Are nice people killing churches?

Todd Rhodes and Paul Alexander think “nice people” are killing churches. Here are the top three items from a longer list:

1. Nice people have a tendency to hire people that they like rather than people who are going to advance the mission of the church. In other words it’s okay to lose as long as you’re losing with friends.

2. Nice people avoid conflict and by so doing don’t mine the best ideas out of their teams.

3. Nice people keep people on their teams well after the work has surpassed their capacity. This not only slows the mission but it exposes the weaknesses of and hurts the very person they’re trying to protect.


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  1. Tricia Templeton

    Since when was a church a team?

  2. Dave Paisley

    A priest a long time ago that I knew characterized people in a 2X2 matrix: committed/uncommitted and competent/incompetent.

    The competent/committed people do 80% of the work. The incompetent/uncommitted people don’t matter because they never show up.

    The really interesting part is the two off-diagonals.

    You want to convert uncommitted/competent people into committed/competent people. There are various ways to do that.

    The real minefield is the committed/incompetents. They love to take on projects they are unsuited for and will generally screw up a lot of stuff and alienate competent people. You need to find non-mission critical work for them and keep them away from the dynamite.

    Unfortunately, the Dunning-Kruger concept of “incompetent and unaware” keeps these people from realizing they are not good at things at which they think they excel, so they are pretty difficult to manage. These are generally the people that nice competent people are unwilling to confront…

  3. Those are some interesting points. The incompetent/committed people remind me of someone…. Oh, yes. St. Peter! He didn’t do too badly, even though he screwed up quite a bit.

    Maybe what is ailing our churches is that we need to adopt a more cutthroat, corporate model…. Yes, let’s kick out the unpopular kids, the screw-ups, the tone-deaf, the soft-hearted, the incompetents. Let’s fill our pews with the perfect! Because there are so MANY of those kinds of people out there.

    Or, could it be that we are called to be the ANTIDOTE for that? And could our crisis stem from not remembering this? Our message of radical love and acceptance is drowned out by those who have hijacked the name and banner of Christ in the interest of self-righteousness, superciliousness, and division, by those who think heaven is an exclusive club populated by the perfect.

    I sense some incompetence, all right, and it’s in the field of love and discipleship. But guess what? We are all incompetent in this area. The danger is to lose sight of that incompetence, and think we have a mastery of it. We are called to serve each other in humility and gratitude.

  4. Rod Gillis

    Dave Paisley’s post is interesting. I like this.

    “Unfortunately, the Dunning-Kruger concept of ‘incompetent and unaware’ keeps these people from realizing they are not good at things at which they think they excel, so they are pretty difficult to manage.”

    In the church this is what is known as a committee.

  5. Susan Snook

    I interpret the article as referring specifically to a staff team – not to a congregation. If it referred to a congregation, it would be ripe for critique – you accept everyone into the congregation, not because you are “nice,” but because the gospel calls you to love them. But the article is on point in supervising staff. You have to be able to say the difficult things, for their own improvement as ministers as well as for the sake of the church. If a staff person is committed/incompetent, and can’t be trained to improve their competency, it is very poor stewardship to keep them on the team. And probably not so good for their own personal and spiritual development either.

  6. You may be right Susan. However, I attend a parish where the laity exercises a predominant role in doing the work that church is called to do, and that is why I am concerned about exactly HOW these points would be applied. Then there was an example cited of someone singing solos when they are not talented enough.

    Parishes can be hotbeds of judgment and petty jealousies– just like everywhere else, of course. I am not sure that this kind of thinking was not being applied to the congregation. I want my church staff to be nice people– and discerning people. I have seen too many churches blown apart when staff is not nice.

  7. Jonathan Galliher

    In this case the opposite of being nice isn’t being mean, cut-throat perfectionists. It’s being professional even while doing unpaid work.

    With that interpretation, I think Rhodes and Alexander have it basically right. Liturgy done poorly tells visitors and even committed church members that we don’t really value what we are doing whether that’s communicated by bulletins riddled with errors or the altar party slouching and looking bored straight through the service. The same applies to other church ministries, especially one’s where there is a clear objective like feeding the hungry or sheltering the homeless. If we claim that we want to serve those in need but do so only very poorly, we can’t blame others if they think us white-washed tombs more concerned with making ourselves feel good than with meeting other’s needs.

    Perhaps the best example of the church’s failure to be professional is the almost complete lack of managerial training for priests combined with the expectation that most priests have to work as CEO of the small non-profit known as the parish church. In the small business community this tends to show up more in how long it takes to fire an employee that just isn’t working out even though a bad fit is extremely expensive to keep around.

    Jonathan Galliher

  8. I like Peter Drucker’s definition of volunteers as “unpaid staff.” I think that the point of the post is that we sometimes have a problem having difficult conversations in the church–we don’t want to offend people, or even possibly hurt their feelings, and we often have so few people willing to do jobs to begin with. The point of the article, I think, is that we DO need to “speak the truth in love” and match people with roles that they are gifted for, not simply take the first breathing human being and put them into a role or nursemaid them along if they don’t seem to be suited for a role they have chosen.

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