What skills and virtues make effective ministers? Strong public speaking skills, leadership, compassion? Most likely patience won't make your list.
But when the apostle Paul defines the kind of love that is the foundation of ministry in 1 Corinthians 13, he starts with patience.
God says to truly demonstrate the kind of love that all ministry should be based on, you've got to start with patience. Why? He's had several thousand years experience dealing with people! His love through the centuries has been demonstrated over and over again by patience. He expects our love to be patient as well.
And, pastor, you'll find all sorts of opportunities to demonstrate patience in ministry this year. Disgruntled parishioners, demanding leaders – even your family will give you lots of chances to build upon this important virtue.
The Greek word for patience literally means, "It takes a long time to boil." Pastor, do you take a long time to boil? You should.
The Bible tells everyone in 1 Thessalonians 5:14b (NIV) to "be patient with everyone." Notice that God commands this. He doesn't suggest it. God never tells us to do something without showing us how to do it. Here's what the Bible has to say about becoming more patient:
1. Remember how patient God has been with you.
You'll never have to be more patient with anyone else than God has been with you. In 1 Timothy 1:16b (NIV) Paul says, "I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst sinner, Christ might display his unlimited patience." God choose Paul despite the fact that he was a persecutor of the church. God showed unlimited patience to him. And, pastor, he shows unlimited to patience to you and I as well.
Romans 15:7a (NIV) says, "Accept each other just as Christ has accepted you." The reason we should accept other people is that God has accepted us. The reason we are to be patient with other people is that God has been patient with us. That's the starting point for learning to be patient in 2010.
2. Learn by listening.
Proverbs 14:29a (NIV) says, "A patient man has great understanding." You've got to have understanding to show patience. The Bible says the key to patience is understanding. No doubt you've seen this in your life. When you understand someone, you're more patient with him or her.
If you don't understand them, you're not going to be patient with them. You understand people by listening to them. Proverbs 18:13 in the Message paraphrase says, "Answering before listening is both stupid and rude." In other words, don't evaluate what people do or what they say until you've heard it all.
Most of us pastors think we're pretty good listeners. But are we? Research shows that only seven percent of the meaning of what you say is communicated in words. Another 42 percent of that meaning comes from how you say what you say (vocal tone, pitch, volume, and delivery). The remaining 50 percent of the meaning is communicated through non-verbal language (facial expression, hand gestures, and body language). Pastor, that's why phone calls are only about 50 percent effective! You can't see what the other person is communicating through his or her body.
To be more patient in 2010, you need to listen more. Listen with your whole body because listening is as much about your eyes as your ears.
3. Make allowances for each other.
Everybody's got bad days. We're all flaky from time to time. Kay knows when I have touchy times. In fact, I have two of them in particular – Monday mornings and the night before I preach. I'm sure you can relate. On Monday morning I'm beat from preaching and interacting with people all weekend long. The night before I preach I'm touchy because I have PMS – Pre-Message Syndrome. Kay makes allowances for that. She realizes those are bad days, and she cuts me a break. If you're going to be more patient in 2010, you'll need to give people a break from time to time.
The Bible says, "Be patient with each other, making allowances for each other's faults, because of your love" (Ephesians 4:2 NLT). Sometimes the people you're dealing with are just having a bad day. Resist the urge to retaliate. Show your love by making allowances for their faults – and bad days.
4. Treat others the way you want to be treated.
Of course, that's the Golden Rule. "Always treat others as you'd like them to treat you." That single sentence could save most relationships. This is easy to understand but difficult to practice.
Philippians 2:4-5 (NLT) says, "Don't look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too. You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had." To be more patient in 2010, take some time to discover what other people are interested in. That's not just a good practice for patience; it's a crucial pastoral practice. Make it your priority this year to get to know the people in your circle of influence – from your spouse to your kids to your staff. What makes the people in your life tick? You need to know. It'll let you know how they want to be treated and will make you far more patient this year.