So here’s a bit of a confession and like all confessions it carries a certain amount of guilt and shame. I did doctoral studies which included a large focus on leadership. My bookshelves have several rows packed with secular and specifically Christian leadership books. I have attended a lot of leadership conferences and training events. At the moment I’m trying to think deeply about leadership because of becoming the pastor at Westlake, it’s a subject on my mind most days. So here is my confession. Recently I have had a new thought about leadership. Now that is a fact which, in one sense, is encouraging, I’m still learning. On the other hand its also deeply discouraging because what I now see is so clear that I am ashamed I hadnt seen it before.
So here is my insight, which probably isn’t an insight for most of you, that “gentleness” should be a defining characteristic of Christian leadership. Actually it should be a characteristic of all Christians. In my devotions at the moment I’m reading Lance Witt’s REPLENISH : Leading From A Healthy Soul and in it he has a whole chapter on the importance of gentleness to Christian spirituality in general and Christian leadership in particular.
As a little experiment, I popped “gentleness” into my bible software and was convicted by the results, here is a summary Jesus says people should come to Him, accept His leadership of their lives because he is “gentle and humble in heart” (Matt 11:28-29) Paul says an elder, a spiritual leader in the Body of Christ, should be gentle (1Tim 3:3 )Paul also told Timothy, whom he was mentoring in Christian leadership, to pursue gentleness (1 Tim 6:11 )He similarly told the leaders in Thessalonica to treat those under their care with gentleness (1 Thess 2:7)
Maybe I haven’t always been the best student or the most careful reader or attentive listener but I don’t remember in all those lectures, books or conferences a focus on this indispensable component of Christian leadership. I have heard and read plenty about vision casting, a lot about team building, guiding change and time management ( and I probably needed to and still to hear about those things ) but precious little of anything that related to building a reputation for treating people with gentleness. To be honest I probably subconsciously came to be believe that to really get things done that a Christian leader needed to be the very opposite of gentle, perhaps slightly hard nosed. In fact, I know there is a chapter in one of those leadership books on my shelves about “developing a Christian mean streak”
So at the moment I am wrestling with gentleness at a theoretical and practical level and I thought as a way of being accountable in the future I should let you listen in. Theoretically, I’m thinking about what is this gentleness like in the flesh, in ministering as a flawed human being to, at times, broken people in stressful situations ? In the 21st century how do I understand how to be gentle without being ineffective or weak or allowing myself to be taken advantage of by those with a stronger personality? It’s pretty obvious that the gentleness that characterised Jesus and Paul didn’t make them a doormat to be walked over or pushed around, both were fairly single minded about doing what God had called them to do and at times stood up to others forcefully. I’m also pretty sure the Type A steamroller leadership style I have glimpsed from some Christian leaders certainly isn’t what Scripture means by gentleness either, it gets things done at the expense of others.This kind of leadership has recently spectacularly come to grief and been revealed to have been incredibly damaging to the church in general and to many, many people.
The thing is that Scripture never allows us to deal with things at the purely theoretical level. As I said there is a verse I wish wasn’t in Scripture in all honesty, as it would make life so much easier for me. It’s a verse in which Paul makes all this stuff about gentleness all too practical “LET YOUR GENTLENESS BE EVIDENT TO EVERYONE” Phil 4:5 It would have been so much easier if Paul had said, let your gentleness to be evident
To those who only see you occasionally
To those who only see you on Sunday at church
To those who only see you when you have your “pastor persona” on
He just had to add “everyone” didn’t he? I was off the hook, if he had said “some of the people some of the time.” But there it is, in my Bible as black and white as anything in God’s Word. I am called to build a reputation for gentleness with everyone and that includes those who know me best ( I’m kinda hoping Ann might not comment on this), those I work closest with and my personal weakness, officials who sometimes try my patience ( sorry to anyone who works in airport security, my gentleness hasn’t always been evident to you)
For me, building a reputation for gentleness with my personality feels a bit like one of those tasks that is so enormous or beyond my skill level that I would be better giving up before I start to avoid the humiliation of failure. Yet in one of those paradoxes of the Christian life perhaps this very admission of my own inability to develop a life Characterised by gentleness is the starting point for being to live that kind of life. But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 GENTLENESS, and self-control. There is no law against these things! 24 Those who belong to Christ Jesus have nailed the passions and desires of their sinful nature to his cross and crucified them there. 25 Since we are living by the Spirit, let us follow the Spirit’s leading in every part of our lives. Gal 5
I am so relieved and inspired by those words, even me, with my at times abrasive edges can develop a life increasingly characterised by gentleness because it’s not the fruit of my self discipline and hard work but of the work of the Holy Spirit in me and through me as I surrender my independence to dependence on His power and leading in my life. Now thankfully I have a life time to practise doing that, I may become an expert around my death bed. In the intervening period, please forgive me if my gentleness isn’t always evident to you. I’m in recovery and may sometimes fall of the wagon but at least I now know I should be on the gentleness wagon, that’s got to be a step in the right direction, right?
Hey, you do realise that verse applies to you too dont you? “LET YOUR GENTLENESS BE EVIDENT TO EVERYONE” was written to you as much as me, so how are you doing in building a reputation for gentleness? With your wife/husband, children, work colleagues, neighbours, family members?