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No more mister nice guy

By Mark Botham-Clarke  


“To always seek agreement, to be polite, to be ‘nice,’ to never make waves or fight for your convictions; this might be a safe way to live, but it will never get you counted among the great.”


“I came so that you could have life to the max.”


What does it mean to live; to truly live?  To suck all the marrow out of life and come to its end knowing that you have experienced it fully.  Is such life possible outside the willingness to grasp hold of the adventure with a tenacity that befits heroes and kings? And why do so few people experience life to the max?  Is it because that to truly live is too risky?  Without a willingness to live fiercely and to take risks, without a willingness to face battles and collect our fair share of scars, the awesome depth and beauty of life will always elude us.  Life is more about faith and risk than it is about safety and being ‘nice.’


“How would telling people to be nice to one another get a man crucified?  What government would execute Mister Rodgers or Captain Kangaroo” – Philip Yancey


Nice people are everywhere, polite, courteous, and nice.  But are nice people the kinds who inspire you  - the kind who are known for their greatness?   Would a ‘nice guy’ lay his life on the line for his country, for strangers?  I know a noble and courageous man would.  You see the world doesn’t need more ‘nice’ people.  It needs people who are willing to give their all and fight for what is truly valuable. Maybe that’s why nice guys finish last; winning requires a will to fight . . . at least that’s what Jesus demonstrated.


“He entered the temple and turned over the tables of the money changers.  The religious leaders were afraid of him and started looking for a way to kill him.”   Matthew 11:15-18


“Jesus?”  I hear you exclaim.  Yes, Jesus.  You see churches often portray Jesus as a good moral teacher who told people to love each other.   Not a revolutionary.   Not someone willing to fight battles.   But this is exactly the truth of who Jesus was.  Although Jesus did encourage people to love and accept others, he was not just some ‘nice guy’ telling ‘nice’ stories and teaching people to be ‘nice’ to each other.  He stood against the powerful for the sake of those who were marginalized.  Once he even chased prestigious people out of a building because they were abusing the poor.  He told the religious elite that they were whitewashed tombs; looking good on the outside but dead on the inside.  He got angry; he lived dangerously, and eventually died because he refused to back down from those things for which he stood.   Jesus’ courage demonstrated that he knew how to truly l live. He knew that it meant giving your all for what was right and just, and being a voice and strength for those who were in danger.  At one point, while Jesus was hanging out with a bunch of sailors, he asked them ‘Who do people say I am?’ Hmmm… now there’s an interesting question.  Based on what you sometimes see in Church one might answer “You’re a sap, a wimp, a momma’s boy.”  But as John Eldridge wrote:   


“Jesus is no pale-faced altar boy with his hair parted in the middle speaking softly and avoiding confrontation.  He works with wood and commands the loyalty of dockworkers no question about it, there is something fierce in the heart of God” – John Eldridge.


 Jesus was not just some softhearted goody-goody; he was no Mr. Nice Guy.  He stood for something, and refused to back down from his destiny.  He lived with gentleness and mercy in one hand, fearlessness and determination in the other.  He knew how to balance these two extremes and spent himself on behalf of others.  No small feat, no easy ask, but life to the max.


 Sounds inspiring…I sure think so. 

The other side of knowledge is that the postmodern is uncomfortable explaining everything about God.  God is not fully explainable, imperfect man trying to describe infinite God, ya right!  I believe this is why the narrative is so important to the postmodern; because it helps life stage the things of God in picture form.  In light of how God has been revealed down through time, the postmodern looks for Him to continually reveal himself and thus open himself up to being moved upon by God.  If there is a wind of God’s Spirit blowing, the postmodern desires to be blown away. 


Observation # 4: Postmodernism did not just show up!  Postmodernism has been running in parallel with modernism for sometime, but with changing entities such as education and media, and more recent arrivals like the internet, the postmodern worldview has become much more visible.  As previously mentioned, postmodernism is more than a life stage, and its current form is every bit as monumental as the transition from medieval to modernism.  It is difficult for us to describe fully what is going on mainly due to the fact that this type of transition has not been evident for the last 500 years or so.   It can be said that the construct of the postmodern mindset has been gleaned from the perceived inefficiencies of modernism; conquest/control, analytical thinking, secular/scientific limitations; mechanism and objective relativism.[i]  That being true, then it is obvious that postmodernism was not formed on a whim but has incubated during the time of modernism.  No less angry than Luther’s Reformation, postmodernism now sees itself as the formative answer, with its strengths lying in conservationism and anything to do in conjunction with the word post - post mechanistic (ecosystems, organisms, social systems), post analytical (systems thinking, holism, passion), post secular/scientific (spiritual/scientific) and finally, post objective (intersubjective).  Intelligent design is just one of the emerging realities of science that points directly to a Divine enterprise (God) that is being widely embraced within secular realms as a viable alternative to evolutionary design.  In other words, science and religion are on the dance floor.


Observation # 5: There is no commercial, infomercial, packagable model to follow.  This is good news, because it should cause us to become proactive in further research on multiple levels, such as: implications of postmodernism on ministry, (study of internet sites and getting in the heads of some of these writers is a good starting point, even a cup of coffee at Starbucks can be a learning experience); community focus; theological constructs and cultural church traditions.  The models of church ministry the last few years has focused on two levels, the development of the leader and church structures, such as the Purpose Driven Model.  These models will not necessarily convert to postmodernism, but with anything, these successful models of the nineties and early 2000’s can be scalped for tangible insight.    In regards to leadership, Brian McLaren said, “believe what you’ve learned from leadership, and the opposite.”[ii]   From the Christian standpoint, presenters such as John Maxwell and George Barna have served us well with furthering our appreciation for human dynamics and wonderful treatises on great leadership.  But to the postmodern, laws on leadership do not adequately describe the interdependence that many of them seek.  Besides, leadership laws come off being plastic over time.


Following simple rules or how to guides will not build the church of the future.  The current models of postmodern worship services are diverse, except of course for the amount of earrings worn by men and the ever-present goatee.  Again, this should be recognized as a strength due largely in part to the purity of intent, which is to create a refuge for the world, not just for other Christians.  At its heart, the postmodern movement sees many of the difficult or programmed stages of modern churches as its ace in the hole.  Consider evangelism, with modern constructs and verbiage as soul winner or crusade smacking of modernism and lack of sincerity.  In turn, postmodernism treats evangelism as a natural outgrowth of their existence.  This engagement has become a focal point of most of the emerging postmodern models, along with community, the worship/the experience, and participation.  The fun part for any senior pastor will be to dream the great dream once again.  Frankly, being a senior pastor is sometimes a dream killer.  Here’s a test, how many of you have ever said something like this, “ministry would be the greatest job in the world if it weren’t for people.”  If you have, then recognize that the “job” has taken us away from our calling of serving Christ with abandon. 


Observation # 6: If you are a modern pastor, you do not have to hire a young guy with a goatee.  Why? because there are plenty of sharp postmodern guys out there without goatees!  My assessment for any church leader of either a thriving, stalled or anything in between church, is to begin building bridges to this new world.  Currently, the postmodern world is still in its minority stage, but the day will come in the next 20 years (no one knows for sure how long) that postmodernism will be a the forefront of thought processes in our societies.  Typically, many churches are already behind the times, so this type of bridge building will allow several leaps ahead in time.  Senior pastors must learn to engage the world and understand culturally what is going on, or they are going to see fewer people connecting with Christ.  I recognize that for some this is a scary premise and many will choose to stay their current course.  Surprisingly, that course may actually serve incredible growth for the next number of years, but what will become painfully obvious is the complete disconnect from those that have faith and those that do not.  The gulf is widening, and many senior pastors are helping in the dig towards antiquity. 


            Erwin McManus provoked my thinking with this, “the church begins its decline at its peak.”  Our nation is full of mega-churches, many of them billing themselves as the fastest growing in the nation.  That will end some day, and American churches will begin to look like some of the empty cathedrals of Europe.  (Will any of these mega-churches bill themselves as the fastest declining churches in America?)  If McManus is right, then living at the peak is dangerous stuff.  Fortunately, the postmodern is not worried about peaks, it is concerned about getting others intimately involved with Jesus, primarily in small clusters of people or community groups.  The measures of success are currently different within the postmodern movement, though some of the same trappings of success have begun to taint its idealistic ventures and postmodern superstars are beginning to emerge.


Observation # 7: Moving towards postmodernism does not have to be expensive.  Being a Senior Pastor, I have found the real value is in the team of people you come to depend on, before, during and after the transition.  The real cost as the church moves into the 21st Century will come in the actualization of declining membership if we miss the shift from modernism to postmodernism.  Upfront cost in the postmodern church will come with the infusion of imagery and technology to serve an image-driven society raised on visual hits.  Image is everything, high church, gothic, ancient architecture are all hot, orange carpet is out, (it was always way out).


            As mentioned, upfront costs such as video projection, broadband internet networks, lighting systems, architectural features, have many grades as per costs and may been seen by many as non-essential investments.  The last 30 years or so, our investments have been directed into programming that may or may not be giving us good bang for the buck.  It may be time to scale some things back, such as Sunday School, Youth Programs, (I’m an almost 15 year vet here), large secretarial pools using old tech, ineffective children’s ministries, (church oriented as opposed to community oriented), etc.  Sacred cows but the fact is money is available if we choose to trim in areas of ineffectiveness.  It is time to recognize that budgeting priorities lay elsewhere and that pet programs of modernity need a pencil sharpening.  Postmoderns will view spending habits with suspicion and may deem them as a perpetuation of things that are ineffective.


            One last thought in regards to cost.  Most churches spend more on themselves than they do on the community at large and many churches are in the practice of sending money to missionaries all over the world, (I need to be careful here, I have a missionary sister).  We attempt to satisfy ourselves with programming that rarely directs us to any form of evangelism, and to satisfy the requirements of Christ’s call of going to all nations, we write checks.  The dirtiest our hands may ever get is with ink while we sit in monuments made for our comfort. 


Observation # 8: It is not necessary to compromise what Christ considers truth.  That is truly a loaded statement and to comment on all its implications usually requires whole volumes.  I bring it up because there is clearly a gap that is growing between professional clergy, the culture and the emerging generation.  Helpful to me is the ongoing commitment of being a lifelong learner, to take on the characteristics of the Biblical tribe of Issachar, who it was said of, “they were men who knew their times.”  Let’s face it, pastors are overworked, under appreciated and have little time for add-ons, such as seminars or extended learning.  But, as with physical costs, maybe, just maybe this is an opportunity for leaders to refocus their priorities.  A few things that need to happen to work effectively in the postmodern matrix are:


Further understanding of our times

New leadership styles to accommodate new pressures and responsibilities 

Willingness to be honest about “sacred cows”, the separating of our traditions from God’s truth

A greater sense of faith that God is not through using us


While reading this, perhaps you have entertained the thought that your ministry direction has already started to flow within a postmodern direction.  Or, your concern is that you will have to relearn your profession.  What I know to be true for my life is this, my journey to serve God’s purposes will take me many places and to many opportunities.  But most of all, my journey should take me to greater heights of love and obedience to the things of God.  The place of ministry I currently serve is God’s blessing for me to lead with purity of heart, purity of intentions, and purity of motives.  As I listen to my community in which my congregation lives, I discover what God has been doing, is doing and is going to do.  This unfolding plan and the witness of God’s Spirit in my life confirms for me, in my situation, that I must embrace the postmodern matrix.  It further means that I must live in parallel universes, serving the needs of the current church while preparing for the new guests to come.  This is more than an observation, this is a God given opportunity which requires more than a goatee.

[i] Emerging Models of Church Ministry in the 21st Century, sponsored by AGTS, Sacramento, CA., March 2002.

[ii] ibid.