The writer of Hebrews paints a beautiful portrait of a spiritual leader. When describing how the Priest functions, the writer says
"He is able to deal gently with those who are ignorant and are going astray, since he himself is subject to weakness." Hebrews 5:2 (NIV)
The spiritual leader knows how to deal with ignorant and those who go astray. I think of the ignorant as those who just don’t know better. This could be the person who is new to the faith and they just haven’t been discipled yet. They don’t know what they don’t know. Personally, I think it is easy and even refreshing to deal with these people. They haven’t been Christians long enough to think they know it all and have it all figured out.
The much harder group is the “going astray” group. In my mind, these are the people who willfully choose to stray from the flock. Some of them are even flat out rebellious. These are the people you keep having the same conversations with about their problems and their sin. Their straying keeps causing problems and wreaking havoc in their life. They are irritating and annoying and can be the sheep that are hard to love.
In fact, you could probably put names and faces to the “going astray” group. They are in every church. But notice the word that Hebrews 5 uses to describe how we should treat them. We are called to deal gently with them.
One of the most underrated and underestimated qualities of a spiritual leader is the quality of gentleness.
There is an obscure passage in the gospel of Matthew that shines the spotlight on the quality of gentleness in the life of Jesus.
"He will not fight or shout or raise his voice in public. He will not crush the weakest reed or put out a flickering candle. Finally he will cause justice to be victorious." Matthew 12:19-20 (NIV)
These cryptic words can be traced back to the book Isaiah, but they speak volumes about the ministry of Jesus. They don’t address the “what” of his ministry, but they do speak of the “how.”
Jesus did not come to cajole or manipulate people like some kind of religious charlatan. He did not come to debate or lead by forceful personality. He never tried to gather a crowd or build an organization. He never marketed himself or developed his “brand”.
Rather, Isaiah portrays a gentle, compassionate, tender-toward-people Messiah. In ancient times reeds were sometimes used to make a musical instrument. But when the reed became soft or cracked, it became worthless and was tossed aside. And when a lamp burned all the way down to the wick, it would smolder and not produce any light and like a cracked reed, it was thrown in the garbage.
Like a cracked reed or a smoldering wick, broken people are often cast aside. Thank God that Jesus doesn’t love us or value us based on our usefulness or potential. Of all the possible descriptions Isaiah could have used to portray the style of Jesus’ ministry, I am intrigued that he singled out the qualities of humility and gentleness.
Another appropriate translation for gentleness could be graciousness. I believe this is one of the most endearing qualities a leader can possess. A healthy leader is gracious. A godly leader is gracious.
As pastors and ministry leaders, we love to quote Philippians 4 where Paul tells us to…
- rejoice in the Lord always.
- don’t be anxious about anything.
- present your requests to God.
- think on that which is noble and true.
Tucked right in the middle of that passage is a verse that doesn’t get the same airtime: Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Philippians 4:5 (NIV)
In my own life I have observed that when I’m emotionally empty and spiritually unhealthy, I am not gentle. I am irritable, impatient, harsh, and biting.
It should be true that the longer we know and serve Jesus, we grow in graciousness, not grumpiness.
I don’t understand Christians who as they get older become more cranky and crotchety. The longer we know Jesus, the more kind and gracious and gentle we should become.
A question for leaders to ask is, “Do those who know me best respect me most?” I’m not talking about respect for you as a visionary or an organizational leader. Do those who have a front-row seat to my life see a leader who’s personal, tender, gracious, and gentle?
Put this on your radar this week.
- When someone brings a problem, don’t be defensive.
- Listen better.
- Be a more gentle driver on the road this week.
- Be present in a conversation instead of being pre-occupied.
- Ask someone about their family this week.
- Allow compassion to interrupt your schedule this week.
- Pray with someone who is hurting