Editorial: Extending grace in the uncertainty of getting back together

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Pastors and ministry leaders are discussing when and how to get back together in person. Some have been in the thick of those discussions for a couple of weeks. Others are stepping up to them as I write.

When should churches re-gather?
How should churches re-gather?
And what if we get it wrong?

Those are the big questions pastors and church leaders are wrestling with right now.

If only we knew the answer to just one of those questions. If only.

But we don’t. None of us do. Not with certainty. And because we don’t, we need to extend grace to each other.

What does ‘grace’ mean?

Grace is a nice word, but what does it mean?

Biblically speaking, grace is favor God gives to us. Grace is not something we earn, manufacture or will.

In the book of Ezra, we learn God demonstrated this favor, this grace, by not wiping Israel out totally, but by leaving a remnant. God knew that smaller group of people was just as susceptible as the whole nation to turning away, and yet God didn’t give up on them.

Another way of phrasing how God’s grace appears in the Old Testament is that God will not give up being Israel’s God, no matter what Israel does. That’s God’s choice, promise and commitment.

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Grace features prominently in Paul’s writings in the New Testament. In them, we see God’s grace is linked inextricably to Jesus Christ, salvation and the Holy Spirit, who lives in and empowers followers of Jesus. Paul teaches us grace is tied to new life in Christ and is abundant. Here again, grace is what God gives; we don’t earn it.

To extend grace to one another means we will reflect God by allowing each other room to make mistakes, to not be perfect. It means we will not give up being brothers and sisters in Christ, as demonstrated by our words about and care for each other.

Who needs our grace?

Churches plan to re-gather in person at different times and under different circumstances. Each church needs to be able to determine for itself what is best without every other church putting it under the microscope.

One church will appear to be rushing things, while another church will appear to be taking its sweet time. Both churches may be wrong, and they both may be right. We can extend grace to each other by withholding our judgment, by not proclaiming one rash and the other cowardly.

The church across town may be doing what we wish our church was doing or vice versa. We can extend grace by not suggesting our church and pastor are so much smarter, braver and closer to Jesus than others.

Your pastor and church leaders are taking these questions very seriously. They don’t want to endanger anyone. They don’t want to be irresponsible. They don’t want to be wrong or make a mistake. And they don’t want to be the “church scattered” any more than you do.

On a good day, your pastor and ministry leaders carry significant burden for you and the leadership to which God has called them. On a good day, they can lose sleep. These aren’t the worst days, but they aren’t the best days either.

Your pastor and church leaders don’t know any more than you and I do when is the right time. They also don’t know how far to relax restrictions or how quickly. We can cut them some slack. We can be patient with them. We can accept that, like us, they will make a mistake. And we can be thankful they are doing their best.

And it wouldn’t hurt for us to tell them that.

Eric Black is the executive director, publisher and editor of the Baptist Standard. He can be reached at eric.black@baptiststandard.com or on Twitter at @EricBlackBSP. The views expressed are those solely of the author.

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