Here’s a real question: Is your church nice? Are the people nice? Do they act nicely? Is the atmosphere nice?
How important is it that you are part of a Nice Church.
The Church has been – unfortunately – in the business of being nice for a long time now, and it often looks like this:
- We strive to be a “Purple Church” politically which means we recognize that there are both Republicans and Democrats sitting side by side in worship and instead of agreeing that Jesus is an equal opportunity offender as we grapple with issues, we avoid all controversy.
- We are easily held hostage by families who threaten to leave or withhold their financial support if we don’t do what they want, including what could be considered political acts like continuing to do virtual worship during COVID-19.
- We forget that Jesus was crucified for breaking spiritual norms and offending people in power.
What’s an already anxious congregation to do?
Post-election, I’m noticing lots of “if only” conversations.
- If only people made friends with people who don’t look like/worship/vote like them, everything would be fine.
- If only we had more empathy for each other, everything would be fine.
- If only we realized that there are good people on both sides, everything would be fine.
We strive to be nice. But Jesus was not known for being nice.
In fact, the word for “nice” is not found in the Hebrew or Greek Bible. Transliterations of Scripture (not translations but transliterations) might choose to interpret a word as “nice” but it’s not necessarily what the writers were saying. For example:
They tell the seers, “Stop seeing visions!”
They tell the prophets, “Don’t tell us what is right.
Tell us nice things. Tell us lies. Isaiah 30:10 in The New Living Translation
“Tell us nice things” is what parishioners tell preachers who make them uncomfortable. The Hebrew word here actually means “flattering.”
And yet there are so many truths about the world in which we live which are not nice. Sometimes we congratulate ourselves for placing a Black Lives Matter banner in the front yard of the church building. Or we – White Churches – pat ourselves on the back for “partnering with a Black Church.” Or we call our congregations “diverse” because there is a single person in the pews who doesn’t look like everybody else.
Educating ourselves is such a good idea but it doesn’t necessarily change things. Compassion is essential but it doesn’t necessarily change things. Peaceful protesting is one of our rights as citizens of the USA, but it doesn’t necessarily change things.
Jesus came to change things. And sometimes it didn’t feel good, even to his followers. Jesus was compassionate, brilliant, wise, and good. But Jesus couldn’t be called “nice.” Being nice sounds like a weak adjective in a world that requires us to be generous, gracious, merciful, and faithful especially when we don’t feel like it.
One of the biggest impediments of the church today is that we are still trying to be “nice.” We don’t want to offend. We don’t want to hold each other accountable. We don’t want to disturb the peace.
Please don’t merely be “nice” today. Be brave. Speak up for what is right. Be open to the Spirit of God however disturbing that Spirit might be.*
Because: People are hungry (without food) and thirsty (without clean water) and sick (without health care) and broken (without community) and in jail (without trial or bail money) and unemployed (without sustainable work.)
The Church of Jesus Christ post-election and in the throes of a pandemic is led by One who was not about nice and easy solutions. Jesus was about a total culture change that turned the world upside down. Are we willing to go there?
I hope so for the sake of the Gospel.
*Someone on a White Church Pastor Search Committee recently told me that he is “terrified” because it feels like the candidate the Holy Spirit is leading them to call is a Black woman. I responded, “What’s more terrifying: calling a Black woman or disobeying God?” (I’m not as nice as I used to be.)