I served as a youth pastor in my first staff assignment, and every two months or so, I was allowed to preach on a Sunday night, with varying degrees of success.
One night, I decided not to speak in “pastorese,” but to speak the way I normally did, using words like “guts” and “stuff.”
Several days later, my pastor told me that a prominent church couple was offended when I said “guts,” and that I should drop that term from my preaching vocabulary … along with “stuff.”
My purpose is not to argue about pulpit terminology, but to point out that the words of a pastor carry great weight for many people.
Let me share three quick examples:
First, many people remember what a pastor says in personal conversation.
When I was first a youth pastor, a young man (I’ll call him Bob) who attended our church often attended an earlier service at another church led by a famous televangelist. Bob had known this pastor personally for years.
Bob was something of a rascal and took great delight in listening in on the post-service conversations of this well-known preacher and sharing what he said with his “other church.”
One time, Bob called the pastor by his first name in a crowd, and the pastor called him aside and said, “That’s Dr. __________ to you.”
Another time, a seminary professor told our class about a long conversation he had with that same televangelist at a banquet … that all the professor did was listen to that televangelist the whole night … and that he didn’t care for him at all.
The point: people were forming opinions about this televangelist simply from personal conversations he held with other believers.
And pastors need to know that people are not only listening carefully to their conversations … but even listening in on them.
Whether we know it or not, our words carry weight.
Second, pastors need to be careful when they point out someone’s faults in private.
I don’t know how to say this properly, but over 36 years of church ministry, I didn’t view myself as anyone special.
I always took the responsibility of being a pastor seriously, but sometimes, I didn’t realize how powerful my words were to some people.
Many years ago … and it pains me to this day to think about it … someone connected me to a nationally-known church consultant who was big stuff at the time.
The consultant reviewed our church’s documents and promotional materials … watched a video of our Sunday service … critiqued my preaching … and ran down where we needed to improve.
And he said that the people who were on the stage needed to look sharp … and not be overweight.
What should I do with that last suggestion? Bury it? Share it? If so, with whom? I honestly didn’t know what to do.
To my everlasting shame, I shared it … as gently as possible … with a handful of people … but I hurt people … needlessly … and what I said got around.
A new and talented couple immediately left the church. Another faithful family left as well.
I learned firsthand that a pastor’s words can wound people for years.
Sometimes a pastor has to say the tough thing in private. He can speak in a kind and sweet and loving way … and his words may still sting … but he has to do it. It’s his job as shepherd of the flock.
But I’ve learned that pastors are often unaware of how powerful their words are … especially when they’re correcting someone … and even if it’s necessary.
Finally, the words of a pastor can bring people great healing.
When I was a youth pastor, I invited one of my college professors to conduct a weekend retreat in the mountains for 50 students.
All of his talks were from Proverbs … and the talk with the most impact included verses like these:
When words are many, sin is not absent, but he who holds his tongue is wise. Proverbs 10:19
A gossip betrays a confidence, but a trustworthy man keeps a secret. Proverbs 11:13
Reckless words pierce like a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing. Proverbs 12:18
He who guards his lips guards his life, but he who speaks rashly will come to ruin. Proverbs 13:3
Hearing those verses in concentrated form, I realized … as did many of us in that mountain cabin … that our tongues had the potential to harm or heal others.
So I’ve tried to bring healing through my words … by using Scripture … by keeping confidences … by restraining my speech … and by encouraging people.
I haven’t always succeeded … and it devastates me when I mess up … but every time my words touch others, I’m grateful … because I know how much encouraging words mean to me.
Twelve years ago, I turned in a 70-page class project to Dr. Archibald Hart from Fuller Seminary toward my Doctor of Ministry degree. While I did my best on that paper, I wondered how Dr. Hart … one of my few Christians heroes … would respond to what I wrote.
When I got it back in the mail, I was petrified, until I read his words on the title page: “An excellent paper … among the top 5% I have ever received …”
I keep that title page in a frame five feet from my desk.
Without Dr. Hart’s encouragement, I would never have written a blog … a book … or anything else. “The tongue of the wise brings healing.”
If you’re a pastor, I beg you … heal people with your words … and with God’s Word.
But I wonder … how many times have the words of a pastor healed you?