Thursday, June 21, 2012

Be Nice

A retreat leader once led an exercise to help a group of church leaders determine what their core values were. As a church, this group naturally assumed that their core values were somehow connected to their faith, but the retreat leader challenged them.   "What," he asked, "were the norms that, if you violated them, you would know rather quickly you had done something wrong?"

After a great deal of discussion, the group decided that there was a vague expectation of belief in God, but pretty much anything short of full blown atheism or Satan worship would not violate any real norms.  The only other norm or core value they could identify was something they labeled "Be nice."

After reading this account, I shared it with the governing board where I served at the time. At first they assumed that this would not describe that congregation, but after some discussion began to think that it did.  And they began to openly wonder whether or not this constituted significant enough core values for them to be the Church of Jesus Christ.

Now I certainly think the world would be a gentler place if everyone tried to be nice.  It is an admirable trait. But "Be nice" was not the core of Jesus' message as I understand it.Today's gospel even features Jesus talking about disciplining church members, an event I have never personally witnessed in a congregation. And I'm not sure if that is because such action was never warranted, or if it wouldn't have "been nice."

Now many of us have witnessed the bad side of enforcing standards. There have been terrible abuses of power against those who take unpopular stands or who are different from the majority. But I'm not sure that this problem is really fixed by "Be nice." (I wonder if there is a parallel to this with regards to evangelism. Sometimes the Presbyterian and Mainline response to the manipulative, coercive, and heavy-handed evangelism practices of other groups has been to do no evangelism at all. No danger of doing it badly, but is that what Jesus expects of us?)

Have you ever considered the core values of your congregation?  What are they, and where did they come from? And perhaps most importantly, are they what Jesus is calling your congregation to be and do?

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