One of the greatest enemies to a spirit of grace in a church is criticism—from within or without. Our carnal nature is easily drawn into defending and taking sides, but doing so breeds a spirit of defensiveness and cynicism within a church.
As a young pastor, I observed churches that had a tendency to become heavily involved (and even defined by) current issues of dispute between various Christian leaders. These were not issues of doctrine or principle, but merely disagreements and personal grievances. I determined that I didn’t want Lancaster Baptist Church to become critical of other ministries or cynical of other Bible believing churches.
Over the years, I’ve asked the Lord to help me emphasize His grace in our ministry. Following are five guidelines to help pastors develop a spirit of grace in the church:
1. Seek the filling of the Holy Spirit as a pastor.
Much of the criticism we hear is fleshly. It often boils down to personalities or preferences and is born out of envy or pride (James 3:14–18). When we are filled with the Holy Spirit, we will not engage in this kind of fleshly strife.
This point is crucial, because the spirit of a church is often a reflection of the spirit of the pastor. If a pastor is continually engaging in divisive bickering, his people will be drawn into it as well.
2. Avoid crudeness in the pulpit.
A pastor’s speech should model grace before the church family. Colossians 4:6 instructs, “Let your speech be alway with grace, seasoned with salt, that ye may know how ye ought to answer every man.” Like salt, our speech should be a savory preservant, strengthening hearts for God and motivating spiritual appetites for growth.
3. Don’t retaliate when you are attacked.
Retaliation establishes “sides” and promotes the church family to take up an offense. When attacked, we should follow the example of Christ, “Who, when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not; but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously” (1 Peter 2:23).
4. Forgive when you are mistreated.
Forgiveness is a necessity—not an option—for a spiritual Christian. Matthew 5:44 commands us to forgive and to even invest in those who mistreat us: “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, And persecute you.”
5. Don’t bring ministerial battles to your pulpit.
Our people have enough burdens of their own. They do not need to be burdened by fleshly pettiness that does nothing to strengthen their spiritual growth. My goal is to encourage, not discourage, my church family. I want to help bear their burdens in prayer and through preaching God’s truth. I want to strengthen their hands and their hearts in the work of the Lord.
Jesus’ ministry was distinctive in its grace. Luke 4:22 records, “And all bare him witness, and wondered at the gracious words which proceeded out of his mouth.” Although Christ unflinchingly proclaimed truth, He also loved people. May we minister to others with the grace of Christ!