What Is Grace? (Lessons Learned From The Borg*, Part 1)

borg

Many years ago my husband and I led a team of ten campus ministers at a particular university. We met together twice a week: once for prayer, and another for planning, problem-solving, evaluating, etc.

As can happen, a few of our team members (admittedly, myself included) had trouble arriving on time for our meetings. Desiring to instill a sense of professionalism—not to mention respect for others’ time—in our team members, we decided to enact a tardy policy: For every minute you were late to a meeting, you were required to contribute a quarter to “the pot.” At the end of the semester we would use the money to subsidize a team dinner to a nice restaurant. In essence, if you were perpetually late you would be buying dinner for everyone.

The policy really seemed to work…for most of us. But one team member in particular continued to struggle to arrive on time. While most of us occasionally threw a coin or two into the pot, she regularly laid down dollar bills in multiple denominations.

I met with her privately to discuss the issue. Our conversation did not go well. She expressed that because we were a Christian ministry, I shouldn’t hold her to a performance standard, but should always respond to her in “grace.”

This didn’t sit well with me. Never mind that I believe it’s completely appropriate to hold someone to a performance standard in a job setting—Christian or not. But outside of that, I didn’t agree with my team member’s definition of “grace.” I explained to her that grace wasn’t pretending she didn’t do anything wrong—it was treating her with love and respect even when she did do something wrong. She didn’t agree. She thought I was the one in sin.

We never moved beyond this impasse. I prayed all semester that God would show me how to express true grace to her. But I remained stumped. And she continued to arrive late for meetings.

Years later, I was thinking about this issue and had an epiphany about what I should have done: On days when she was late, I wish I had thought to pull out my own personal money and pay her fine. I think that would have demonstrated Christ-like love to her: true grace.

I regret I didn’t think of this idea in time to help my teammate. If I had sacrificed myself on her behalf week in and week out, I would have been a more accurate reflection of Christ—who is always full of grace and truth—to her. It certainly it would have improved our relationship. And who knows, maybe it would have actually motivated her to get to meetings on time as well.

*Why “Lessons From The Borg?” As part of our leadership development strategy, my husband and I often inflicted upon exposed our team to the awesome leadership principles found in Star Trek: The Next Generation. One of our teammates—exhibiting amazing intellectual flexibility and real potential for leadership—showed up for staff meeting one day with a cube-shaped Tupperware container, wrapped in aluminum foil, with a slot cut out of the top, in which we could place our tardy fines. Fellow TNG fans will undoubtedly recognize the homage to the most dastardly of Federation enemies: The Borg. So from then on we lovingly referred to our pot as “The Borg.” Resistance is futile.

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