Five minutes before youth group was set to begin, Josh took Victor aside and said he needed to tell him something important. “Hey, this is going to be my last Sunday as a leader,” said Josh. He was a freshman football player at the local Christian college and Victor was Josh’s mentor. He went on: “I’ve been drinking with my friends on the weekends and I know that violates the covenant I signed when I agreed to be a leader. It violates my athletic covenant too. So I know I need to step down.”
What Victor did next completely changed the course of Josh’s life. It would have been entirely understandable (and appropriate even) for Victor to reply with “OK man, I understand that. Thank you for telling us, and that sounds like it’s probably the best thing.” But instead, Victor replied with something more unexpected, and even more appropriate (though somewhat risky): grace. “I don’t accept your letter of resignation, Josh. Here’s what you’re going to do. You’re going to confess this to your football coach, and I’m going to start holding you accountable about it. We’re committed to you, and we’re going to see you through this.” Josh couldn’t believe it. While he was appreciative of the grace, he also knew he had a hard path ahead of him. He did confess to his football coach, who also (amazingly) showed him grace and agreed to keep him on the team as long as Josh continued in accountability with Victor.
See, we find it easy to show grace to younger believers. When a prodigal returns, we throw a party and lavish them with our grace. But we are often less likely to respond with the same grace for someone who “should know better.” The older brother types are more complicated, but no less in need of mercy. It was both risky and costly for Victor to respond the way he did to Josh. If Josh kept up his pattern of sin, that would compromise the ministry’s commitment to hold its leaders accountable—that was a risk. It was costly for Victor, because it meant he would have to increase the time he had to invest in holding Josh accountable.
Now certainly, had Josh continued an ongoing pattern of rebellion and living in opposition to the covenant, there would have come a moment when he was asked to step down. But Victor did two key things that Josh didn’t see coming.
Victor believed in Josh. Victor saw something in Josh that Josh didn’t see in himself. Josh was just a year removed from high school, and still mostly saw himself as a kid. He knew that what he was doing was wrong, but he himself didn’t think he had it in him to stop. Victor gave him that power by simply believing in him, and by committing to him, that he would stand by him when things got difficult.
Victor expected more of Josh. When Victor heard what Josh was doing, he didn’t gloss over the sin or say that it didn’t matter. In fact, he raised the stakes by encouraging him to confess to his coach. He then increased his willingness to be present in Josh’s life.
What muddies the waters is that it’s unclear where “the line” is and when it must be drawn in any given situation. Clearly, for the sake of integrity and consistency, there have to be lines and boundaries and consequences for actions. We should seek wise counsel and the guidance of the Spirit as we navigate those situations. But this combination of belief and expectation, empowered by the Spirit, is what made the difference. Josh wanted to pull away into sin and shame, but just like Jesus said he would do with the 99, Victor wouldn’t let him run away.
Four years later, Josh graduated from college and, inspired and transformed by the response he received from Victor, he left as one of the best volunteer leaders Victor had ever worked with. Now, some three years after that, Josh is finishing up his first year as a youth pastor at a large, influential church.
It was risky for Jesus to allow the sinful woman to anoint his head with oil, but he did it. People probably didn’t understand. He did it anyway. I want to follow the direction of the Spirit by being a person who is defined by grace, even when it’s risky.