Pivotal to Ministry
Gentleness is so important in pastoral ministry and is one of the qualifications that Paul gives in 1 Timothy 3. We first need to understand biblically what gentleness is, because it is a largely misunderstood term. In our day, we often associate gentleness with weakness. That is not the biblical virtue of gentleness.
Gentleness is not the absence of strength. That’s just weakness. Gentleness is the addition of virtue to strength. One must first be strong. One must first have some power to be able to then add the virtue of gentleness to that power. Gentleness, then, is the ability to cushion the strength, ability, and the power one has so that it brings life and not harm to those who are under his leadership and guidance—especially in the local church context.
This is largely what pastors are doing all the time. Pastors, let’s hope, have some powers, some strength, some knowledge, some skill, some experience, some training—whether it’s mentally, emotionally, or spiritually. They have various abilities and powers, especially when you pull that together as a team. If there’s a plurality in a local church, you are pooling together, let’s hope, what are spiritually mature people who have various strengths, abilities, powers. And what’s critical in pastoral ministry is that the team of pastors knows how to cushion the exercise of their strength.
The pastors could—with their mental power, their biblical knowledge, their emotional ability, their preaching ability, their forcefulness as a group—very easily harm sheep rather than help sheep. So we want our pastoral ministry to be like a gentle rain, not a driving rain.
Gentleness is not the absence of strength. That’s just weakness. Gentleness is the addition of virtue to strength.
A driving rain comes and destroys the crops. It’s so hard. We want a gentle rain that would bring life to the crops that is good—the kind of rain that farmers long for. Or, a gentle wind that will bring a ship with its sails to its shore of haven rather than a driving wind that would send the ship off course and into shipwreck.
And even when pastors correct opponents, Paul says in 2 Timothy 2:24–25 that he wants the Lord’s servants not be quarrelsome, but kind to everyone, able to teach patiently, enduring evil, correcting their opponents with gentleness. So, if even opponents can be corrected with a form of gentleness, how much more that pastors have a kind of gentleness towards their sheep! Again, gentleness is not the lack of of strength. It’s not weakness; it is the proper cushioning of strength for life-giving ends in the flock.
David Mathis is the author of Workers for Your Joy: The Call of Christ on Christian Leaders.
Scripture offers wisdom for those leading churches in roles of pastoral ministry. Return to the words of God for guidance, hope, and encouragement about this important calling.
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As leaders of God’s people, we all long to make a difference for Christ. We don’t want to be unfruitful. The main reason to nurture gentleness is neither pragmatic nor historical, but biblical.
David Mathis discusses the topic of spiritual authority—what it is, who has it, and how we should respond when that authority is abused.