Pastor As Nursing Mother: Cultivating Gentleness in Ministry
For an overseer, as God’s steward, must not be . . . quick-tempered but self-controlled, disciplined.
– Titus 1:7-8, par.
An overseer must be . . . gentle, not quarrelsome.
– 1 Timothy 3:2-3, par.
I exhort the elders among you not to domineer over those in your charge.
– 1 Peter 5:1,3, par.
But we were gentle among you, like a nursing mother taking care of her own children.
– 1 Thessalonians 2:7
A breastfeeding mom. This is not the dominant vision for pastoral ministry today. But I am grateful for what appears to be a resurgence in biblically faithful ministry, a growing reformation within the pastoral fraternity that seeks a renewal of ministerial peace and patience, of pastoral gentleness. I need more of this. We need more of this.
Gentleness is a result of real Spiritual maturity. The gentle can influence in ways the domineering cannot, in ways that God uses to actually transform rather than coerce.
How can we cooperate with the Spirit’s work in us to cultivate gentleness in our lives and ministry? Some thoughts:
1. Don’t delegate all of your ministry opportunities.
The temptation for many pastors of growing, busy churches is to begin delegating away counseling, visits, funerals, personal discipleship, etc. and simply focus on studying, preaching, “vision-casting,” and the like. Consequently, the pastor removes himself from the thick of messy ministry. You don’t have to (and can’t!) do it all, but good pastors do some (if not most, depending on your context); they do enough, anyway, to remain “among” the flock of God (1 Peter 5:1-2). And in any event, pastors are not meant to exist “over” their congregations but inside them, along with them — again — “among” them. Don’t withdraw from messy ministry and don’t isolate from the vital life of the Christian community in general. Being with your brothers and sisters, doing life alongside them, and spending time specifically ministering to those who are struggling, grieving, suffering has a softening effect on a Christian over time. Pastor, you want this. You want a thick skin and a tender heart. Develop it by diligently ministering to the flock God has stewarded to you.
You don’t need me to cite and link to all the resources reminding us that technology is making us stressed-out, freaked-out, short-tempered people. Honor the Sabbath. Leave margin. Rest. Take vacation. Take naps. Go outside. Breathe deeply. Turn everything off. Learn how to be still and silent for an extended period of time. Silence is okay; silence is good for you; don’t be afraid of silence. This isn’t some New Agey meditation type stuff. It’s just about decontaminating from noise and “hurry sickness,” the stuff that puts even the best of us on-edge over time. Gentleness will come partly from the ongoing, disciplined, and regular practice of just sitting there.
3. Stay on your knees.
The posture of prayer is the most humble, because prayer is essentially acknowledged helplessness. We stop praying when we basically think “I got this.” So cultivate a good sense of incompetence, of weakness, of need. Remember that Christianity is supernatural. Pastoral ministry is Spiritual. It is first and foremost about God and his gospel, not your big ideas or your extraordinary gifts. The more time we spend in the prayer closet, the more tuned to God’s grace we will be, and the effect of grace is a pronounced confidence and a pronounced humility. That combination makes a Christian gentle, because he is confident enough in the gospel that he has nothing left to hide or defend, and he is humble enough in the gospel to know that only grace for others will change them. Get gentle by getting low in prayer.
4. Fixate on the gospel.
The gospel tells us that salvation is not of us but of God. And it tells us what our God is: love. The sheer wonder of the glory of this news is powerfully disturbing of sin but profoundly settling of heart. The further we will press into the “grace upon grace” (John 1:16) in Christ, the more rest we will find. And the more rest we will find, the more cause we have to lay our weapons down and truly abide with him.
I am working on gentleness myself, and I am grateful that the Spirit is working it in me (Galatians 5:22-23). When our church established elders, while seeking conformity to all the necessary qualifications prescribed by the Scriptures, I nevertheless especially wanted to make sure we nominated gentle men for our covenant family to affirm. Pastors lead best by leading, not by pushing, and we lead best by nourishing, comforting, feeding the church in the most attentive way the gospel of Christ.