Full of Grace and Truth
Why pastoral leadership needs both
Every ministry will have ups and downs. We rejoice in successes and trudge through the hardships. But the most difficult job any pastor has is dealing with a fellow minister who falls, especially one under his or her care. Confronting sin and caring about each person like Jesus did is absolutely essential.
If we are going to do ministry like Jesus did ministry, we need to understand the Incarnation properly. That entire concept is so rich and so important, but I believe it hinges on one verse: “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14).
The last part of that verse should be where every pastor sets the bar. Are you ministering in a way that is full of grace and truth? You may ask, “Is truth more important, or is grace more important?” The answer is both. It’s like asking, “Which is more important: the right or left wing of an airplane?” If you don’t have both, I’m not going to trust you enough to get on the plane.
We don’t need pastors who say, “Well, I’m a grace pastor. That’s how I operate.” Or on the other side say, “I minister in truth; I’ll let others handle the grace.” We must have both, operating simultaneously and to the full.
I think we all understand the concepts of “grace” and “truth.” What I think is more difficult for us to grasp is how they work together. You need to know that Jesus was not half grace and half truth. He was full of both.
Grace and Truth From the Beginning
Before I got saved, I had two college football teammates who were preachers’ kids. They both told me about Jesus. The first teammate was all about the truth. He would say, “Glen, you’re going to hell, and you need to straighten your life out. You need to ask God to forgive your sins.” He was telling me the truth, but I didn’t really receive it. Why? Because he didn’t share it with grace. It was condemning, and who was he to judge me?
But the other teammate told me the same truth, with grace. He explained my purpose and told me my life has meaning. The bottom line is, he would speak truth with tears in his eyes. He shared hard words, wrapped in compassion.
Who wants to hear truth spoken in judgment? To a stubborn and prideful person, truth without grace comes across as cold and callous. Tell people the truth. People who are hurting need someone who cares about their pain, about their soul, and about their life. The truth may not feel good, but it’s good for them. But they will only receive it when you tell it with grace.
When I did get saved, I thought, I don’t want to be like that first teammate. I want to be like the second one, who told me the truth but also told me he cared. That’s the kind of Christian I’ve wanted to be, and that’s the type of pastor I’ve attempted to be as well.
Confronting and Caring
Some pastors lean in to confrontation and correcting and figure someone else can pull the slack on the grace side. Others go to the opposite extreme. They just want to show love, forgetting that sometimes it needs to be tough love.
Instead of trying to be one or the other, pastors need to do both. In a lot of ways, it’s like raising a child. If you are a parent who lavishes nothing but grace on your children, I would ask you, “How do you raise your children without speaking truth?” I don’t know whether you can raise a child just on grace, or whether you can raise a child just on truth with no love. Because even little children respond better to truth when we follow it with affirmation and affection.
Jesus was personal with His disciples, and it showed. Peter denied Jesus, and Jesus extended grace to him and loved on him. Why was that? Because Peter was broken. Peter was not prideful when Jesus approached him that last time. Jesus went ahead and spoke to him out of grace, not correcting him, because Peter already knew he was wrong.
Everything Jesus spoke was true, but it was full of grace as well. Whenever I’m in a difficult ministry position in pastoring, I have to forget about everything I would feel and ask, What would Jesus do in this situation? When people are broken, when they understand what they’ve done and are truly repentant, who are we to keep reminding them of their faults? We’re here to restore them, to bring them back to health.
Pastors may have a hard time setting grace and truth into motion, taking on that responsibility. But it’s a calling on your life. It’s not just about the rewards but the discipline as well. You’re the leader of the church. Everything really falls upon you. The way you lead and the way you discipline sets a tone and an atmosphere throughout your entire ministry.
If you see a cancer in the midst of your church, as a pastor it’s up to you to address it. Do you have the backbone to go ahead and remove it? If you do what’s right, with the right spirit — not trying to destroy people in their errors but seeking to restore them — you are leading toward health instead of letting the devil have his way.
Creating a Culture of Grace and Truth
As a pastor, you will deal with sin, mistakes, messes and brokenness. Your staff will not be immune to the attacks of the devil, either. So, you need to be ready to deal with these situations when they arise. How do you handle ministerial restoration from a position of grace and truth? There are five practices I try to follow.
Truth can cut away sin from people’s lives as a surgeon removes a tumor, while grace is the bandage that wraps the incision site.
1. Willingness to take ownership. When something goes wrong, I must first check to see whether it was my fault. This is a matter of self-reflection. When a person causes a problem, acts in disobedience, or simply drops the ball, did I equip that person as much as he or she needed to do that position? Or did I just throw that person out there?
Too often we’ve not taught our people. We’ve put them in a position before they were ready. We may even be sending them out to fail. As a senior pastor, it is my responsibility to train people to do the work of ministry.
2. Honesty in personal struggles. Showing grace and truth also requires a level of authenticity on my part. I cannot be afraid to share my own struggles. My authenticity will open the door for others to reveal their struggles to me or someone else.
3. Open communication. Your staff needs to know they can trust you and confide in you without fear of punishment. I’ve heard from staff members of other churches who told their pastor, “I want you to pray for me because I feel like God may be moving me to another level of ministry, maybe to another church.” The pastor responded by firing them. That’s not open communication, and it’s definitely not grace and truth. It’s fear and punishment.
4. Accountability. When we have a ministerial failure on our staff, we get together in a staff meeting and discuss it. That person will have a chance to admit the wrongdoing and show repentance. And I’ll assign to that person a couple of my pastors, usually older pastors. I’ll say, “You are now accountable to them. If you don’t feel you can come to me, you can go to them and talk.”
5. Sabbath. This is a big part of how we shape a culture of grace and truth. People who are overworked often forget to extend grace to themselves. They have goals they’re striving toward. They feel driven to accomplish them, because they believe there will be judgment if they don’t. So, I’ll step in and say, “You’ve been working hard enough. You need a break. Take a day off. Go on a vacation.”
A sabbath’s rest will provide balance, keeping them anchored in both grace and truth.
Where Grace and Truth Can Take Us
Over the years, God has given me opportunity to see restoration. I’ve seen it with ministers on our staff who have messed up, made some bad mistakes, and fallen into sin. And I’ve also been a part of bringing ministers through restoration who fell while on staff at other churches.
That whole process teaches you something about the grace and truth Jesus exhibited. And when you operate in those things — not one at a time, or one and not the other — you will experience what it means to truly follow our Lord.
I recall one instance where a pastor on our staff committed adultery. He came into our staff meeting, crying, and said, “I’ve sinned. I’ve just sinned.”
I let him talk to our staff, to admit his faults and repent of his sins. And when he finished talking, our whole staff got up and went over and hugged him. They stood around him, holding him up.
Now tell me what kind of restoration that is. The devil wants to beat you down and say, “Everybody’s going to hate you. Look at you. You think you’re something, but you can’t even practice what you preach. You’re useless! You’re done!”
But every person at that meeting said, “No, the devil is a liar. We love you, we are here for you, and we will help you through this.”
From the first day he admitted his sin, no one pushed him away or made him feel less than. We only loved him.
We have to understand that the devil is tormenting those who are caught in sin. And the biggest source of pain is the lie the devil is trying to convince them of: that they are worthless. But the truth is God still has a plan for them. So, grace wraps arms around them and loves them. The truth comes in when they repent, and the grace comes in when we accept them.
I will go out of my way with those people who have fallen, who have messed up, sinned and repented, because I know the devil is going out of his way to tear them down, call them names, and convince them they are beyond the reach of God’s grace. I’ll tell them that I still believe in them and that God is not done with them. This doesn’t mean there are no consequences for their actions or that they will continue to be a part of our staff. Especially when sexual sin is involved, our first concern is caring for any victims and keeping our congregation safe. But we are also in the business of restoring sinners to a right relationship with God, and that requires full measures of grace and truth.
Ministering in grace and truth means that we are not just correcting, but we are also healing. Truth can cut away sin from people’s lives as a surgeon removes a tumor, while grace is the bandage that wraps the incision site.
In 2 Timothy 4:2, Paul counseled Timothy on how to be a great pastor by telling him to “correct, rebuke and encourage.” When we see sin, we correct and rebuke it. We explain why it’s wrong, what it leads to, and how to avoid it. But we must also provide comfort and encouragement, healing their wounds with words of grace. If we stop short after correcting and rebuking, we only condemn. But when we also encourage, we are ministering fully like Jesus did.
Before I got saved, I had heard of Jesus and even read about Him in a book. But when I saw Jesus with my own eyes, through another young man who was willing to be grace and truth to me, I wanted to give my whole life to Him. I want to be that type of person. I want to show the world who Jesus is, not just by proclaiming words of truth but by living out grace through my life.
This article originally appeared in the November/December 2018 edition of Influence magazine.