I’ve got a small umbrella of leadership at the moment. I’m a staff pastor of a mid-sized church and oversee about seventy wonderful volunteers. I also am a father of two high energy, incredible kids. Most of the time, my kids obey me (they’re both less than 3 so I don’t get much sass…YET) and most of the time my team is the epitome of amazingness.
But then sometimes they’re not.
I have to diffuse conflict. I have to deal with hurt people. I have to handle people who are hurting others or the ministry or their sibling. I have to deal with little rascals who are naturally defiant and believe that there’s no reason they shouldn’t get their own way. You know how people, from 2 to 92, can be.
My natural response to conflict is to run away. It’s to ignore it as long as possible and hope it goes away. It’s to pack my bags. And then when it’s pressed on, when there’s no avoiding it, when the conflict grows so big or so painful that it has to be dealt with, I go Hulk.
And if you know anything about Hulk, you know that “Hulk Smash.”
I have never actually become violent, and my wife could probably count the times I’ve yelled in 6 years of marriage on a single hand, but I do get angry and verbally fight.
I’m sitting in a sports bar right now and there’s Mixed Martial Arts (read, “cage fighting”) playing on 70% of the televisions above my head. Oftentimes when I think of the Bible telling us to be more gentle, I think of pacifism, of non-violence, and of keeping my hands from punching obnoxious bar-goers who are cheering for the fighter I want to lose.
But the word for “gentleness” that Paul uses in Galatians 5:23 is prowtays (πραΰτης). Paul uses this word to also mean “meekness” and often pairs it with “humility.” This gentleness isn’t just keeping your fists away from enemy faces, this kind of “gentleness” is a qualifying characteristic of actions in times of verbal conflict as well. In Titus 3:2, it is the opposite of “quarreling.” In 2 Timothy 2:5 “in gentleness” is a way to correct others. The same goes for Galatians 6:1. The biblical idea Paul is conveying is to handle conflict in such a way that others are not hurt and relationships can be conserved. In conflict we aren’t out to win over others, but to win others over.
We aren’t fighting to knock them out, but coaxing others over to our side.
That’s why nobody has been converted to Christianity via the YouTube comment section. That’s why sandwich board evangelists telling people they’re going to hell aren’t actually showing the love of God. These crusaders are actually demonstrating their spiritual immaturity — because when we grow in the Spirit we grow in gentleness.
My prayer before and during conflict has become “make me gentle.” I want to be a firm presence that guides others. I want people trying to fight me feel like they’re punching a mattress, or running into a padded wall. They’re not going to get hurt, but they’re not going to move me either.
I’m imperfect and sometimes I still Hulk rage, but I’m a work in progress, being molded by slowly over time by a forgiving God who sees me as I will be — gentle, all the while being made gentle.