My friend tells the story of a pastor who had a certain way with difficult people. You know: the kind of people who are whiny, needy, angry, insecure, volatile, vain, messy, picky, overbearing, ugly, no-fun, un-hip, clueless, or otherwise not-with-the-program. This pastor asked his staff to be patient with such people, and referred to these unfortunates as EGR: Extra Grace Required. The difficult people in the church needed extra grace.
The phrase Extra Grace Required stuck with me for days. I began to wonder: how much is the regular amount of grace? Is there a grace manual somewhere that details the proper amount of grace for each person? What about people afflicted with multiple shortcomings? (I qualify for several conditions listed above—but I’m not going to tell you which ones.)
(OK, it’s all of them.)
So here’s the first problem: the well-meaning pastor implies that grace is a tool in the pastoral tool-kit. Reach into ministerial bag and grab some ointment labeled ERG. Apply generously, as if grace is something dispensed from the Haves and given nobly to the Have-nots. As if grace is drug, and the minister is the pharmacist. But grace isn’t a salve to be applied; it’s a feast to be shared. We welcome others to the very table we enjoy, where together we revel in God’s bounty.
God gives grace. We share it.
Second: I imagine this pastor (yes, the one I never met, the one my friend told me about, the one I have turned into the object of my own creation) has read Ephesians 4:7, “But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift”, and decided that grace comes prepackaged from Heaven: small, medium, large, and EGR. Yet I pause at the phrase according to the measure of Christ’s gift and wonder how we measure the Lord’s gift—or even what that gift is, precisely. I wonder what size gift comes from an infinite God.
Finally, this pastor had it backwards: difficult people do not require extra grace, I do. The problem is not their requirement: it is my lack. When the depth of human need is beyond the limits of my patience and empathy, when the hurt and fear goes deeper than my ability to counsel it away, when I reach the boundaries of my Christlikeness, I am the one that needs the fuel of grace. I am the one who needs grace to listen to others without the urge to move on to the next patient. I am the one who needs to see Jesus in the face of each difficult, hurting person. I am the one who requires not “extra” grace, but the real thing, the true supernatural substance from Heaven: the grace of God. Ministry based upon my own resources will produce disciples that look like me, and that fearsome thought should be reason enough to cry out for grace to sustain me.
Extra Grace Required? Well, yes: for me.