enjoy One Another
There are a lot of “one anothers” in the New Testament. The church is a family, and like all families, we won’t enjoy each other all the time. If a year and a half of Covid-19 restrictions with three adolescents at home has taught our family anything, it’s that constant proximity is tough and closeness can increase friction. It’s been important for us to create opportunities to have fun together so we remember that we actually enjoy being around each other. Remembering that there is more than just the work that needs to get done will help cultivate a culture of grace in our churches. We need to foster that by creating opportunities to enjoy being together as a church family. The single most significant factor in cultivating a culture of grace is the ability of the pastor, the leaders, and the church to enjoy. Click To Tweet
Enjoy Being Generous
Every church planter expects their people to be generous and exhibit a posture of self-sacrificial generosity. That’s a good desire. It shows that the gospel has truly taken root in our lives when we live in contentment and our lives become conduits of God’s grace and generosity toward others. The same is true in our churches. If we operate out of a scarcity mindset, we shouldn’t be surprised to see it show up in our members and in our churches. There are all kinds of ways for us to be generous:
- Generous with finances – We invest in things that matter most. What does your budget show about the value you place on your people and on celebration? Acts 29 churches commit to invest at least 10 percent into church planting as a beautiful expression of gospel-driven generosity. That’s a great starting point, but don’t stop there!
- Generous with encouragement – Pastoral ministry is a tough calling and pastors often feel discouraged. It will cultivate a gracious culture if we are generous in encouraging others. The greater leadership you hold in a church, the more opportunity you have to set the tone in dishing out encouragement. It’s easy and free but takes intentionality.
- Generous in disagreement – A lot of us like and use the language of open-hand or closed-hand issues. That sounds great on paper but can become completely hijacked if the graciousness and generosity we claim are not grounded in reality as people come into a church community. Agreeing together on things is easy. The way we disagree will have a massive impact on shaping the graciousness of the culture of our churches.
- Generous in celebration –The gospel is a celebration, and the same Jesus who turned water into wine at the wedding celebration is the One we follow and whose kingdom we enjoy. If we are working out of pure duty or compulsion, a joyless bitterness will eventually take root and color everything we do. On the other hand, we have the opportunity to lead the way in celebrating God’s goodness and faithfulness, calling out the work God is doing in and through others, and get competitive in outdoing others in showing honor (Rom. 12:10).
- Generous toward your city – It’s telling to consider what a church is known for in its community. If our churches have bought into grace, it will be noticed in our cities. It’s like offering a cup of cold lemonade to a friend expecting nothing in return. People will see it. They might not know how to react, but they won’t be able to ignore it.
Enjoy Jesus’s Presence
This is the most important of all. When is the last time you enjoyed the presence of Jesus? Don’t let ministry steal your joy. Don’t let the need to produce content or a sermon steal your time sitting at the feet of Jesus. Don’t let meeting others’ needs in prayer keep you from turning to Jesus yourself in prayer. It’s not worth it. If you want to cultivate a culture of grace in your church, the most important thing you can do as a pastor, church planter, or ministry leader is to cultivate your own love for Jesus and enjoyment of his presence. Maybe, just maybe, the most important thing you can do right now is to step back and enjoy God’s grace. Click To Tweet
Cautionary tales that show the damage that a graceless church can do surround us right now. Even those of us who preach and proclaim the gospel can slide into a graceless culture. It doesn’t have to happen, though. While there are important drifts to guard against, we also need to be careful not to drift into paranoia or hypervigilance. Church planting and church leadership can be a grind, and it’s easy to get lost in the day-to-day and week-to-week demands. Maybe, just maybe, the most important thing you can do right now is to step back and enjoy God’s grace.