Pastors, Please Stop Telling Us to Be Nicer

Posted on May 1, 2019

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By David Ettinger

Unfortunate Cliché
I was listening to the radio as a prominent pastor told his congregation: “I want to see more smiles on your faces. You are such a grumpy bunch; no wonder the unsaved are not attracted to Christianity.”

I winced at this morsel of clichéd regurgitation I have frequently heard. What irks me so much about this accusation is the allegation that the congregation’s unpleasantness is the 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.”

And this is 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
Christians are trapped in 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. But is dwindling attendance our fault?    

I believe most pastors’ frustrations lie in the fact that they faithfully preach their hearts out, and can’t understand why either their congregations are either shrinking or not growing. 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 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).

Because believers do not belong to this Satan-controlled world, Jesus tells us: “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 that.

Do Your Part
Despite these sobering truths, God wants you to do your part. Some examples:

* “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.