What Cheap Grace May Be Costing Your Organization

This is a guest post by Mary DeMuth. She is an author, speaker and book mentor. She has published ten books, including her most recent, 150 Quick Questions to Get Your Kids Talking. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook. If you want to guest post on this blog, check out the guidelines here.

Grace. It seems we’ve taken the marrow out of the word. We’ve Americanized it to mean that we can do anything we darn well please, invoke the grace card, and smile our way through our transgressions.

The Grace Card - Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/krystiannawrocki, Image #15418972

Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/krystiannawrocki

Why is it that we applaud Jesus offering grace to folks, but we miss how He threw a holy-hissy-fit in the temple, turning over tables? That’s not gracious—certainly not conciliatory. What kind of tyrannical boss would do that?

But what if grace is invoked to such an extent that innocents in the workplace (or even customers) are harmed? What if we extend so much grace to co-workers that they’re enabled to keep offending? Is that grace?

Once I poured my heart out to someone in leadership about an abusive tendency I saw in a coworker. My hope in doing so was to find some help for this person, but mostly, to be honest. I wanted to see the person removed from the situation so others wouldn’t be harmed.

The response from the leader? “This is part of the work, walking alongside them. Don’t give up.” In other words, offer “grace” and don’t confront. Let it keep happening to keep the peace.

I still get a stomachache thinking about that advice. Part of the work is to tolerate abusive co-workers? What about calling someone out on poor behavior? What kind of “grace” allows this behavior?

Dietrich Bonhoeffer calls it cheap grace:

Cheap grace is the grace we bestow on ourselves . . . the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, communion without confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship.”

As leaders, we are entrusted with people’s lives. We influence them by our example and our behavior. What does it say about us if we prefer our own likability to doing what is right? Why do we tend to gloss over deficiencies in someone’s behavior without pointing out what is offensive?

When we operate with cheap grace, it has five leadership consequences:

  1. We send the message that getting a task done is more important than integrity.
  2. We provide an unsafe or hostile work environment to those who are directly affected by the offender.
  3. We show our weakness and inability to confront, diminishing our credibility.
  4. We jeopardize morale.
  5. We give permission for others to be lax in workplace standards.

When we exercise costly grace, it also has five leadership consequences:

  1. People know exactly where we stand.
  2. Those who are victimized feel safe and protected.
  3. While it may be chaotic and painful to confront a co-worker strategically (and kindly), in the long run, we eliminate heartache.
  4. Breaking the peace of the status quo of today is our investment in the future health of our organization.
  5. We can look ourself in the mirror.

Cheap grace—the kind that allows for bad behavior to flourish unnoticed—is more expensive than you might think. It costs you, your employees, and your relationships. May it be that we dare to lovingly confront, hoping for confession and reconciliation as we do so.

Questions: Think now about a person in your organization who is continuing to violate your standards or hurt others. What holds you back from bringing his or her issues to light? What does it mean to you today to exercise costly grace? You can leave a comment by clicking here.
Want to launch your own blog or upgrade to self-hosted WordPress? Watch my free, twenty-minute screencast. I show you exactly how to do it. You don’t need any technical knowledge. Click here to get started.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are snarky, offensive, or off-topic. If in doubt, read My Comments Policy.

  • Susan Panzica

    Thank you Mary for opening this discussion. My husband and I have our own business and have had similar experience. Our goal is to balance loving the unlovely with speaking the truth in love. It is a comfort to know that when we confront such issues, He is there in the midst of us (Mt. 18:20).

    • Anonymous

      Yes, Matthew 18 is the way to go.

  • http://www.jdeddins.com JD Eddins

    Great posts that definitely challenges the avoidance tendency that many of us have. There have been times when I hesitate to call people out because I fear that it will open myself up to same. However, if I wait and get called out on my flaws and then try to same something the it appears that I am only reacting out of anger or embarrassment. It’s much better to go ahead and say what needs to be said, when it needs to be said.

    • Anonymous

      and to be the kind of person who is confrontable.

  • http://www.thequietquill.blogspot.com DJ Hughes

    Sometimes doing the popular thing and doing the right thing are two different things.

    Cheap grace is at the expense of truth. In leadership, we must uphold a standard of grace AND truth. Of course, only Jesus was the perfect fullness of both (John 1:14). But as Christ followers, we are to become more and more like Him; thus, we too must embody both grace and truth.

    • Anonymous

      Oh to live a balanced life of both!

  • http://twitter.com/jakemusselman Jacob Musselman

    What a day to have this post. It’s a great post about how we view grace and how we end up living those perceptions out in the rest of our lives.

    I’ve been thinking about this: Is only God great enough to extend grace that benefits both the individual and the whole simultaneously? If so, I probably lean more towards acting on behalf of the whole.

    • Anonymous

      That’s a good question. My hunch is that it is the whole does benefit when we deal kindly with the one who offends.

  • http://alyssaavant.com/blog Alyssa Avant

    From my experience this not only happens in the workplace, but sadly in some churches of today as well. The line “to keep the peace” stood out to me. It is sad that this is done in our churches today to be “politically correct” rather than to stand for TRUTH.

    • Anonymous

      Good point, Alyssa. And all in all, we must be tender in the way we confront.

  • http://theoldadam.wordpress.com/ Steve Martin

    Christians engage in bad behavior all the time.

    St. paul tells us that when the law came in, sin got worse!

    Announcing the free grace of Christ (the gospel) is the power of God (Romans 1:16)

    The Holy Spirit is more than capable of bringing about the kinds of people that He wants.

    Those that run roughshod over their neighbors, willy-nilly, haven’t heard the gospel.

  • http://infuse.posterous.com/ InSpirit

    an old term, ‘fear of man’…

  • http://www.transformationalleadershiphq.com Mighty

    I think that grace is almost always juxtaposed with judgment. We realize that we are given grace when we realize what we were spared from. And the transgressor needs to suffer the consequences of sin even though the sin is forgiven. But if grace is just given without thought of consequences, then we hurt ourselves and the ‘sinner,’ too.

  • http://twitter.com/michaellimas Michael Limas

    Mary – How do you define ‘Grace’?

    • Anonymous

      The Greek word is typically charis. Obviously, there’s the staid definition “unmerited favor.” But I’m approaching this subject with Bonhoeffer’s specific definition of cheap grace he delineated and defined (much better than I could) in The Cost of Discipleship.

  • http://twitter.com/mariachong mariachong

    Grace is brave. Love is active. Has our Westernized, feel-good Christianity removed courage from the qualifications of a leader?

    I can’t imagine Jesus saying, “Sigh. Mary, can’t we just put up with the devil and his minions? It will stir up too much trouble to us to oppose them. Think of how hard it’s going to be to fix this mess. Sigh.” Even with ordinary people, he’s ready to correct, rebuke and love (usually all three…even with his own disciples!).

    Jesus includes and excludes people from certain situations. He enters and then departs from cities. He participates and withdraws. Fear and anxiety about the reactions or expectations of others don’t play a part in his decisions. He is the perfect model of a kind but decisive master.

    The entire New Testament is sprinkled with phrases like, “Do not tolerate” “Get rid of” “There must not be” “Have nothing to do with” in addition to all of our wonderful passages of grace.

    Since when has faith in Christ become a car without a steering wheel or brakes?? Can it be true that the average high school football coach is more decisive and demands a high standard from their players than we do in the church and as Christian leaders? Say it ain’t so!!

    • Anonymous

      This is a blog post, Maria!

  • Dana Forbes

    An anemic theology contributes to the problem of cheap grace. When we emphasize one quality of God’s character over another, we lose our theological balance. For example, I have heard, “We can’t confront this person’s behavior because Christ is compassionate.” The problem is God’s compassion and holiness is inextricable connected (theological balance) and expressed through loving confrontation. I have found it’s more important how you confront than what you confront.

    Great post!

    • Anonymous

      Dana, I do believe you’ve nutshelled it.

  • BeverlyMChi

    I have been professionally effected by such a workplace and it has sent my career in a tailspin. I would love to send this article to my former employer. Thank you for this article because it gives me comfort to know that someone understands. I continue to pray for God’s next assignment for me. I long for the place where I can add my true value and realize my greatest potential for the glory of God.

    • Anonymous

      So sorry to hear about your experience. That must’ve been hard.

  • http://jennyrain.com JennyRain

    great post!

    • Anonymous

      Thank you, Jenny.

  • Pingback: Favourite Links Friday: 9 fantastic posts to check out! | Shooting the Breeze

  • Pingback: Week of Wisdom – what I’ve learned

  • http://www.jeffrandleman.com Jeff Randleman

    Thanks for the great reminder that we need to be executioners of costly grace in all that we do. I’m so thankful to have read this today.

  • Zoe

    So very true. My son (6) was in a class last year that had one teacher (1 day a week) who was borderline abusive to the students – constantly yelling, telling a student to shut up who was crying because his finger was crushed, ridiculing and deriding students in the name of ‘joking’ etc. I confronted her gently for I believed she did actually care for the students but needed to change her approach and speech, and her response was to ask for ‘grace’ – she was tired, unwell, didn’t mean to be so rude nor to yell at the children, it was just her way of joking.. the list was endless. In short, she was asking a group of 4, 5 and 6 year old students to show more grace than she was willing or able to show them. Fortunately it was resolved once I pointed this out to her and she apologized to the children involved and made changes. But I shudder to think how often this false grace is demanded and unfortunately given – by not accepting the excuse, and indulged, she was enabled to change and grow. And most importantly, those tender young souls were spared.

  • David Adeola

    This is a very much needed word at this time where the message of grace comes across as a License for misbehaving and God’s grace is available so I can do what I want…! Some don’t even want to read some parts of the Bible anymore! Paul warns in Hebrews 10:29 “Of how much worse punishment, do you suppose, will he be thought worthy who has trampled the Son of God underfoot, counted the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified a common thing, and insulted the Spirit of grace?” We need to continue to emphasize that it costs Jesus everything and let holiness be the hallmark of a true believer! Thank you!

  • http://www.convenientcalendar.com Convenient Calendar

    There is a misconception between grace and tollerance, Jesus had grace for the sinners for they know now what they did but he could not tolerate the money changers in the church, discernment is they key, if you are dealing with an unbeliever than the grace should be there, but if someone knows better and claims to know Christ etc than that would probably be tollerance in most cases, but not all.

  • Pingback: So, What Does It Matter? | Arise To Shine