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Got Grace?

By Michael A Zigarelli
The Regent Business Review - Jesus said "forgive, and you will be forgiven." Yet by their own admission, Christians struggle quite a bit to forgive others. They also experience significant challenges with patience and gentleness, according to a new study from Regent University, now published as a book entitled Cultivating Christian Character.

The conclusions are based on survey information from over 5,000 Christians, representing all 50 states and almost 60 countries. According to the study, "Part of the rationale for this research is to determine where we're weak so that we'll be in a better positions to become strong. As we identify our weaknesses, we'll know what to work on, what to pray about, and what to deal with in the study group, in the classroom, and from the pulpit."

Christians' struggles to be consistently forgiving, patient, and gentle are pervasive, transcending gender, age, race, and denomination. Even the number of years one has been a believer does not affect these virtues. Although such conclusions are based on several questions that measure each character quality, the following statistics indicate the potential problem. Christians are called to be consistently Christ-like, but only:

62% of Christians say that they are "often" or "always" gentle with others.

61% of Christians say that they are "often" or "always" forgiving of those who hurt them.

44% of Christians say that they are "often" or "always" patient and 20% admit that they do not remain patient even "sometimes."

The Leadership Implications

What, then, might these results mean for Christians in leadership and management? Perhaps that many believers are too hard on people, too sharp with their tongues, too easily irritated, too quick to criticize, and unwilling to give second or third chances. In even more concrete terms, the findings may implicate challenges with conflict resolution, performance management, teamwork, negotiation, and even routine day-to-day interactions with co-workers. Indeed, it's plausible that as Christian leaders get work done and accomplish important goals in the workplace, they leave behind a trail of hard feelings, broken relationships, and unimpressed unbelievers.

In fact, another recent study provides some evidence of just that. When asked how others perceived them at work, over 300 Christians in leadership positions reported that they were known more for their ability to "solve problems" and to "get results" than they were for their patience or gentleness. As shown in the graphic, this group of Christian leaders did not even "moderately agree" that their co-workers see them as patient or gentle.

So What's The Solution?

If patience, gentleness, and forgiveness are some of our major problems, the obvious question is: what are the solutions? What can I do to change if I'm lacking in patience, gentleness, and/or forgiveness?

Of course, there are a plethora of books and other resources that speak to these issues, some from a clinical perspective, some from an exegetical one (see "For Further Reading" below). The Regent character study examined the question scientifically, analyzing information from more than 1,500 people assessed as "well above average" in Christ-likeness and comparing it to information from the other 3,500 Christians in the sample. The analysis revealed not just to pathways to forgiveness, patience and gentleness, but a broader pathway to virtue generally; that is, the means by which we can grow in all areas of Christian character.

In short, the research identified three qualities - gratitude, God-centeredness, and consistent joyful living - as the reasons that Christians become more Christ-like in character. To quote: "This seems to be how Christians go from good to great. We found that those who have sown these three seeds into their lifestyle are far more likely to reap maximum Christian character. Elusive virtues like forgiveness, patience, and gentleness, as well as those of kindness, compassion, inner peace, and self-control, all flow from the root virtues of gratitude, God-centeredness, and joyful living. If we want to grow in any area of our character - including the toughest areas that have plagued us our whole lives - we would be well-advised to start in these three areas."

The full book-length report unpacks each of these three pathways to better character in some detail, but interestingly, this is a formula that implies a convergence of scientific knowledge and Biblical knowledge. It was the Apostle Paul who wrote: "Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus" (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18). It's not often that the New Testament makes the direct statement "this is God's will," but it does here - here where the blueprint appears to parallel the recommendations of this study. Joy, continual prayer (an indication of God-centeredness), and gratitude are the keys to permanent change.

So the bottom line for those who have misplaced their patient hat, or for those struggling with their temper or with forgiveness, is to pursue change by focusing not just on those specific issues, but on deeper issues as well - their relationship with God, their gratefulness for His blessings, and their impediments to real joy in life.

To order the study, entitled Cultivating Christian Character, call toll-free 1-866-909-BOOK.

The Regent Business Review is a free electronic magazine published by the Graduate School of Business at Regent University.

Order the full study: Cultivating Christian Character

Order your free subscription to the Regent Business Review

See the latest issue of the Regent Business Review

More from the Regent Graduate School of Business

More from Regent University

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