Christianity 201

February 15, 2012

Tim Chester: Communities of Performance versus Communities of Grace

Tucked away in the November, 2008 archives of Timothy Chester’s blog is a fascinating distinction between two types of Christian community. He writes:

In performance-oriented churches people pretend to be okay because their standing within the church depends on it. A ‘sorted’ person is seen as the standard or the norm, and anyone who is struggling is seen as sub-standard or sub-Christian. In this kind of environment to acknowledge that you’re struggling with sin is difficult and distressing.But this is the opposite of grace. Grace acknowledges that we are all sinners, we are all messed up people, all struggling, all doubting at a functional level. But grace also affirms that in Christ we all belong, all make the grade, all are welcome, all are Christians (there are no lesser Christians).

Imagine such a church for a moment:

  • Here is Andrew: he sometimes uses po rn because he struggles to find refuge in God.
  • Here’s Pauline: she sometimes has panic attacks because she struggles to believe in the care of her heavenly Father.
  • Here’s Abdul: he sometimes looses his temper because he struggles to believe that God is in control.
  • Here’s Georgina: she sometimes has bouts of depression because she struggles to believe God’s grace.
Communities of Performance Communities of Grace
*the leaders appear sorted *the leaders are vulnerable
*the community appears respectable *the community is messy
*meetings must be a polished performance *meetings are just one part of community life
*identity is found in ministry *identity is found in Christ
*failure is devastating *failure is disappointing, but not devastating
*actions are driven by duty *actions are driven by joy
*conflict is suppressed or ignored *conflict is addressed in the open
*the focus is on orthodoxy and behaviour (allowing people to think they’re sorted) *the focus is on the affections of the heart (with a strong view of sin and grace)

When they [Abdul, Paulina, Georgina and Andrew]  come together they accept one another and celebrate God’s grace towards each other. They rejoice that they are all children of God through the work of Christ. And they remind one another of the truths each of them needs to keep going and to change. It’s a community of grace, a community of hope, a community of change.

In a later post, Chester noted that communities of performance impede mission; that is to say they prevent real ministry from taking place:

Communities of Performance Communities of Grace
*talk about grace, but communicate legalism *people can see grace in action
*unbelievers can’t imagine themselves as Christians *unbelievers feel like they can belong
*don’t attract broken people *attract broken people
*the world is seen as threatening and ‘other’ *people are loved as fellow-sinners in need of grace
*conversion is superficial (people are called to respectable behaviour) *conversion is radical (people are called to transformed affections)
*people are secretly hurting *people are open about their problems
*people see faith and repentance as actions that took place at conversion *people see faith and repentance as daily activities
*the gospel is for unbelievers *the gospel is for both unbelievers and believers