When I was a little boy, my mom told me the fable of a contest between the sun and the wind. They were arguing about which of the two was stronger, when along walked a man wearing a coat. The wind challenged the sun by saying, “I bet I can get his coat off him quicker than you can,” and the sun accepted the challenge.

So, the wind blew and blew and blew until the man could hardly keep his feet. But the harder the wind blew, the more tightly the man pulled his coat around him. The wind finally gave up.

The sun then began to shine gently on the man. The sun caressed the man with warmth until the man eventually removed his coat. The moral of the story is that warmth and gentleness are stronger than might and rage.

That certainly is true of spiritual leadership.

In Ephesians 4:31 Scripture offers helpful words for the spiritual leader:

Speak the truth in love…Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice.

Kindness, of course, is not synonymous with indulgence or lenience. Remember that in the Bible there are two values that must be kept in balance: compassion and accountability. John Beckett, a Christian and a business leader, wrote, “Compassion without accountability produces sentimentalism. Accountability without compassion is harsh and heartless” (in Loving Monday).

Certainly, courageous and visionary decisions must be made. Opposition must be endured, and inappropriate opposition has to be met head-on. But even when the Christian leader must engage in legitimate confrontation, that should be done in love, with an attitude of humility and respect. Callousness is not an admirable attitude for a spiritual leader.

Nastiness, unfortunately, seems to be on the rise in some ministerial circles. I have heard pastors brag about the uproar they raised while bringing about changes. In conversations with fellow pastors, I have heard some disparage the old spoilsports who opposed the pastors. Some of the pastors have even appeared proud of the number of people who have left the church. The arrogant ministers have collected those stories of church clashes like the notches on a gunslinger’s pearl handled revolver.

That attitude disturbs me more than a little bit.

There seems to be a popular idea circulating in some circles—the idea that one cannot lead a church through necessary transitions or change and be compassionate. I fear that the propagation of that assumption is fostering a harshness among some ministers that is both unbecoming and unnecessary. I can’t decide if this is a martyr complex, a Messianic complex, or megalomania.

One thing’s for sure; it is over the top.

Could it be true that some vocational ministers assume the domineering role when  least confident in who they are and what they are doing? Reggie McNeal thinks so. He wrote, “Some leaders…claim to operate from ‘spiritual authority’ when in fact they are operating out of a deep sense of insecurity” (from A Work of Heart). Insecure ministers are tempted to throw their weight around, and if they do, they will alienate members of their congregations and have a difficult time implementing change.

Good leaders aren’t tyrants. And tyrants are not good leaders.  But kindness, genuine kindness, goes a long way in helping ministers lead their congregations through healthy change.

Adapted from Travis’ book, Tough Calls (New Hope, 2008).  

Travis Collins
Travis Collins wears two major hats, as Director of Mission Advancement and Virginia Regional Coordinator for Fresh Expressions US and as a consultant with The Center for Healthy Churches. Travis served for twenty-five years as a senior pastor, the last nineteen years in two large congregations. He is a graduate of Samford University in Birmingham, Alabama and earned the Master of Divinity and Doctor of Philosophy degrees from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. He is a consultant for CHC and the coordinator of CHC-MidAtlantic.