Today I led a service at church. The theme was gentleness, and I shared on Facebook that I was going to be leading and preaching on this theme. Someone commented this in response:
“Just a comment, I don’t find ‘preaching’ to be a gentle word. But I wish you well.”
I didn’t want to get into any long discussion on Facebook (particularly one that would give away the points of my talk), but the comment did make me think. I might be wrong, but I think the person making the comment was coming from a place of struggling with preaching in general and of anyone imposing their ideas upon others. So from that point of view, they and I are coming from very different points of view about the importance and urgency of telling people about Jesus.
This was why I didn’t want to get into an argument. In the end I simply replied, “It depends what you mean by gentle, I guess! You’ll have to come find out.” They didn’t come, but then they do live a bit of a distance away.
Is ‘preaching’ a gentle word? It really does depend on your definition of ‘gentle’. Manchester University ran a study about the effectiveness of gentleness in hospice care. These are some of their findings:
“Our study found that the most important aspect of being gentle was taking a ‘soft and slow’ approach. This included a wide range of behaviours such as: speaking in a soft and quiet manner; softly touching hands or the lower arm; keeping an open posture (i.e. not crossing arms); sitting or crouching down to talk with clients; generally not rushing care delivery or decisions.
So I guess in this way preaching isn’t at all gentle. When I’m giving a talk I don’t talk particuarly softly, and my posture is upright and strong. Although I’d hope that I am open and approachable, leaving people with food for thought rather than black and white statements they have no choice but to believe.
But in my research I discovered that the Greek word in the list of the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-24) is prautes. The pra- root is difficult to translate – it has often been translated as ‘meek’, which in my modern mind (incorrectly) is being walked over or snivelling and subservient. But the Greek means more than that. It is a blend of gentleness and strength – hence the ideal definition of gentleness is ‘power under perfect control’.
Charles Swindoll says this:
“In our rough and rugged individualism, we think of gentleness as weakness—being soft and virtually spineless. Not so. Gentleness includes such enviable qualities as having strength under control, being calm and peaceful when surrounded by a heated atmosphere, emitting a soothing effect on those who may be angry or otherwise beside themselves, and possessing tact and gracious courtesy that causes others to retain their self esteem and dignity. Instead of losing, the gentle gain; instead of being ripped off and taken advantage of, they come out ahead.”
Gentleness has a strength to it that can indeed include preaching, or sharing the gospel with people. The key to it is to treat people with respect and dignity. To be humble – understanding that you come from a different emotional, cultural and experiential place – and your place is no better or worse than theirs, just different. I love 1 Peter 3:13:
“But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.”
I hope in this blog I can be gentle. I can’t do this on my own because I’m still learning and growing in the fruit of the Spirit, and only God can do it in me. But I just want to offer to you what I have with open hands. Feel free to take it, or to leave it there.
This was my favourite quote from my research. It comes from Gayle Erwin:
“Gentleness is not apathy but is an aggressive expression of how we view people. We see people as so valuable that we deal with them in gentleness, fearing the slightest damage to one for whom Christ died. To be apathetic is to turn people over to mean and destructive elements, to truly love people cause for us to be aggressively gentle.”