#4: Accept responsibility for mistakes, learn from them, and in all things, let grace abound. Christians aren’t perfect; they are forgiven. So making mistakes is not the worst thing that can happen. Besides, we often learn the most from our failures. In the end, and in the beginning, it is about God’s grace, not our achievements. Cut others some slack. While you’re at it, cut yourself some, too.
—Anthony B. Robinson
As Christians, forgiveness ought to be part of our DNA. One of the most striking images from our entire faith tradition is Jesus, hanging on the cross, and asking God to forgive the very people who put him there. “Father, forgive them. They don’t know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34) With this profound act of grace, Jesus set an example for us that leaves little room for argument.
Still, in practice, Christians can nurse a grudge as well as any of those who would never darken the door of a church. Our behaviors do not always live up to our ideals; which is, ironically, a good illustration of our need for forgiveness all by itself.
In talking about what makes for an effective church, forgiveness might not be the first thing that comes to mind. But consider the alternative, which Robinson, again, spells out by contrasting it with what Ineffective churches tend to do.
Ineffective churches blame early and often. Maintaining dysfunction in a congregation is made easier if scapegoats are regularly identified. In some congregations, ministers make wonderful scapegoats. You may also blame ‘newcomers,’ or ‘people who don’t understand how we do things in this church.’ If all else fails, blame the Conference, the denomination, or Satan.”
Having been scapegoated on several occasions myself, I can readily testify to the damage done when church people begin playing the blame game. It’s an easy habit to fall into, especially in times when the future we worry about is less appealing than the past we remember fondly. However, assigning blame never really contributes to fixing things that need fixing.
A better way forward is to remember that we are all human, that we reduce the damage of our mistakes when we face up to them honestly, and that regardless of who may have made the mistake this time, we will all need forgiveness at some point. Practicing an attitude of genuine humility––trying to avoid becoming self-righteous––is a great way to follow the example of the one who said, “Father, forgive them.” Much of the time we truly don’t know what we are doing. But it can help to keep our eyes on our mission. As a Christian community, we are called to practice the grace that we are often preaching.
Yours in Grace,