Kind Versus Nice

There were two musicians that I worked with in a previous ministry. Because they’re both still participating in the ministry, let’s call one Pete and the other Paul, and for further anonymity, let’s say they both played “instrument x.”

Pete is a long-time member of this team (i.e. I inherited him). He’s extremely talented on his instrument–and, for awhile, he was the only one that played “instrument x.” Pete’s a great guy and has a sincere desire to serve on the team. However, he kept the kind of schedule between work and family that would exhaust a Fortune 500 CEO. As a result, he often did not attend rehearsals and more than once called at the last minute to cancel on a Sunday morning.

Paul was a newcomer to our church and a welcome addition to the team: he was a multi-instrumentalist (don’t you love having those guys!). He filled in on other instruments for a few months before playing “instrument x.” The first rehearsal with him on “instrument x” was rough. His timing and feel were off, and I wondered if I made a mistake letting him play in this position.

I loved both guys (still do) and didn’t want to risk either of them leaving the team. But both of these situations warranted some critical input. Looking back, I made two different choices: I chose to protect the feelings of one and speak truth to the other. I chose to “like” one (and really, to have him like me), and to show love to the other, and risked him not liking me.

I chose to be “nice” to one and “kind” to the other.

Over and over I was nice to Pete, kept “encouraging” him to make rehearsals, and excusing him when he called to cancel at the last minute. I thought I was taking the high road. I thought was honoring his longevity on the team. I thought I was being nice. And I was. Nice.

Back to Paul. During that first rehearsal that Paul played on “instrument x”, I decided to call him on his timing and feel issues. I think I did it with love. But guess what? He “wasn’t feelin’ the love.” In fact, he got mad. And not just any kind of mad: he got mad at me. After rehearsal ended, he left. Mad. Mad at me.

The next day I called him and I stated the obvious, “You were mad at me last night,” and then let him respond however. Turns out, I was right: he was mad. But he had time to think about it and realized his timing and feel wasn’t as “on” as he thought. The next time he played “instrument x,” there were none of the previous issues. He had been working hard to overcome them, and it showed.

Let me boil this down:

The fruit of being “nice”and skirting the issues with Pete was missed opportunity. Missed opportunity…

  • to fix a problem. If I had spoken truth in love to Pete I would have given him the chance to fix it. Because I didn’t confront him, he believed his actions were OK and behaved accordingly.
  • to honor the team. It affected the whole worship team when he failed to show. I put my own fears of being disliked above them.
  • to earn a right to care and to lead. I was not showing him care by letting him do what he did. As a result, I abdicated my leadership role in that situation.
  • to get at the deeper issues. The real issue wasn’t his lateness/absence, etc. Those were a result of the crazy schedule he kept. And my guess is the crazy schedule wasn’t the real issue either. But since I chose to be nice, I never discovered the underlying cause. As a result, I lost the opportunity to be a redemptive agent in his life.

Now the fruit of showing true kindness–rather than niceness–to Paul, was the opportunity…

  • to fix a problem. Had I let it go, he would have continued to play the way he played.
  • to honor the team. They all could see the issues. Had I let it go, their gifts and contributions would have been diminished by Paul’s shortcomings. It also modeled for them a way to speak truth in love to each other and gave them the permission do so.
  • to earn a right to care for him and lead him. By confronting in kindness, it gave allowed him to accept the care I was offering and graciously follow my leadership.
  • to get to deeper issues. I showed him the kindness of truth-telling. He responded by trusting me to lead and care for him. On several occasions he invited me into tough life situations that he was facing, giving me a chance to serve and minister to him.

I’m a people-pleaser at heart, so being nice is an enormous temptation. I’m realizing that niceness is just hollow way to protect my feelings. But kindness carries a love and truth that can play a redemptive role in people’s lives. And it seems like it works for God.

Jon Nicol