I recently heard a story about a manager at a Christian organization. She was a dedicated leader for her staff and did all she could to follow her bosses’ orders while also serving her customers well. After working at this location for many years, her superiors decided that they wanted to replace her. The best policy, one would think, would be for a supervisor to sit down with an employee and honestly explain why they were no longer going to retain their services.
That’s not what happened.
Instead of informing her of the decision, the manager’s bosses chose to slowly push her out. She received conflicting instructions from each of them, she was written up for things that she was expressly told she wouldn’t be, and was subjected to a litany of other minor infractions that were intended to wear her down.
And they did. Eventually, she left. The bosses’ mission was complete: get her out without firing her outright. It’s because they didn’t want people to talk about how they, a good Christian organization, fired someone. They were trying to keep up appearances. They were trying to be nice.
The Oxford Dictionary defines nice as “giving pleasure or satisfaction; pleasant or attractive”. By this definition, niceness is concerned with people’s feelings, their opinions. It’s public relations. It’s all optics.
That, often, is one of our biggest problems in the Church. We are concerned about our appearance to the other congregants and our pastors. We want everyone to think we are solid Christians that have it all together, even when we don’t. Especially when we don’t. To that affect, we are nice to those around us. We use empty flattery so that people who go to church with us think we are good people.
We do the same outside of church. In a world that needs loving followers of Christ in every community, we often fall short. We say we love people, but many would disagree. We claim to care about the poor and the widow, but that isn’t how the world perceives us. At least we don’t use curse words, am I right?
Niceness, by nature, only runs skin-deep. It’s fake, surface-level religiosity. Nice goes to church every Sunday in its Sunday best but doesn’t support missions. Nice talks about serving the community and walks past the homeless person asking for help. Nice pretends to care or has convinced itself it has. But it doesn’t.
What you, I, and the Church need is to stop being nice and start being kind. Kindness means “having or showing a friendly, generous, and considerate nature”. If you are kind, then you genuinely care about others’ well-being. Kindness as a prime Christian ethic was first displayed by (drumroll please)… Jesus!
Jesus wasn’t particularly nice. He wasn’t nice to the woman at the well when he reminded her of her sin. He wasn’t nice to Nicodemus when he ridiculed his theology in John 3. He certainly wasn’t nice to Peter when he rebuked him “get behind me, Satan.”
Jesus may not have been nice, but he was and is the kindest person who has ever lived. Jesus cared for the poor and those who society left behind when he healed them and spent time with them. Most importantly of all, he was kind to the world when he took the penalty due us on account of our sins. Jesus’ death on the cross was the kindest act in human history.
Christ is our example in all things. He teaches us to care authentically, live with compassion, and love sacrificially. So when we think about how to act in relation to others, let’s not consider what will make people think more highly of us. Let’s follow Christ and ask ourselves “how can I love this person the most”?