Dear GCI Family and Friends,
The phrase “High Support, High Challenge – Grace Always” is the ministry philosophy of Grace Communion International. We have a sign in the presidential suite to remind us of this every day.
I would like to unpack this philosophy to help you better understand the depth of its meaning. Let’s begin with the inspiring words that the apostle Paul wrote to the church in Ephesus. His letter begins by focusing on the God revealed in Jesus and who we are as adopted sons and daughters. Then he continues with the theme of how we come alive in Christ and what the community of the church will look like. He says in chapter 4:15, “Speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ.”
It is Christ in us that forms the maturity and provides the ability to speak the truth in love. I think we all know that truth often brings challenge, and if the truth is given out of frustration or anger, it tends to engender frustration and anger in the person being challenged. Christ’s love in us gives us the ability to whole-heartedly love God and our neighbor. Love for our neighbor is having his or her good in mind. Therefore, we bring challenge to our neighbor with their good in mind, and ultimately any challenge we raise is seasoned with grace and humility. This most often means it is done privately, with sensitivity and respect.
The interaction of Jesus with Simon Peter over the span of less than a week is the apex of High Support, High Challenge – Grace Always. You will recall that Peter was the one disciple who identified Jesus as the true Messiah, the Son of the living God, and Jesus told him that his Father in heaven had revealed that truth to him (Matthew 16:13-17). Moving forward in the story you will recall on the evening of the Last Supper that Peter pledged his allegiance to Jesus even unto death.
Then Jesus told them, “This very night you will all fall away on account of me, for it is written: ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’ But after I have risen, I will go ahead of you into Galilee.”
Peter replied, “Even if all fall away on account of you, I never will.”
“Truly I tell you,” Jesus answered, “this very night, before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times.”
But Peter declared, “Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you.” And all the other disciples said the same. (Matthew 26:31-35)
The rest of the story is that after Jesus was arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane, Peter followed at a distance to the courtyard of Caiaphas the High Priest, and it was there he was confronted three times and all three times he denied Jesus. Matthew’s gospel says he went outside and wept bitterly (Matthew 26:75). How much pain and sense of failure did Peter experience?
Even after Jesus was resurrected and had appeared to the disciples, Peter decided to return to his nets. Going back to the fishing trade seemed his only option, since denying Jesus in such grand fashion was the ultimate ministry washout. It is on the beach of the Sea of Galilee where Jesus graces Peter.
When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?”
“Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.”
Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.”
Again Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”
He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”
Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.”
The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”
Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.”
Jesus said, “Feed my sheep.” (John 21:15-17)
Thrice Peter denied Jesus and now thrice Jesus restores Peter. Peter is humbled by the truth that his love for Jesus is not superior to that of his fellow disciples. Do you sense the grace of Jesus in the fact that he never once talks about the three denials, and he simply reaffirms Peter’s calling to care for the church that will be formed on the coming Pentecost? Peter was smarting under these three confrontations of Jesus, and yet he was simultaneously being healed and restored. Peter could finally leave his nets for good and be the “Under-Shepherd” that Jesus had made him to be.
Love is the driving force behind high support and high challenge. It is through the love of Jesus that we can be honest and challenging with one another. It is by the power and presence of Jesus that GCI can and will live out our philosophy. Just as the sign in the office is a reminder to me, may you also think about our High Support, High Challenge, Grace Always philosophy daily as we march forward as a global church family.
Did I hear a chorus of all of us shouting together, “High Support, High Challenge – Grace Always?”