We let nonbelievers serve in as many roles as possible. Sometimes too many. But we don’t let ’em serve everywhere. They accuse us of being inconsistent. We agree. We allow people to serve in the parking lot that we won’t allow to volunteer in children’s ministries. That’s confusing. We allow musicians to play on stage who we would not allow to lead worship. We allow people who are not ordained to baptize. We let women baptize. I’m not comfortable with that. I let ’em do it anyway.
We confront sin. We do church discipline. It always takes people by surprise. On occasion, we ask people not to attend a particular campus. On some occasions, we ask people not to attend any of them. They assure us there are individuals with worse sins whom we’ve not asked to leave. We agree and ask ’em to leave anyway. For a time.
I give people permission to filter out the “Jesus” parts of my messages. Consequently, Jewish attendees often bring friends. They refer to me as a good motivational speaker. I’m fine with that. A Muslim attendee tweeted that he hums through the Jesus parts of my messages. I retweeted him. I preach hard against greed and sexual sin. I tell the men in our church to erase songs from their playlists that refer to women as bitches or whores. I told ’em that on Mother’s Day. Once every few years, I preach on Jesus’ view of divorce and remarriage. It’s extreme. Nobody agrees with my interpretation of the text. Including most of our staff. I remind all the remarried people that they committed adultery when they remarried. People get upset. Then they purchase the CD to give their kids when they are old enough to get married. But we allow remarried couples to lead at every level in the organization.
We do virtually no charity work directly through our churches. Instead we find the “superstars” in our communities and support them with financial resources and volunteers. We encourage our people to give directly to those organizations. This builds incredible goodwill in our communities. We support non-Christian charities led by non-Christians. Giving church money to non-church related charities seems strange to some people. But we’re okay with that. At the same time, we are usually in the top two or three churches in the country to support Operation Christmas Child.
Our doctrinal statement is conservative. Our approach to ministry is not. You have to allow us to video record a three-minute version of your story to be shown on Sunday morning in order to be baptized. No video, no baptism. We don’t have any verses to support that. It keeps the baptism numbers low. But baptism is central to our worship and arguably our most powerful evangelism tool.
You can join our church online without talking to a real person. We don’t have guest parking. We have reserved parking for parents with preschoolers. I don’t have a reserved parking spot. And I don’t have a bathroom attached to my office. Not sure what that has to do with grace and truth. Just thought you should know.
We save seats in the front for people who arrive late. It bugs the people who get there early when they can’t get the best seats. Doesn’t seem fair. It’s not. We are okay with that.
I try to read all the critical email and letters. I don’t learn much from people who agree with me. I call the most critical people. They are always surprised. Most of the time, I understand their concerns. Heck, a lot of the time I share their concerns! I remind ’em we are still learning. I assure them that not only are we inconsistent and unfair, but that we will continue to be, and that we would love for them to join us. They usually do.
These are just a few examples of our attempts to extend grace while carpet bombing our community with truth. We believe the church is most appealing when the message of grace is most apparent. We are equally as convinced that God’s grace is only as visible as God’s truth is clear. It is pointless to tell me I’m forgiven if I’m not sure why I need forgiveness in the first place. That’s the beauty of grace and truth. They complement. They are both necessary. They are not part of a continuum. They are not opposite ends of a pole. They are the two essential ingredients. Without massive doses of both, you won’t have a healthy gathering.
Now, if the idea of embracing the mess is uncomfortable for you, remember this: Either you were a mess, are a mess, or are one dumb decision away from becoming a mess. And when you were your messiest version of you, you weren’t looking for a policy, were you? You needed somebody to take you just as you were. That’s what Jesus did for me. That’s what Jesus did and will do for you. That being the case, it seems to me that’s what we should be about as the local church.
At this point, you may have more questions than answers. I understand that. So here’s something that should encourage you. The book of Acts, along with Paul’s epistles, reflects the real-world drama associated with local churches built on a foundation of grace and truth. If you opt for a grace-and-truth approach for your local church, the New Testament is going to open up to you in ways you never imagined. Paul’s epistles in particular reflect the challenges any local church will face when the uncompromising truth of God is presented within a community characterized by grace. Not to be outdone, Luke provides us with a ringside seat at the very first church business meeting. The reason for the meeting was an incident that took place in Antioch. Seems there had been a head-on collision between God’s grace and God’s truth. Nobody knew exactly how to handle this one. So they brought it to the experts.
This excerpt is taken from Deep & Wide: Creating Churches Unchurched People Love to Attend by Andy Stanley. Copyright © 2012 by Andy Stanley. Used by permission of Zondervan.
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