In Colossians 3:12, we are exhorted to clothe ourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Of those five spiritual virtues, I think gentleness is the one most foreign to our understanding of what it takes to be a leader. In fact, in the corporate world, being gentle may be perceived as weakness or a lack of confidence.
It is tempting to get our way by being abrupt and forceful with others. Yet Jesus was not only humble, but gentle in heart (Matthew 11:29).
Henri Nouwen writes:
Once in a while we meet a gentle person. Gentleness is a virtue hard to find in a society that admires toughness and roughness. We are encouraged to get things done and to get them done fast, even when people get hurt in the process. Success, accomplishment, and productivity count. But the cost is high. There is no place for gentleness in such a milieu.
Gentle is the one who does “not break the crushed reed, or snuff the faltering wick” (Matthew 12:20). Gentle is the one who is attentive to the strengths and weaknesses of the other and enjoys being together more than accomplishing something. A gentle person treads lightly, listens carefully, looks tenderly, and touches with reverence. A gentle person knows that true growth requires nurture, not force. Let’s dress ourselves with gentleness. In our tough and often unbending world our gentleness can be a vivid reminder of the presence of God among us.
Again, “A gentle person knows that true growth requires nurture, not force.”
It strikes me that being gentle in a tough world takes extraordinary inner strength—not only to be attentive and patient with others, but also to avoid the trap of making short-term productivity a higher goal than long-term Kingdom growth. There is a place to use force in ministry—when protecting others from threats which seek to confuse or enslave. But other than those (hopefully rare!) occasions, a leader’s strength should come to others as gentle, thoughtful nurture; though this will often seem to be foolishness to the world.
Mark Anderson has a passion for helping people experience God and take steps towards getting to know Him better. He is a full-time Whole Life Coach for leaders in both the church and marketplace as well as providing pastoral leadership at Marineview Chapel in Vancouver, BC. Vision Ministries planters and leaders who are interested in coaching and/or spiritual direction are encouraged to contact him through www.more2life.ca.