Church culture can be harsh as many of us have experienced. It can also be very loving and gracious where it is intentionally fostered as what God desires for His family. Healthy churches reflect the character and graciousness of Jesus while unhealthy churches reflect characteristics of our lower natures such as legalism, infighting, unforgiveness, power plays and harsh judgments of others and personal agendas.
The character and spiritual commitments of the leaders of a church will largely determine whether the culture is healthy or unhealthy. Here are some of the marks of a gracious church that reflects the character of Jesus.
Just like some individuals exude grace and acceptance so do gracious churches. One feels accepted and loved no matter who you are or what your circumstance. There is no sense of judgement or criticism for those who come. It is a safe place to be who you are and to share your journey. There is no pretense, just grace. You feel at home!
Relationships are healthy
Gracious churches put a premium on healthy relationships. Space is given for differences, conflict is quickly resolved, words are healing rather than hurtful, disagreements are agreeable rather than conflictual and forgiveness is fast and regular. There is not a culture of gossip but one of acceptance and love. In gracious churches we seek to see people as Jesus sees them and love them as Jesus loves them.
Jesus is always lifted high
The secret of gracious churches is that their model is always Jesus. When we pursue our own agendas we create conflict but when we pursue the character and presence of Jesus we get peace and grace. When Jesus is central our own agendas are put aside while when we are central Jesus is put aside. Gracious churches keep Jesus central all the time.
The Gospel is central to everything
We often forget that the Gospel is Good News. Gracious churches major on the Gospel: forgiveness, redemption, healing, transformation and regeneration. The Gospel is the hope that we have to see our lives become like Jesus and gracious churches communicate that all the time.
Hope is communicated all the time
What did Jesus bring and what does the Gospel promise? Hope for the hurting; hope that we can change and become like Jesus; hope for our futures; hope for relational discord; hope for my own sin and dysfunctions. The Gospel is all about hope because it is about the transforming power of Jesus and the Holy Spirit's work in our lives. The world brings fear while the Gospel brings hope.
Truth and grace are inseparable
It is amazing how harsh truth can be communicated compared to the way that Jesus shared truth with amazing grace. The truth about our human condition is not always nice to hear and there are sharp differences between followership of Jesus and the pull of our lower nature but gracious churches, like Jesus, communicate truth with grace. The gospel calls us to a life with Jesus and radical life change but it does so with love and grace. Think of how gracious Jesus is with our sin and issues. Gracious churches woo people toward God and allow the Holy Spirit to do its work as we encourage people in their spiritual pilgrimage.
Spiritual transformation is the goal
None of this is possible without the goal of helping people become more like Jesus and that is what gracious churches do. They help people discover and live in grace, think like Jesus, align their life priorities with His and see people and love people as Jesus sees them and loves them. In fact it is this emphasis on transformation that makes a church gracious because people start to look and act like Jesus. He is the magnet of a gracious church as His people reflect Him. And that makes it a wonderful family to be a part of.
TJ Addington (Addington Consulting) has a passion to help individuals and organizations maximize their impact and go to the next level of effectiveness. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
"Creating cultures of organizational excellence."