Pastors, Please Stop Telling Us to Be Nicer

Posted on August 10, 2017

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By David Ettinger

Unfortunate Cliché
Some time back I was listening to the radio program of a prominent pastor, Bible teacher, and author. He told his congregation something to the effect of, “I want to see more smiles on your faces. You are such a grumpy bunch; no wonder the unsaved are not attracted to Christianity.”

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I winced at this morsel of clichéd regurgitation which I have heard frequently in churches I attended over the past three decades. What irks me so much about this accusation is the allegation that the congregation’s unpleasantness is the primary reason why more people don’t come to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ.

To be sure, believers are called to live a life of love and good works. John 13:34-35 says: “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” So, yes, making our love for fellow believers visible serves as a powerful witness. Likewise, Matthew 5:16 implores believers to, “… let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”

This is precisely what I have seen in the churches I have attended. I have found the overwhelming majority of people to be friendly, caring, loving, and welcoming. And yet, in these very churches I have heard pastors haul out the tired old rebuke regarding their flocks’ lack of friendliness. Though I have great respect for the work pastors do, I am at odds with them when they dust off this overused refrain.

Wrongly Blamed

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Christians are trapped in our physical bodies and will often behave in a fleshly manner. We come to church in a bad mood, not feeling up to par, or worried or sad, and this sometimes causes us to act unlovingly. When we do, those who hate Christianity will pounce on it and every other act of Christian gracelessness and say, “You see, this is what Christian are really like.” There is no defense against those who see believers as hypocritical, close-minded, pagan-hating bigots who gleefully condemn to hell anyone who believes differently.

I believe most pastors’ frustrations lie in the fact that they faithfully preach their hearts out, and can’t understand why their congregations are either shrinking or not growing. They know they have done everything within their power to increase church attendance, but their efforts are failing. Sometimes, out of irritation or resentment, they blame the flock. “If only you were nicer, if only you were friendlier, visitors would come back and eventually become a part of us.”

Is this correct? Will mere niceness and friendliness grow the flock?

On the Contrary …
Biblically speaking, the opposite is true. If we as believers are truly living out our faith, we will kindle far more enmity and loathing than goodwill and cheerfulness. Jesus tells us: “If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you” (John 15:19). The word “world” refers to the administration of the unsaved universe as ordered by Satan. God has given Satan this authority, hence the reason Jesus refers to Satan as the “prince of this world” (John 12:31), and Paul calls him “the ruler of the kingdom of the air” (Ephesians 2:2).

globeBecause believers do not belong to this world and the one who runs it, Jesus tells us directly that “You will be hated by everyone because of me” (Matthew 10:22). Jesus warns believers in the end-times: “Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me” (Matthew 24:9). And, Jesus says of His disciples: “I have given them your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world” (John 17:14).

This is what believers are up against, therefore, churches are getting smaller; it is rarely the fault of congregations for not being nice. The spiritual realities are far more complicated than this.

Do Your Part
Despite these sobering truths, God wants you to do your part, and He has provided specific instructions on how you are to order your life. Here are a few:
* “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 7:12).
* “Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone” (Colossians 4:6).
* “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone” (Romans 12:18).
* “But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect …” (1 Peter 3:15).

Do these things as best as you can and trust God. Regarding your church’s failure to grow and the accusation that it is your grumpy congregation’s fault … take it with a grain of salt; your pastor is just venting some very understandable frustration.

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