This 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.