On Not Being Nice, "For the Sake of the Gospel"
Throughout all of my consulting ministry, I have seen a disturbing pattern ... most established
churches are held hostage by one or two bullies. Some individual or small group of individuals
are usually extremely opposed to the church making any radical change, even if it means the
change would give the church a chance to thrive once again. I keep hearing pastors say, "If I
tried that, I'd lose my job!"
Courageous pastors often ask, "What do I do when one person intimidates the church so much
that it is not willing to try something new?" My response is always, "Either convert them,
neutralize them, kick them out, or kill them. The Body can not live with cancer." To which
someone usually cries, "That's not very Christian!"
My response describes much of the wisdom of both the Old Testament and Jesus. Maturing
Christians love so deeply that they will do anything, even not being nice, "for the sake of the
Gospel. Jesus was so compassionate toward others that he could not remain quiet when he
saw people holding other people in bondage.
The Old Testament story of the wilderness wanderings contains a remarkable account of how
Moses responded to a group of people who insisted on keeping the Hebrews bondage to the
past .1 A group of people led by Korah came to Moses asking him to relinquish leadership
because they wanted to take the Hebrews back to Egypt. Moses responded by falling on his
face prostrate before them in prayer. Then he got up and slew all of them. Not very nice, but
necessary if they were going to get to Canaan. Moses knew that freedom with God was better
than slavery with Pharaoh. The same is true today... freedom to grow in grace is always better
than enslavement to the status quo.
Almost every struggling church has at least one dysfunctional bully who goes out of the way to
be a big fish in a small pond. Often, that is the primary reason the church is struggling. This
person gets his/her sense of self-worth by keeping the church so intimidated, either by their
actions or their money, that very little can happen without that person's approval. The sad thing
is most of the leaders know that this person is a stumbling block to the church's' future and they
will not do anything about it. The church leaders ignore the bully thinking that is the Christian
thing to do, and in so doing, assist in the stunted growth or death of the congregation.
For example, I was working with a staff in a large church. The first day I met with the staff the
tension was so high I could cut the air with a knife. The staff hardly said a word to one another.
The next day when we met the staff laughed and cut up together as if they were one big happy
family. As I looked around the table, the only apparent difference was that one staff person was
not present. I asked the staff if they sensed the difference I was feeling. They knew exactly what
I meant. Finally one of them blurted out, "Jim is not here today. Staff meetings are always better
when he's not here." It turned out that Jim was a dysfunctional bully who ran to the personnel
committee every time he didn't get his way. Because of him several competent staff members
had been fired. To make matters worse, the staff knew that Jim seldom contributed anything to
the health and vitality of the church.
I asked the staff if they had confronted Jim with how they felt. Their response was typical for
church folks. "That would not be the Christian thing to do. It would hurt him deeply. After all, the
church is all he has." Sure, it's all that he has; no one else would put up with him. Who is the
most dysfunctional, Jim or the staff?
A church not far from me told its Bishop that it wanted a young pastor. It wasn't long before they
got one. One of the first things the young pastor did was ask the Board to change the
appearance of the church newspaper. The Board unanimously voted to do so. Four months
later, I noticed the newspaper was switched back to its old form. I called the pastor to ask why.
His response is a classic. "Most of the Board were present the night we voted. However, one
man was out of the country. When he returned to find that a decision had been made in his
absence, he demanded that the chairperson immediately call another meeting. At the second
meeting, the Board voted unanimously to rescind their previous decision about the newspaper."
When I asked why, he replied: "This man always pays off any deficit at the end of year and he
wanted the vote changed. The Board was afraid to buck him." The future of that church was
held hostage to a bully.
I'm convinced that one of the main sins of the established church is that we have taught
ourselves to be nice instead of being Christian. In spite of aspiring to be a disciple of Jesus, we
teach that the essence of Christianity is to be nice. Where do we get such a notion? Certainly
not from the actions of Jesus.
One of the hallmarks of Jesus's ministry was his constant attack on the status quo. He
challenged it every time he could. He even went out of his way to upset the religious bullies of
his time. He called them "white sepulchers" and by doing so attacked the very heart of their
priesthood based on purity.2 Jesus loved church leaders too much to allow them remain such
small persons. When Peter showed his displeasure over the impending death of his Lord, Jesus
said to him "Get behind me Satan."3 Jesus loved his disciples too much to let them miss one of
the more important lessons of servanthood. Jesus, the man who said, "be compassionate as
God is compassionate,"4 had no desire to be nice because ...being nice has nothing to do with
being Christian. Being nice is often nothing more than a lack of compassion for people. Let's
explore what this means.
At one point, in a holy rage, Jesus entered the Temple with a large, metal-tipped whip and drove
out the money changers. As he did, he quipped, "It is written, My house shall be called the
house of prayer; but you have made it a den of thieves."5 If we discover why Jesus responded
to religious bullies this way, we will also discover why so many church leaders refuse to follow
When Jesus cleansed the temple he was in the Court of the Gentiles. This was the only part of
the temple where gentiles were allowed to worship. What ticked Jesus off was that the religious
leaders were using the only place gentiles could worship God as the place to sell their wares.
What was to be a place of spiritual discovery and worship for the gentiles, was turned into an
economic opportunity for the religious leaders. (Sound familiar?) The focus of the religious
leaders was on themselves, not the spiritual vitality of the gentiles. So he drove them out.
Therefore, thieves are those who do religious things for their own purpose. So when we are
doing things that only benefit those within the church, we become a den of thieves. When we
say that we want it this way because it has always been this way, we are a den of thieves. We
when focus on only the needs of our members, we are robbing the community of a chance to
join us in our journey of faith. Such action is intolerable for people of compassion and love.
Church leaders are robbing people of their spiritual birthright when they allow dysfunctional
people to sell their petty wares in the house of God rather than to proclaim release from
bondage. We really need to get clear on this problem and do something about. If we really love
people, and if we really want them to experience the love of God, then we will not ever allow the
bully to rob others of their spiritual birthright. Anyone who knows how family systems work,
knows that the worst thing one can do with dysfunctional people is to give them more attention
by giving into their every whim. Instead, tough love has to be applied. The compassionate thing
to do is to hold them accountable for their self-centered actions for in doing so they may begin
the journey with God.
Jesus shows us what to do with people who do not want to grow spiritually. In training his
disciples how to spread the word of God's love, he told the disciples to "shake off the dust of
your feet" when they encountered people who did not receive them graciously.6 Jesus loved
people too much to let anything slow down the process of setting people free from their
bondage whatever it is.
People who would rather be nice than Christian do not love enough. They do not have enough
compassion. Instead, they are afraid of hurting someone or of being hurt. Remember, fear is the
opposite of love. "Perfect love casts out all fear."7
If we really cared about people, we would not allow anyone to bully others into submission,
instead we would want every person to feel free enough to express their hopes and dreams, to
stretch their wings, and to reach their God-given potential. If we really loved people, we would
not base our decisions on whether or not people would like us for those decisions. Being nice or
being liked is never a goal for followers of Jesus.
What does being nice accomplish in the church?
· more dysfunctional people
· fewer spiritual giants
· an intimidated congregation
· an inability to spread the Gospel
· little hope of renewal or growth
· discouraged church leaders.
Being nice is not what Jesus wants from any of us.
One of the basic lessons I'm learning as a consultant is that before renewal begins in a church
or denomination, it is normal that someone has to leave or be denied. Almost every time a dying
church attempts to thrive once again, someone tries to bully the leadership out of the attempt.
And almost every time, if a turn around is to take place, such persons are lost along the way
because they are no longer allowed to get their way. When they can't get their way, they leave.
Not even Jesus got through the journey with all of their disciples. Why should we expect too?
This does not mean that we should set out to intimate the bully or to kick people out of the
church. It does mean that we care enough about the future of our church not to allow anyone to
stifle its ability to liberate people from bondage or victimization. It means that we care enough
about the bully that we will not allow the bully to intimate the church because we know the
spiritual vitality of both the bully and the church is at stake.
Matthew 18 gives us a formula for dealing with the dysfunctional bully. First, an individual
privately confronts the person with what he/she is doing and asks the person to stop. If this
doesn't achieve positive results, two or more people are to confront the person. If this does not
resolve the matter, the person is to be brought before the entire church. Listen again to the notso-nice words of Jesus. "And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church: but if he
neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as a heathen man and a publican." In other
words, withdraw from that person's presence, or in our case remove that person from office!
Never, ever, allow such a person to dictate the direction of the church.8
The next time someone in your church attempts to intimidate or bully the church out of taking a
positive step forward, go to God in prayer, and then get out the metal-tipped whip and drive that
person out of the church....of course in love.9
1 Numbers 16
2 Matthew 23:27
3 Matthew 16:23
4 Luke 6:36
5 Matthew 21:13
6 Matthew 10:14
7 I John 4:18
8 Matthew 18:17
9 For more on how to do this, see William M. Easum, Sacred Cows Make Gourmet Burgers
(Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1995.)