Would You or Your Church Do This? Graceless

In his book, The Good and Beautiful Community, James Bryan Smith tells of how he was asked to speak at a conference on spiritual formation. Many key denominational leaders would be present. He says:

“As I flew to the meeting my excitment increased. I met a dear man at the baggage claim area who drove me to the hotel where our daylong workshop was held. I went into the ballroom with my briefcase in hand, eager to begin teaching. The room was filled with over sixty key leaders from around the United States. If these men can get a passion for this, their whole church could catch a new fire, I thought to myself. One of the leaders of the denomination introduced me, and I stepped to the podium with energy. I shared a funny story, and the room seemed to relax. Then I launched into my main discussion and made the following statement: ‘God has offered us many different means of grace–prayer, solitude, silence, the Bible, fasting and many others–in order to deepen our relationship with God, and to develop the character of Christ so that we can live vibrant lives with God and make a difference in our world.’

This was my well-crafted opening. It was also the end of my rapport with this audience. I later learned that they ardently and fervently believe that God has given the church only two means of grace–baptism and Communion. All of the activities I mentioned (prayer, Bible reading, solitude) are not considered means of grace. My tradition (Methodism), and all of the others I had ever spoken to, freely uses that term to describe those activities. But I had never been informed about their position on the issue. All I knew was that the audience was quickly going from concerned to hostile.

I had almost no eye contact within a minute of that opening sentence. Within fifteen minutes I saw heads shaking in disagreement. Thirty minutes into the talk a man actually stood up, turned his chair around, and sat with his back turned to me. He could have actually left the room (three men did that at about the forty-five minute mark), but he wanted to make a public proclamation of his disgust. I had violated a sacred principle; I had unknowningly taken a theological position that was contrary to theirs. I was wrong, in their eyes, about the use of a phrase, and they needed to shame me publicly.”

Smith goes on to say that he took a break and then was asked not continue the conference. He flew home immediately.

Sadly, I know of churches and denominations and people who would do the same.

1 thought on “Would You or Your Church Do This? Graceless

  1. I get that these particular people did not demonstrate grace in this instance (which is the point you’re making), but the speaker made a key mistake: he didn’t know his audience. If you’re going to speak to a group and you want to influence them, you have to know who you’re talking to. The nuances that separate the denominations are often subtle, but they aren’t difficult to discover. I would bet that a small amount of research would have revealed to him the information he needed in order to know how to come alongside them and lead them forward instead of blindly offending them.

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