Leading churches

Stretching Toward Gentleness

When everything seems to be crumbling around us, Jesus sets a countercultural example.

If you’re anything like me, you’re feeling tired. In the past couple months, I’ve had conversations with several different people who shared that it feels like the world is ending. A quick scroll through Facebook is enough to set any sane person off, when you see two people posting the opposite sentiments next to each other in your feed. How do you shepherd such a diverse group of people? 

Every pastor I’ve talked to is worried about how their congregation is processing each new bit of news that is released, and many are worried that reporters are discipling their people more than the Bible. 

How do we, as Christians, respond to the insanity we see in our world? Would it surprise you to learn that the Bible commands us to respond with gentleness?

[W]hen people think about how we behave, one of the first words that should come to their mind is gentle.

Not anger, not bitterness, not an eye for an eye—but gentleness.  

What gentleness looks like

In Philippians 4:5, Paul commands us to, “Let your gentleness be evident to all.” When we are wronged, we are supposed to respond with gentleness. When we are slandered, we are supposed to respond with gentleness. When we are excited about how God is working, we are supposed to respond with gentleness.

And, when people think about how we behave, one of the first words that should come to their mind is gentle. As a pastor, do you think “gentle” is the way most people think of your church? 

There was a dear saint in the first church I served who was one of the most gentle people I’d met. Despite being over 70, he was my best youth volunteer! Nothing seemed to shake him and even multiple heart surgeries could not stop him from continuing to serve our students and parents.  There were multiple instances where he would gently correct my youthful ignorance, reminding me when it wasn’t appropriate to check basketball scores (during prayer) and helping me process a helicopter parent. The most significant to me was that he would meet me weekly at Starbucks, despite not being a coffee drinker, just to encourage me and pray with me.

Gentleness is such an important characteristic that it shows up in two other key passages in the Bible: Matthew 11:29 and Galatians 5:22.

The gentleness of Jesus

“Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.”

This passage is what Dane Ortlund has described as the “only one place where Jesus tells us about his own heart.” Jesus, God made flesh, at His very core is gentle toward us, sinners deserving eternal death. Why are we so quick to run to the account of Jesus flipping the tables, but slow to remind each other that Jesus responds to us with gentleness?

Think of the woman caught in adultery in John 8. While the religious leaders wanted justice, they failed to realize they were staring the only source of justice in the face. Instead of piling on insults or moving straight toward condemnation, Jesus bent over and drew in the sand. Eventually, He replied, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her” (John 8:7).

I once heard a pastor quip that this may have been the first moment in this woman’s life where a man looked at her as a person without any ulterior motives. Jesus rejected the violent acts of tradition and forged a new path, leaving an example of His gentleness.

Jesus takes our earthly expectations and flips them on their heads. Can you imagine how excited the disciples must have felt as they met with him for the last time outside Jerusalem? The resurrected Savior was finally going to take over the world. Or was he? 

If we, who are a part of one family, cannot be marked by gentleness toward each other, then we need to question what we’re placing our hope and trust in.

The last question they asked Jesus in Acts 1:6 was if he would finally restore the kingdom to Israel. Gentleness was the last thing on their minds! It didn’t define the way the early church tended to operate, and often, it still doesn’t.

Think of any of the dozens of polarizing issues we’ve faced over the last 18 months. Are your conversations responding to those issues marked by gentleness, or something else?

We can ask ourselves this question in response to a multitude of controversial issues: is your response marked by gentleness or something else?

I’m not saying that we shouldn’t have convictions. If we look at Jesus, we see a man full of conviction. I have come by many of my own convictions honestly by studying God’s Word and trying to apply it to my life. But so have people who have come to different conclusions than I have, and God has called us into one family. If we, who are a part of one family, cannot be marked by gentleness toward each other, then we need to question what we’re placing our hope and trust in. 

The gentleness of Christians

Then we get to Galatians 5 and the fruit of the Spirit. These are the characteristics that we as Christians are commanded to demonstrate in our lives in increasing measure: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Even our theology is meant to lead us to bear these characteristics in increasing measure.

Most of the time, we think of theology as merely an intellectual pursuit—but the ultimate goal of our entire lives is to bring honor and glory to God alone. If our theology is not applied to our daily lives then our theology is worthless.

Let us look to Jesus, the source of gentleness...

How often today does our theology lead us to demonstrate what Galatians 5:20 describes as the acts of the flesh: dissensions and factions?

We’ve seen many of those dissensions bubble up to the surface in our churches over the past year and a half, and the church I serve in Minnesota is no exception. Each time we enacted a new policy for our body, some new rule or restriction changed the entire conversation. We had many long and difficult elder meetings, and we were all just trying to do the best we could to distill the data and information thrown our way.

Yet in the midst of those difficult conversations, we were able to walk out of these meetings as brothers, remembering that we do not fight against flesh and blood. The waters of baptism that unite us are stronger than the fleshly desires of our hearts. Walking through these issues as a team has allowed us to be more united in subsequent conversations and it has grown the trust we have in each other to continue being obedient to Christ.

But it all started with a gentle response—with our refusal to entertain the dissensions and factions of the flesh, and our insistence on following the example of our gentle Jesus.

What would it look like if ten percent of our churches grew in gentleness by five percent over the next year? What kind of spiritual fruit do you think we would start to see lived out by our intentional pursuit of Jesus’ heart towards us as gentle?

This idea gives me the strength I need to continue pursuing Jesus and my community instead of feeling worn out and worn down by the continual exhaustion of the world around us. Let us look to Jesus, the source of gentleness, and then work out that gentleness in our lives as we seek to show Jesus to each other and the world through the power of His Spirit at work in us to the glory of the Father.

Mike Strand

Lead Pastor, South Suburban Church

Mike Strand serves as the lead pastor at South Suburban Church in Apple Valley, MN. He is passionate about seeing people and churches become more of what Christ has called us all to be and enjoys reading, music, basketball and good coffee. He is married to Cara and they have 3 kids, all under 4 years old.

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