How do we create a culture of grace? What fosters a community of acceptance and flexibility where people can relax and be themselves? So many of us want that kind of connection so why is it so elusive? As I’ve thought about that, I’ve noticed some gaps and misconceptions that may be undermining our best intentions.

Clarifying what acceptance means

I have seen many Christian organizations and churches over my lifetime. When it comes to how we treat one another, sometimes we seem to have lower standards than secular organizations. Why is that?

I think that part of the problem is a misunderstanding of just what we should accept. If someone is harsh, we think we should “accept and ignore,” but that puts the focus of our acceptance on the person who was unkind and neglects the one who was hurt.

When I worked in a secular company, we all knew that if any of the staff treated someone badly, the manager would call them in and gently (but firmly) insist, “We don’t do that here.”

As leaders we have a responsibility to take the necessary risks to create a safe environment. A shepherd protects the sheep from both outside predators and from other sheep.

Learning to honour

Once that foundation is laid, we need to move beyond being safe to actually being nurturing. Ephesians 4:16 says the body “builds itself up in love.”

I am starting to learn how much grace is connected to honour.If we want to have a community of grace, we need to develop a culture of honour.

I suppose my first clue should have been the word grace. A gracious person speaks well of others; they are gentle and diplomatic. Ouch. I have spent a lifetime trying to become diplomatic.

My difficulty didn’t come from a lack of examples. My mother-in-law was a great model of graciousness. We used to go shopping together. One time I came out of the change room and asked her, “Is this skirt too long?” She replied, “Well . . . it’s not any too short.” That’s diplomacy.

Speech that honors

One day I discovered another misconception I held. Somewhere along the way I had accepted the idea that it is harmless to “blow off a little steam,” especially if you just tell your spouse or perhaps someone who already knows about the issue.

But the Bible tells us that a careless tongue starts fires – not blows them out (James 3:5,6). Think how much larger the problem becomes if your criticism gets back to the person. Your feelings may have been very temporary (and influenced by other unrelated events of the day). However, your unfiltered remarks may have created long- lasting perceptions in your listener.

I once heard about a church that called a 30-day fast of criticism. It was much more difficult than they expected. We don’t feel the power of our addictions until we begin to fight them. It’s worth the struggle though, because a new quality of community is waiting for us.