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smiley_bubbly_day_11We’ve all heard stories of churches filled with backbiting and gossip, the plotting deacons who rule the church or the abusive pastor who manipulates the congregation.

Some of you haven’t only heard these stories; you’ve lived them. You know firsthand what it is like to see the fruit of the Spirit traded for the rotten works of the flesh. Nothing will damage a church like falsehood, hate, and divisiveness.

Meanness should never be associated with a believer in Christ; nor should spite and vitriol ever find a foothold in our fellowship.

But there is another way a church can be destroyed. And this type of destruction is more insidious because it is more difficult to detect.

I’m talking about the church where everyone is kind to one another, but no one really loves.

Kindness vs. Love

Kindness, rightly understood, is a Christian virtue, a manner of being that is shaped by love. We are kind when we treat one another the way we want to be treated. We are kind when we lend a sympathetic ear, when we bear with others despite their faults, when we respond to conflict with empathy and gentleness.

But kindness and love are not the same thing, and whenever we separate kindness from love, we unleash a vice that masquerades as a virtue. Kindness apart from love devolves into mere “niceness,” and too often, niceties are employed to hide the disease of lovelessness.

The Kindness That Kills

How does kindness kill a church? By masking our indifference toward one another.

In The Problem of Pain, C. S. Lewis explains what kindness divorced from love looks like:

Kindness cares not whether its object becomes good or bad, provided that it escapes suffering… It is for people whom we care nothing about that we demand happiness on any terms: with our friends, our lovers, our children, we are exacting and would rather see them suffer than be happy in contemptible and estranging modes.

Lewis is right. We don’t treat the people we love with mere “kindness.”

Our desire for our children to be good outranks our desire for our children to be comfortable. It is the indifferent parent who “kindly” permits a child to play video games all day long. It is a loving parent who does the hard work of instilling in a child a good work ethic.

The parents who love are those who want their children to become all they were created to be. For this reason, we are willing to put children through temporary discomfort and challenge their ideas of what they need to be “happy”in order to see them grow into maturity, even if it means a rebuke, a difficult conversation, or a loss of privileges.

The “kindness” that kills a church, on the other hand, is unwilling to put in the hard work of love. It is a subtle form of contempt, an unwillingness to rock someone’s boat when you can clearly see it sinking.

Kindness Grounded in Love

Love wants the best for the beloved, and true Christian kindness is grounded in a robust understanding of love. Lewis again:

If God is Love, then He is, by definition, something more than mere kindness. To ask that God’s love should be content with us as we are is to ask that God should cease to be God. Because He is what He is, His Love must be impeded and repelled by certain stains in our present character, and because He already so deeply loves us, He must labor to make us more lovable.

As those who are made in God’s image, learning to love as He loves, we are called to stir up our brothers and sisters to love and good deeds, and by love, we mean Christian love, not the sappy, sentimentalized caricature in our world that reduces love to tolerance or approval.

We imagine a loving church as a place where where everyone is all smiles, where no one is ever in conflict, where people are coddled and affirmed and can leave a worship service feeling inspired. But God’s love shatters such misconceptions.

The friend who truly loves me doesn’t nod to me kindly as I stray into danger, but calls me out for dishonesty, opens my eyes to my selfishness, and fights for me and the person God wants me to become instead of fighting against me by ignoring my flaws.

So, what does a loving church look like? Lewis, again, challenges our preconceived notions of what a God-like kind of love is:

Love demands the perfecting of the beloved (the growth, betterment, healing, improvement, uprightness, and goodness of the beloved). Love may forgive all infirmities and love still in spite of them; but Love cannot cease to will their removal. Love is more sensitive than even hatred itself to every blemish in the beloved. Love forgives constantly but condones least. Love is pleased with little, but demands all.

May God fill our churches with love that is “more stern and splendid” than mere kindness.


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26 thoughts on “The Kindness That Will Kill Your Church”

  1. Curt Day says:

    This is a good post especially on the part where it compares love and kindness.

  2. J Archie says:

    Very good article, Kevin, but I believe replacing “kind” with “nice” would be more accurate. True kindness, like true love, is always a virtue – but true niceness (being pleasing and agreeable) is definitely a vice at times.

    1. Trevin Wax says:

      I stuck with Lewis’ terminology, but tried to make clear that the kind of kindness that is problematic is when it is divorced from love. True Christian kindness is a virtue we are called to.

  3. Ken says:

    It seems you are saying that this form of kindness is really indifference, Or, as Francis Schaeffer would have called it, personal peace and affluence. Am I correct in my understanding?

  4. Thapelo says:

    Great post Trevin

  5. Trevin Wax says:

    I’m not familiar with Schaeffer’s thoughts on it, but that sounds about right. It’s a false kindness that maintains a nice demeanor but fails to truly love.

  6. Duane Warren says:

    Amen. And I believe we will only see that in our churches when we first understand and then become devoted to one another. Great post…..and each of your readers might keep this in mind as they examine their hearts before God this evenning……at least I know I will. Thanks Pastor Trevin.

  7. ManW says:

    Perhaps “politeness” describes it better, especially in light of the ongoing PC movement of recent decades and high (as well as upwardly mobile) society’s obsession w/ manners, being polite and such (for the sake of superficial peace and comfort).

    “If you can’t say something nice (and politely), don’t say it at all.”

    Of course, we ought to be gracious and loving, which includes being kind (and some judicious degrees of niceness or politeness), but the goal shouldn’t merely be a superficial peace and worldly comfort at all cost (to truth, holiness, godliness, etc)…

    Shalom…

  8. Hannah Fourtner says:

    Very good thoughts. It is important to remember the full span of love as set by 1 Cor 14. Kindness is one facet but, when not in balance with the rest, it could become it’s own god. I can think of multiple characters in stories who were very kind but never managed to face the darkness of those they were seeking to show kindness and eventually facilitated their ruin. They became enablers on the road to hell. Thank you, Trevin.

  9. While I see your point, a little realism is also necessary. What you’re talking about here is fostering deep friendships, and people only have a limited amount of time and energy.

    I know many Christians who would love to develop as many deep friendships as possible, but the reality is that work and family come first, and they’re always going to put their time into their closest friendships, and expanding that circle is very difficult.

    I’ve been to many small groups that would fit your definition of “kind,” and it was frustrating being left outside looking in, but I realized that these were people who’d known each other 5 or 10 years before I came along. They just plain didn’t have time for new relationships, and unless your church has a large influx of newcomers, the kindness dilemma will be almost impossible to resolve.

  10. Duane Warren says:

    I understand how you could come up with your conclusion. But I also believe that it begins with a heart of genuine love and devotion to our fellow church members. That would be the first step forward…and it would be necessary for a church to pursue this corporately through teachings of God’s Word. Even little steps forward would be far better than just throwing up our arms and saying it is impossible. Every one of us could contribute more than we do currently….even with family obligations. The only thing that would make it impossible is if we did not honestly love our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ and had no grasp of what it is to be devoted to them. It might seem like too large a task….but I’m certain that God’s Word tells us differently.

  11. Dan Glover says:

    Good post, Trevin, and I appreciate your wanting to stick with Lewis’s term but I must agree, that “niceness” would have been a better term, since kindness is so often something Scripture calls us to and there is greater chance of misunderstanding by using the same word both ways. However, not a big deal ultimately. I just read Lewis’s “The Four Loves” this spring which also speaks wisely on this topic. Blessings.

  12. LMandela says:

    This is so true, one of the things I use to long for before becoming a believer was community that loved me enough to “rock my boat when sinking” . I strongly agree with this post

  13. Jim Masters says:

    Thanks for the post, Trevin, but a question: how do you pull a church out of that?

  14. Hi Trevin. Great post. I would like to print this and give it to people in my church (many of them aren’t “computer people”). How would I go about getting permission to reprint this for limited (non-commercial) use in my church?

    1. Trevin Wax says:

      Matthew, You’re welcome to use it. Just include a line at the bottom that shows where you got it and give proper attribution. Thank you!

  15. Rick Owen says:

    Terrific post. Thank you. Speaking and practicing the truth in love may often be characterized by those who prefer nicety as uncaring, unedifying, mean, vitriolic or potentially harmful. This can happen anywhere there are people: in the home, at work, in civic and political circles, and in the church.

  16. Ken says:

    I should have been more explicit. Schaeffer’s contention was that the western church had adopted the ways of the western world who’s priority was personal peace and influence. As a result, the church was more concerned with maintaining status quo. The affect was for members of the church to be more concerned with padding their life and lifestyle. Church goers were focusing on how they will fill their life with stuff and comfort while at the same time, taking eyes their off Christ and God’s image bearers. David Well’s books do a nice job of explaining this. The additional effect this form of kindness you speak of has is in the home. Households that fail to call sin sin or rightly come to the aid of its member will suffer and will likely fall apart.

  17. I get what you’re saying Duane, but let’s say your family is overwhelmed with kids’ sports, job obligations, etc. And you find yourself lucky enough to have a weekend where nothing’s scheduled. Do you:

    A) Spend it with your family
    B) spend
    B) Spend it with some close friends
    C) Spend it with some guy or girl at church that you don’t know well

    Most people will pick A or B every time. And I don’t think we should be harsh on them, even though the end result is a “kind” church.

  18. Rick Owen says:

    Christian, I think each of your comments are touching on some important and practical points in a couple of areas.

    (1) Households need to be managed better so families are not so overwhelmed.
    (2) Churches need to be managed better so families are not so underwhelmed.

    Managing one’s household well so that God’s household might be managed well is one of the qualifications (if not THE overarching qualification that incorporates all other aspects of faithfulness, maturity and sound instruction in word and deed) for an elder (a.k.a. pastor/shepherd, bishop/overseer). See 1 Tim. 3:4-5.

    Team leadership (i.e., a plurality of elders, the NT model), versus the solo pastor (or even the “senior pastor,” not the NT model) bearing the primary burden of leadership, affects good management (i.e., shepherding, instruction, oversight, etc.) of the church too.

    Limiting the size of a fellowship, in my opinion, is important too. Smaller churches can be more effective when it comes to doing what churches should do when they meet. There is no magic number here, but from my 40+ years of experience in various kinds of churches, I would say somewhere between 80-150 (probably no more than 200-250) people is a good range. Most churches are about this size anyway. Smaller churches can still pool their resources to accomplish larger ministry goals and missions. They tend to do this, too, anyway.

    As more smaller churches are planted, a wider pool of leadership and more meaningful involvement by each member of Christ’s body (as an edified and edifying believer-priest) can be cultivated that goes beyond the social politeness that often characterizes church settings where people tend to grin and shuffle past each other week after week.

    For whatever it’s worth, this FAQ page of our fellowship’s website addresses several questions that tie into this. Other links are provided that go deeper. I hope this adds something constructive to this conversation about infusing the church with greater substance and love: http://smyrnachristian.org/faqs.html

  19. Duane Warren says:

    I understand what you are saying, C.V. ……but I think the first problem we run into is making a list of options at all. I can relate to your full schedule. I raised 5 children, owned a business, was a youth counselor, an elder, and a teacher. We had a full schedule as a family. But my family was equally knit into the church. In fact, our church life and God remained central and fixed while everything else revolved around that. Looking back I can say that it was entirely God who managed our schedule….and that is why it worked.

    I believe that we as church members need to really examine carefully our love for our brothers and sisters within the church we attend. We know that Jesus’ twelve Apostles, and many of his other followers, had been with him in the crucible of ministry. They knew what it meant to minister to the needs of people despite their own weariness, hunger and discomfort. They had seen what it meant to serve and not be served. And they had seen Christ die, so his words instructing them to “love as I have loved you” rang loudly in their ears.

    Now please notice something…..this type of love was not something they would confuse with sentimentality or emotional feelings. No…..this love went well beyond that. It was a love the flowed from a sense of deep and profound devotion and manifested itself as obedience, duty and honor. Jesus’ followers knew they were to love one another, and it would be evidenced by their devotion to each other. We need that devotion to each other my friends. This is the genuine evidence of our love for one another. It is not superficial and it is not polite small talk passed around on Sunday morning or if we happen to bump into each other at the mall. You know if you are devoted to your brothers and sisters in Christ within your local church. You know. So….are you?

    If you answered yes….or no……here is where the “rubber meets the road” if you will. God’s Word provides us a picture of sorts to provide an example of what devotion to each other looks like. Not that we are to necessarily imitate the example….but we had better grasp the depths of it. The devotion the followers of Christ had for each other was supposed to run deeper than what they even felt for their parents, siblings, or other family members (Matt. 10:37; Luke 14:26). This devotion was demonstrated by their obedience to Christ’s instructions and their care for one another.

    This begins with you and me. We need to believe in and trust Jesus in a much deeper way. We need to be truly devoted to our brothers and sisters. We need to begin asking God to help us with what it will look like for us and our families to begin living and being the church. We do not need to know exactly how it will look at this moment. We won’t be able to map it out or box it up in a new church program. We simply need to begin walking forward towards this. We start on our knees…..we stand up….and we step forward as God leads. It is a new life then we are living now. It won’t look the same. I repeat….being the church is not going to look like anything we’ve experienced as of yet. But I am without doubt…..this is the desire of our God….and He will provide all we need to accomplish this.

    It begins with you….and me. Devotion….devoted…..to God, and our brothers and sisters. We can do this.

  20. Rick Owen says:

    Good thoughts, Duane. Here’s a helpful resource by Gregg Harris that goes deeper into what you’re saying and ties in, too, with comments I made above about managing our households better, which leads to better churches. The Seasons of Life Seminar: http://store.nobleinstitute.org/seasons-of-life-seminar.html

    SESSION TOPICS:

    1. The Godly Household
    2. The Seasons of Life
    3. Delightful Study in the Season of Preparation
    4. Child Training in the Season of Production
    5. Family Business in the Season of Production
    6. The Local Church in the Season of Proclamation
    7. Politics & Associations in the Season of Protection
    8. The Ultimate Support Group for All Seasons

  21. Duane Warren says:

    Thank you for the link Rick! I will definitely check this out.

  22. Your analysis ids spot-on, Rick. Years ago I read a book on church growth, and it discussed the “Problem of 150″ (aka Dunbar’s Number). Basically it says that individuals can sustain a relationship with 150 people at the max, and organizations that exceed 150 often have problems with people feeling left out, ignored, disrespected, etc. For churches this can be resolved by doubling to 300 members. The risk is that you end up with 2 churches-within-the church, but socially people are much happier and feel included. The problem resurfaces at each growth level, so a 300-member church will struggle to grow to 450, then 600, etc.

  23. Rick Owen says:

    I was in a church once that had three Sunday morning services averaging 500 people in each meeting. The smaller groups, such as the Sunday School classes that ranged anywhere from 20-60 people, as well as the even smaller home groups, were where the ‘real church’ took place. Even the leadership acknowledged this as a reason for people to participate in the smaller groups. The larger meeting was more like a big assembly or conference event – like the first-century “theatron” (“the place of viewing” where staged presentations took place) instead of the “ekklesia” (“the summoned assembly” that convened as a congress of co-equals to responsibly address the needs of the community) that Jesus said He would build in Matthew 16:18.

    This same church is now building another building on their ‘campus’ that will provide a live video feed of the same bland preacher – sorry, but that’s my assessment after many years of knowing and listening to him – to the new building; again with 2-3 Sunday morning services in each building. Here’s what I recommended to them:

    “Given your priority of multiplication (as well as love and stewardship),” [as stated in their promotional video], “why not start new congregations and cultivate more leaders and every-member ministers in more places instead of building a mega virtual-church in one place? Wouldn’t this come closer to the NT model and mandate of replication, duplication and geographical expansion? More thoughts here: http://www.ccwtoday.org/…/starting-churches-with-no-money/.”

    They removed their Facebook post on which I had commented and are still plowing ahead with their multi-million-dollar one-man show. This church, I might add, has been plagued with repeated scandals, isolated and disenfranchised youth, and an inordinate per capita divorce rate. But their ‘statement of faith’ reads pretty well. And you’ll encounter many ‘passing smiles’ on Sunday morning. =^/ (Tilt your head left to see the image.)

  24. Rick Owen says:

    I see the link for “Staring Churches With No Money” did not show up completely. Here it is: http://www.ccwtoday.org/article/starting-churches-with-no-money/. It’s a good article worth reading.

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Trevin Wax


​Trevin Wax is Bible and Reference Publisher at LifeWay Christian Resources and managing editor of The Gospel Project. You can follow him on Twitter or receive blog posts via email. Click here for Trevin’s full bio.

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