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Thursday, June 30, 2016

The Problem with Being Too Nice in Ministry

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"Go tell that fox!" said Jesus one time.

"Fox" is a crafty or tricky person, like how unscrupulous politicians are. It's not a good word to describe the top leader of your nation. Jesus was referring to King Herod who supposedly wanted to kill him.

Not very nice of Jesus, was it? Well, not very nice of Herod, too.

Jesus was frank and honest. He wasn't one to flatter people with nice but inapt words. When Jesus spoke, you always got what you deserved, although his grace made sure you didn't get it full-swing.

Most pastors have been accustomed to being too nice to people, sometimes even overly too nice to the point of aiming to over-please everyone at all times. In fact, most ministries are actually PR organizations designed primarily to keep people feeling good about themselves and pampered and spoiled---so they'd keep coming back to church every Sunday.

I've always wondered why Jesus was different. He was a good guy, no doubt---he grew up in favor with God and man [Luke 2.52]---but he often wasn't nice with his words. In fact, you sometimes caught him being anything but a Mr. Nice Guy.

Lots of pastors are Mr. Nice Guys, except those who serve as propagandists for their denominations. They tend to be rude with people of a different denomination. Some are difficult people to deal with. To get along well with them, you need to always agree with what they say.

Worse, they need to see you always admiring or praising them.

Jesus wasn't like that. He'd let you alone with your personal opinions, whatever you thought of or decided, like how he let Judas go to the priests to betray him. And he never needed your praise. But if you asked him questions, he'd answer you frankly and honestly. He'd never answer by telling you what you wanted to hear.

But neither was he rude or impolite. His honest and straight-from-the-shoulder answers are what I call, Godly candor.

Once, a Pharisee invited him for dinner. You'd expect any invited dinner guests to be polite and nice with other guests, and especially with the host. Well, during dinner, the host noticed how Jesus didn't wash his hands before the meal. So, the Pharisee was surprised.

That's all the host did---get surprised. He didn't even say anything.

But look at what Jesus told him:
"Now then, you Pharisees clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness. You foolish people! Did not the one who made the outside make the inside also? But now as for what is inside you—be generous to the poor, and everything will be clean for you.
“Woe to you Pharisees, because you give God a tenth of your mint, rue and all other kinds of garden herbs, but you neglect justice and the love of God. You should have practiced the latter without leaving the former undone.
 “Woe to you Pharisees, because you love the most important seats in the synagogues and respectful greetings in the marketplaces.
“Woe to you, because you are like unmarked graves, which people walk over without knowing it.” [Luke 11]
You can imagine the tension building up amid dinner that time. The atmosphere became just right for a terrible stomach upset. I'd probably just ignore the surprised look on the Pharisees's face on seeing my unwashed hands, or else stand up and wash my hands in the restroom. That would have been polite and becoming of a servant of God. Right?

Well, that's what we think.

Now, a law expert reacted. "Teacher, saying those things offends us as well."

He probably thought Jesus would calm down and watch his words this time. Well, he was wrong. Jesus started his long invective with "Woe to you experts in the law..."

You can just imagine how the dinner turned out after. If you were Jesus, wouldn't you want to be civil with Pharisees and teachers of the law---those who have religious authority in the land? Anyway, they were just trying to be nice to you when they invited you over for dinner. It would be right to return that favor by being nice to them, too.

They looked like they just wanted to befriend him, and probably hear some words of his wisdom. Or, they were probably looking for a way to trap him with his words that's why they had invited him. Be that as it may, nonetheless, I would have been polite about it all.

Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone. [Colossians 4.6]

But look at what Jesus did. He openly lambasted the religious leaders with provocative words. As a result, the bible says, since that incident, the Pharisees started opposing him.

Often, God thinks differently as we do. What's "full of grace" and "seasoned with salt" to Him is often what we mortals find to be offensive. His thoughts are not our thoughts.

Another incident was when Nicodemus visited him one night. When he was at a loss about what Jesus was explaining about born-again, Jesus told him: "You're a teacher of Israel and yet you do not understand these things?"

I don't know about you, but I'd feel insulted with that remark. Just imagine---here I am, a member of the elite Sanhedrin, a respected teacher in the country, and probably equipped with all the seminary titles and degrees one can imagine. And there is Jesus, who never had schooling, without any degrees or titles, son of a poor carpenter, jobless, and does nothing but roam around the streets. Then he tells me, ""You're a teacher of Israel and yet you do not understand these things?"

At least, Jesus should've been polite and just said: "I'm willing to share with you more about what born-again is." or something to that effect.

One day he was teaching his disciples but they couldn't understand what he was telling them. Jesus asked them: "Are you so dull?" [Mark 7]. 

QUESTION: Would it be okay if your pastor asked you that same question just because you missed what he was saying? He should at least say something kinder, like "What exactly didn't you understand?"

At another time, Jesus drove out the vendors and kicked their tables over at the temple courts. What if your pastor does that, too? 

Think about it---you'd see nowhere in the Gospel Jesus teaching us to be too nice to people. He taught us to be poor in spirit, to mourn, to be meek, to be righteous, merciful, pure in heart, to be peace-makers, etc. But he never said anything about being Mr. Nice Guy.

He told us to love our enemies and do good to those who hate us. But often, we misinterpret these things and think they teach us to be too nice in ministry. Loving our enemy and doing good to them don't necessarily mean we become nice to them.

Most times, we have to be stern with people, especially those with controlling or manipulative spirits, even be unsympathetic with them, precisely because we love them. We want them to fully understand the gravity of their situation and the dire consequences of their actions or desires.

Often, they also need to see that a true church ministry like what Jesus had will never pursue after people.

Let this people turn to you, but you must not turn to them. [Jeremiah 15.19]
Jesus told the apostles:

If people do not welcome you, leave their town and shake the dust off your feet as a testimony against them." [Luke 9.5]
A lot of pastors do the opposite today. If rejected by people, the more they insist themselves to them. The more they visit them and please them. Does it work? Oh yeah! It sometimes even grows mega churches. But question is, is it Jesus' way of doing ministry?

Only Jesus' ways are approved by the Father. And only Jesus' ways will build his glorious church.

Nice is often equated with compromise. Being nice means you allow certain concessions to people, especially those who want to control you---just to please them---and that necessitates lessening your commitment to God's stern requirements. People often see you a potential victim of their manipulations when you're too nice to them.

When some of the disciples found Jesus' teachings too radical, they left him. What would a pastor do today if half his congregation walked out on him? He'd be scared stiff and probably ask them for a dialogue. A reconciliation. And he'd probably be apologetic in his manner, trying to be super nice to them.

Jesus didn't do any of that. He let them leave. He even dared the remaining disciples to also leave him.

He also let the rich young ruler walk out. I doubt if there would be a pastor today who'd let someone rich, popular and powerful to walk out of his church. I hope I'm wrong.

You may smile at people all the time and laugh at their jokes, hug them and pat their backs. Go ahead and love and care for them. Be kind to them. But being Mr. Nice Guy is still beside the point. We weren't called to be nice to people. We were called to do God's will---and often, God's will hurts a lot of people.

Watch this and decide for yourself:


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