I was talking this Sunday with some of my friends who happen to volunteer on our Guest Services team at church. We were talking about life and friendships, and eventually, we came to talk about some of the worst people we knew...Christians. Specifically, long-time Christians or people graduating from seminary.
I didn't grow up in church, and when I did eventually stumble my way into one as an adult, I was met with judgmental and harsh Bible thumpers. My friends had grown up in a religious context, and when they started to stray and make decisions against their faith, the people around them who loved them most treated them the worst.
The interesting conclusion we made is that when we read the New Testament, Jesus never shied away from the truth. He told the woman caught in adultery that she was living in sin, he called out Peter for trying to prevent him from accomplishing his task, and he even points out that the crowds are really superficial for looking for miracles rather than a savior. These are all true, and Jesus never side-stepped an uncomfortable conversation, but he always did it within the guidelines of relationship and love.
Many churches use the tagline "grace and truth," but many Christians forget that grace comes before truth. When Jesus told the woman that she was living in sin, he had already broken several Jewish codes of conduct to even speak to her. When Jesus called Peter Satan for getting in his way, it was years into a discipleship process. Even the crowds who were only after a free miracle meal were people he pitied. He calls them "harassed and helpless like sheep without a shepherd."
As my friends and I talked around the information booth in our church, we were struck by how many seminary graduates lost sight of that. They got so caught up in being Christian that they forgot how to be like Christ. For them, it was all about truth. They had to call out sin and preach repentance, even if it cost the relationship. In fact, they almost wore it like a badge of honor when someone rejected them "for the gospel."
But they missed the fact that it wasn't the gospel they were rejecting. It was just the messenger. And I think that is where we could all use a little help because people grow slower than we want them to. We want them to recognize the truth and change their ways, but more often than not, people need to know they are loved and cared about before they will accept any advice on how to live.
Because it's not grace and truth. It's grace, then truth.