I was discussing this dilemma of whether our small group should become "closed" to outsiders and those who were less committed and my minister friend offered this, "It is easier to expect accountability than it is to expect grace." I find that statement very profound and food for thought. What I take her to mean is that it's easier for groups to rally around 'rules of engagement' with one another than it is for them to rally around the possibility of God's goodness and selfless love working within them. I think she is right.
What was really fascinating is that as we continued our conversation she shared a strong dislike for the following statement made by people who are in the process of forgiving or being forgiven, "I don't want this to be cheap grace." I thought I knew where she was going with that, so I jumped in and said, "of course! Because grace is never cheap, it is FREE!" But she countered and said, "No. All grace is costly to someone. Be it Jesus on the cross, or the pain of letting go, the giving of oneself, whatever it is. There is no cheap grace."
So, which is grace? Free or costly? Or both? I think probably the latter. The forgiveness and wholeness we are given by Jesus was bought with a price, but one that was gladly and freely paid so that we might be freed of our bonds. That kind of grace is meant to be received gladly and freely, without guilt. The same goes for true forgiveness between people. The price is vulnerability and humility on both sides, but when gladly given, should be accepted guilt-free.
What does this have to do with the closed or open small group? I'm not sure. Only I think there is something to be said for trying to create a group atmosphere that is more expectant of grace than of accountability. More expectant of costly intimacy and freely given love than commitment. What would that look like? What do you think?