Does a pastor or elder (or Christian) have to be nice?

Be-Nice-or-Leave-PosterThis site is all about Proclaiming the Glory of God in the Church, so it will not be very often that I will appeal to secular, non-Christian sources as valuable for God’s people. I have, however, come across a really good article in my current employment (Rotessa) that churches, and especially leadership, should read and take to heart. The author is not a believer, to my knowledge, and yet he captures the essence of what is so wrong with churches today and why they simply cannot find and hold onto good pastors and leaders.

The issue is simple – we assume that a pastor or elder, or a Christian in general, must be ‘nice.’ Whatever that means.  In the church it is usually put in more spiritually sounding terms . We talk about love in stead of nice, but we equate the two. We assume that ‘being nice’ = ‘loving’. Our understanding of ‘love’, then, becomes  based on subjective  realities rather than Scripture. So when we criticize people for not being ‘loving’ in their personal interactions with us or others we are often criticizing them for simply not meeting our own personal criteria for what I think it means to be ‘nice’. When this kind of subjectiveness takes over the church and its leadership, well to be frank, we are all screwed. Why? Because, “‘Just be nice’ is emotionally resonant but nutritionally shallow advice…”

Here is how the author of the article sees the problem:

Recipe: take some honest feedback and sandwich it in between two compliments. This brown bag psychology implies any sort of critical feedback requires double the praise to make up for it, even if you have to reach.

You’re left making a dangerous assumption: that critique and criticism are inherently unkind. Operating with this mindset creates an unhealthy expectation for “conversational fluff.” People start tip-toeing around each other and resort to using undecipherable soft language that’s sole purpose is to ward off conflict and protect feelings. The truth inevitably becomes buried under a pile of pleasantries.

Soon enough you’ll be stuffed on compliment sandwiches and starving for some honesty.

Oh, baby does this sound like most churches to me. So what is the solution? The author continues:

A smarter approach is to have a built-in good faith clause (Assumed Benevolence) – to always interpret feedback and judgment from your team as coming from a good place.

This isn’t to say working together requires pre-emptive pardons for reckless insensitivity. Being honest doesn’t mean being a brute. But you’re better off accepting that a little friction is bound to happen. Friction in small doses is perfectly fine; it’s the only way to make sparks fly. . .

With benevolence assumed, you’re free to share the unblemished truth. No need for defensive language; everyone should already be assuming positive intent.

Boy does that sound biblical!?! Yet how many churches and leaders miss this entirely!!! Go back and read that last section again. It’s freaking brilliant!

The Bible, to my knowledge, never commands us to be ‘nice’ to each other. Yet, as Voddie Bauckham has said, it has become the church’s 11th commandment: “Thou shalt be nice” has trumped all other commandments in Scripture. The Bible does not call us to be nice to each other but to speak the truth in love, to receive reprimand in love and to show grace and love in all of our relationships. (Proverbs 27:5; Ephesians 4:15; Hebrews 12:3-11) How much better would our relationships be if we applied the “Assumed Benevolence” principle (which is clearly a biblical idea) to all of our relationships? How much easier would leadership be in the church if the congregation treated its leaders according to this principle? How much easier would it be to submit to the leadership of the church if we dealt with them “in good faith” rather than demanded them to be nice to us?

Here’s my advice. Christian leaders don’t be nice. Christians don’t demand that your leaders be nice. The word ‘nice’ isn’t in the Bible after all!

Soli Deo Gloria

The article I’ve been discussing can be read here.

7 thoughts on “Does a pastor or elder (or Christian) have to be nice?

  1. Steve Chapman

    Hear, hear. Now this is something I can relate to…surprise, surprise. Unfortunately, Christians have the thinest skin of all people groups. Consider the insight from this good old departed brother:

    “It is unfortunate for the cause of truth that the thinnest skin in the world is that which wraps the saints. God’s children are as easily injured as new-hatched hummingbirds, and worst of all, they do not heal readily.”
    – A.W. Tozer, The Size of the Soul, Pg 159

    Straight truth talk is foreign these days among believers. It is more socially acceptable in the Church to be nice rather than truthful. Thanks for addressing such an issue.

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  2. Carey Reimer

    I agree with the above comments that the truth of God’s Word has to be spoken and that unfortunately our first impulse is to get our back up when we are criticized. However I take exception to the idea that we do not have to “be nice”. Paul’s charge to the Ephesians in ch 4:1-3 says ;
    “As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you received. Be completely humble and gentle: be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.” Sounds like “being nice” to me.

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    1. I would prefer to stick with the biblical terms. This gives us a way of defining our interactions according to scripture. Let’s use Ephesians 4 as an example.
      Would we say that Jesus was humble? Yes but he sure did get in the face of the Pharisees and his disciples from time to time – and often not in a ‘nice’ way. Would we say that Paul was humble? Yes but he sure could flex his apostolic muscle if needed – again often not in a ‘nice’ way.
      Would we say that Jesus was gentle? Yes but he tipped over tables when he needed to and he referred to Peter, the disciple that he loved most, as Satan. ‘Nice’? I think not.
      Would we say that Paul was gentle? Yes, but he could also hand people over to Satan and criticize some people severely if they were caught in heresy or sin. Again not ‘nice’ by our 21st century standard.
      Would we say that Jesus and Paul were patient and loving? Yes but neither of them would allow their followers any leeway when it came to the truth in certain circumstances. Certainly not a ‘nice’ way of dealing with things.
      This is why I prefer to have texts like Ephesians 4 and 1 Corinthians 13 define our interactions for us – words like humble, patient, love, grace, gentle – rather than words that are societally twisted, and thus meaningless. Unfortunately many Christians define these biblical terms in subjective and thus unbiblical ways as well. But that’s an issue on its own.

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  3. Quintin Giesbrecht

    Here are my thoughts (for what their worth – likely less than 2 cents)

    Anyways, I think that Jared is right – at least from this perspective. I see so much stuff today surrounding issues like abortion, and GLBT, where if we speak out against it, we are “hateful”, and “bigots”. In this scenario, and any scenario where sin needs to be addressed, we need to take a stand – to just “accept everyone for who they are” is just wrong. So yes, in respect to truth, truth wins over being nice. In other words, if I tell you some truth which is biblically based, and it goes against your perception of “niceness”, I’m sorry, but I am in the right in this case.

    Of course, this is not (and I don’t think Jared intended that) meant to be a license to be rude. Yes, we are to LOVE everyone – that is biblical, BUT, (I know, cliche), we are to HATE sin. And if that sounds rude to someone, then I guess so be it…

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    1. You nailed it brother! Take a look at the texts that I cite and their context, also check out my reply to a previous comment. There is no room for a Christian to be a “brute” so we must always “speak the truth in love”. Yet sometimes this involves some tough, direct words. In this regard Jesus is our perfect example.

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  4. I agree with your points, Jared, both in your original post and in your comment. Yes, Paul says to be gentle, humble, patient, forbearing, etc. But then he also tells the church to follow his example as he follows the example of Christ. Jesus himself calls us to take his yoke upon us and learn from him for he is gentle and humble of heart. Taken together, this means that Jesus was gentle and humble and kind and in imitation of his Lord, Paul also was gentle, humble, kind, patient, etc. This further means that Paul was not stepping out of character when he was calling the Galatians fools for beginning by faith but now continuing through works of the law; when he was chastening the Corinthians for their factions, self-centeredness at the Table, and their acceptance of sexual immorality; and when he pointedly confronted Peter for his hypocritical table manners when the Pharisees were watching. In doing those things the way he did, Paul was not failing but faithful in his imitation of Christ. Being gentle and humble in the biblical way will often not look nice. We must make sure we define biblical terms in biblical ways (let Scripture interpret itself). And if we would be humble, gentle, kind, patient – in other words, loving in a Christ-like way – we will also sometimes, when the situation demands it, do the same types of things we see Jesus and Paul doing in the defense of the gospel and the purity of the church. If we don’t, we are not following Paul’s example as he follows the example of Christ.

    The pastor’s calling is to be a shepherd of God’s flock. Part of that duty, we are told by both Jesus and Paul, is to guard and defend the sheep from wolves and not to be like mere hirelings who flee when hard situations come. Paul says in his farewell to the Ephesian elders that there will come wolves from outside and from inside the church and it is the job of the elders to fight those wolves off. This probably won’t look nice. It will probably seem harsh and hard. The vocation of pastors/elder is a calling to many hard conversations and tough actions or stances. This doesn’t mean it is to be done without grace or love, but rather the pastor does what he does first and foremost out of love for and allegiance to God. It is to God, afterall, that the pastor must give an account. Therefore, when the circumstance calls for it, the pastor must not be hard on the church, but he certainly must be hard for the church.

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  5. Pingback: Irreconcilable Differences in Ministry: What if they can’t be resolved? – Proclaiming the Glory of God in the Church

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