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If You Can't Say Anything Nice... | Seminary Student Blogger

October 16, 2012

Tim Norton

“If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.” My mom absolutely drilled this into my head as a child. There is no point in being mean. In fact, being mean is bad. Don’t do it. If you have nothing nice to say, keep your mouth shut. Right? Maybe it’s not as black and white. Before I go on, let’s make one thing clear. Momma always has and always will be smarter than me. Period. First rule of happiness in the South is to develop an instinctive “Yes ma’am” response. The older I get, the smarter I realize my mom is. While I fully recognize my mom as smarter than me, she might’ve missed it on this particular parable.

I’m reading a book called Incarnate Leadership in my directed study with Dr. Singleton. (Sidenote: Dr. Singleton is a BALLER! I highly recommend his classes.) The book suggests that our model for leadership should derive from Kingdom principles as modeled by Jesus Christ in “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14 NIV11)

What does this have to do with being nice or shutting up? Jesus came “full of grace and truth.” Unpacking that phrase makes me uncomfortable. Why? Because I believe Christians should model “full of grace and truth” and I’m terrible at it. I’m much better at saying nice things or saying nothing than I am at being full of both grace and truth. When I read “full of grace and truth,” I think to myself “FULL of grace and the truth…only when absolutely necessary.” Let me give you an example:

This summer I took two preaching classes. In each class, peer critiques follow each sermon presented. In the back of my mind, all I could think about was “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.” So if my friend preached a poorly organized or confusing sermon, I complemented his “conversational tone” and left the rest up to the Holy Spirit. Is that helpful? It’s nice. It’s very nice. But is it what Jesus asked of us as fellow Christians? How am I showing love by not helping my friend improve? Why is it that I assume a critique is somehow less gracious or loving than a compliment? When did “nice” become the filter for truth?

As Christian leaders, we need to be able to speak the truth. If the person applying for worship leader cannot play guitar to save his life…he needs to know it. If a student fails an exam…she should receive an “F.” It’s not mean. It’s the truth. Jesus came full of truth. Not just partly true, sometimes true, true when it made people feel good. He was full of truth. I’m not good at that.

The flipside, of course, is that some people are really good at being truthful every moment of every day. “I’m just a blunt person,” some of them say. Rock on! I commend you for your honesty. But is your fullness of truth paired with a fullness of grace? When you communicate truth, is it presented in a gracious way? Do you tell the worship leader who can’t play the guitar well “Wow, dude you suck! I’m impressed with how bad you are. Seriously, get off the stage. There is no way I’m hiring you.” That may be true, but it’s graceless.

Finding that balance between fullness of grace and fullness of truth is difficult. I tend to mess up on leaving out the truth—others likely air on the side of gracelessness. Jesus modeled a life and leadership full of both grace and truth. I am challenged to find that balance. It’s hard, but oh man is it important.

Tim Norton is a born-and-raised, small-town Southerner with the sweet tea addiction to prove it. He comes to Gordon-Conwell as a Kern Pastor-Scholar and plans to pursue pastoral ministry in the U.S. after graduation. Tim is a big personality with a strange affinity for the color orange. Currently, he attends GENESIS Church, an Acts 29 church plant in Woburn, MA.



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