Being Nice or Being Christian?
"For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline."1
In training for Christian ministry I recall one of my professors stating that every church had a church boss; that is, someone or a small group who, often behind the scenes, control the happenings of the church. This isn't usually the pastor or priest. Today we call these people control freaks. They have a neurotic need to control others in order to feel okay about themselves, when in reality they do this because deep down they don't feel okay about themselves. They are very insecure.
William Easum calls them bullies. After years of consulting with churches he said, "I have seen a disturbing pattern: Most established churches are held hostage by bullies. Some individual or small group of individuals usually opposes the church's making any radical change, even if it means the change would give the church a chance to thrive again. Courageous pastors often ask, 'What do I do when one or two persons intimidate the church so much that it is not willing to try something new?'"2
Easum's response was either to convert them, neutralize them, or kick them out. To which some cry, "That's not very Christian."
The point is that sometimes (not always, by any means) we Christians are just too nice. That's more because we are too afraid to stand up to bullies and call their bluff—not because we're Christian. We'd rather keep the peace than rock the boat.
True, we are to be loving, but that doesn't mean we always have to be nice. I recall hearing an employer share how he was accused of not being Christian by an inept employee he was firing. So he said to the employee in question, "Well I'm going to lovingly fire you." If, after being given several warnings and help to improve, an employee is not pulling his or her weight, it isn't loving to let him off the hook. In fact, it is reinforcing his irresponsibility, which is anything but loving. Neither is it loving to allow bullies to control a church.
So let's not confuse loving with being nice. Jesus was always loving and compassionate as this was his nature, but he wasn't always nice. Think how he turned over the tables of the money changers—merchants who were ripping off the poor in the house of God, no less—and drove them out of the temple with a whip, and how he scathingly scorned the religious bigots who loved their doctrines more than they loved people, and used their teachings to control people for their own ends.
Jesus knew the value of tough love. Not that it's easy. In fact, it can be very difficult, but we need to exercise it too when such is called for.
Suggested prayer: "Dear God, I confess that I am often afraid to exercise tough love for fear I won't be liked. Please help me to overcome my fear and give me the courage to exercise tough love when tough love is what is required. And give me the insight and grace to know how to do this in a firm but loving manner. Thank you for hearing and answering my prayer. Gratefully, in Jesus' name, amen."
1. 2 Timothy 1:7 (NIV).
2. William Easum, "On Not Being Nice 'For the Sake of the Gospel,'" Net Results, April 1997.