When to Give Grace and When to Discipline
It’s a fine line, isn’t it? The fine line between patience and discipline with those we lead. The line between working with a staff member one more time or dismissing them. The line between investing in them and explaining to them that they need to find somewhere else. How do you find the balance between grace and getting things done well?
We see an example of Peter in Matthew 16. It’s Peter’s high point in following Jesus. After doing some teaching and having more conversations with His disciples about who He ultimately came to be to them, Jesus asks a huge question to those that followed Him most closely. In fact, it’s the still the most important question we can ask as human beings. Jesus turns to His disciples and says,
“Who do people say I am?” (Matthew 16:13)
It had to have felt like the music in the movie was at a high point, the volume high, and the scene dramatic. It had to feel to the disciples like they couldn’t get this wrong. So, they answer with the very best of their eloquence and ability and say,
“Some say you’re John the Baptist; others say Elijah, others a prophet” (Matthew 16:14 paraphrase).
Jesus didn’t really bring them to this point to hear what “they” think, so He rephrases the question a bit and says,
“Who do YOU say I am?” (Matthew 16:15, emphasis mine)
Peter, the one who would often not get it, gets it at this moment. He speaks up and reveals his heart and his hope. I imagine he said with a little deeper voice than normal,
“You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God!” (Matthew 16:16)
Yes! Peter got it. He nailed it. That was the right answer. That was what Jesus was looking for. That was what He wanted His followers to understand. That’s what He wanted them to believe and understand before He would willingly give up His life. In response, Jesus pronounces Peter and his confession as the rock on which the Church will be built.
Now, you don’t have to be a biblical scholar to know what happened after this. Peter would mess up… a lot. He would deny Jesus at the most pivotal moment in His life. He would often not understand what Jesus was patiently teaching him. In all of that, though, Jesus showed patience and never gave up on Peter.
I think Jesus gives us some idea of how to deal with those people we lead when they get it wrong. Here are three things that it seems Jesus did when someone that He lead got it wrong.
Understand their heart.
That’s why Peter got more chances. Because He made this great confession out of a pure and conscious heart. Ultimately, Jesus didn’t dismiss Peter during his struggles, because He understood that Peter’s heart was pure. As leaders, we can work with a pure heart and weak talent.
Understand their potential.
We all have potential. Everyone does. As leaders, though, we should understand the kind of potential that we need to give our time to – the kind of potential we need to keep closest to us. We have limited time and want to maximize it.
I believe Jesus saw Pentecost coming. He saw that Peter would lead the Church for years to come. He knew he had the potential, so He was about to deal with the problems Peter had.
Understand their intention.
My 2-year-old likes to throw his juice on the floor at dinner. He likes watching his mother and me pick it up. It’s a game that I think you must be under four to understand. Often I tell my son something like, “One more time buddy and I’m gonna pop your hand if you throw your juice down.” On occasion, he does it again on purpose and I must keep my word. On other occasions, though, he’ll accidentally drop it after my warning. The difference in him getting a popping and not is my understanding his intention.
As a leader, understand the people you lead and their intentions. Sure, good intentions don’t always justify bad behavior and poor performance, but it helps you work with them to get it right. When Peter sank on the water that day after a few steps of walking on it, Jesus understood Peter’s intention. He intended to trust Jesus. He intended to be bold for his Savior.
It’s often been said that the hardest part of leading isn’t saying yes, but saying no. I think it can also be said that the hardest part of leading isn’t knowing when to correct, but knowing when to show grace beyond what seems normal. The truth? We should treat all the same – with grace – but each one differently – with intention and personal discernment.