A few weeks ago my wife and I were able to host a long time friend. She and her husband have been in youth ministry for many years, and they’ve done incredible work. Sadly she went on tell us the all-too-familiar story of church dysfunction and the toll it has taken on her, her husband, and their family. Over breakfast she asked us this question: “Why didn’t I say something? Why did I put up with the dysfunction and abuse of power? I’m a confident woman and I can stand up for myself in almost every other situation, but I didn’t in this case. What’s the deal?”
Her question brought to mind this insightful thought from Patrick Lencioni in his book The Advantage. Lencioni is a follower of Jesus, who also happens to be many Fortune 500 businesses go-to guy for leadership and management. Here is what Lencioni observed, “Nowhere does the tendency toward artificial harmony show itself more than in mission-driven non-profit organizations. People in those organizations tend to have the misguided idea that they cannot be frustrated or disagreeable with one another. What they’re doing is confusing being nice with being kind.”
Ahh being nice. What I shared with our friend is that I’ve also observed this nasty dysfunction in churches and “mission-driven non-profit organizations.” It’s this pre-commitment to be nice over and above everything else, almost as if Jesus died to merely make us all nice. By that I mean, the organization and the people in it have this central commitment to keep the peace at the expense of speaking up. It’s an organization where conflict is avoided at all cost because to honestly speak up about hurts or points of disagreement might slow down the cause or might hurt some feelings. So everyone buries, and stuffs, and denies, and doesn’t question “God’s anointed” leader or the group-think that is so mired in dysfunction.
A lot of churches need to stop confusing being nice with being kind. My church, and your church where you serve the mission of God, must be a community where God’s people together speak truth, ask hard questions, challenge abuse of power, and have conflict in a kind, healthful way.