Last week I was in Denver for meetings with our ministry partner, Dare 2 Share, when the words of a respected Christian leader blew up social media. As we all have seen in the past month and even recent years, the words of leaders have an effect on the people they serve and ultimately reflect on the One they represent. James’ words to those of us who teach and lead are as timely now as they’ve ever been.
“Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly.”
As pastors and leaders, our words carry weight. We’re accountable for what we say. We’re in positions of influence. We will be judged more strictly.
In these days of heated debate on emotionally charged issues, it’s hard to win with our words. No matter what we say, we will offend some. And if we don’t speak, we offend some with our silence. What we say, how we say it, when we say it, and to whom we say it matters.
Here are a few principles I’m trying to allow to guide my conversations on these critical issues.
1. Listen with Humility
The words I speak will be more helpful when I’ve taken the time to listen first. Out of love, I listen intently with a desire to understand. I’m not trying to prove I’m right. I’m trying to build a bridge with Christ honoring communication.
“My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.”
2. Value People over Positions
We all have opinions. Yours and mine might differ substantially on specific issues. Certain positions might be very important to us, but are they important enough for us to allow them to create division between us? Hopefully, the answer for both of us is no.
“Live in harmony with one another… If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.”
Romans 12:16a, 18
3. Ask God for Wisdom
There is a very real temptation we as leaders face to try and sound like the smart one in the room. We want to say something novel and powerful. We want our words to carry weight. We want our proclamations to be tweet-worthy. My prayer is, “Father, if I say anything, let my words reflect Your wisdom and not my own. May Your Spirit give me the words to say, speaking Your truth and Your heart through me.” I’m reminded of when Jesus was confronted by the Pharisees, Sadducees, and teachers of the law, who were trying to entrap Him with His own words. It was no doubt a reflection of the Spirit’s wisdom when Jesus replied, “Give unto Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.” In these days when others are trying to lay a trap for us, let’s allow God’s wisdom to deliver us from these snares.
“…do not worry about what to say or how to say it. At that time you will be given what to say,for it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.”
4. Speak Truth and Love
This is easier said than done. Apart from the Holy Spirit’s help, our words will tip the teeter totter in one direction or the other. We’ll use the truth as a weapon to bludgeon others, trampling on their hearts with utter disregard for the damage that will be done. We’re right. They’re wrong. Deal with it. Or we so value the relationship and want harmony at all costs that we allow someone to cling to their sin regardless of the consequences. I have to recognize that we all have biases shaped by our upbringing, experiences, and cultural influences. If I’m going to speak the truth in love, I have to recognize my biases and honestly evaluate if they’re biblical and Christ centered, always allowing the words I speak to be motivated by a love for God and a love for people.
“ Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ.”
5. Always Point to Jesus
With the words I speak, I’m always asking this question. “Will these words be a barrier or a bridge to the gospel?” Am I, through what I say and how I say it, lifting up Jesus and making Him more visible for those who need Him? Or am I, through what I say and how I say it, elevating another message above the gospel of Jesus Christ and making Jesus less visible for those who need Him? If I speak on prejudice, the poor, or injustice, can I do so and elevate Jesus in the process? If I don’t bring Jesus into that conversation, I’ve missed a moment to allow others to see Him for who He is, because Jesus was “anointed to preach good news to the poor” and He “saw the crowds were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd, and had compassion on them.”
“Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.”
6. Do Something
While in Denver, I was speaking with Jerrod Gunter, a youth pastor from Memphis who had a white police officer shoot a black teenager in front of his youth building a few years ago. Jerrod and I are sharing the stage this summer at Lead The Cause, and he made a statement that resonated with me. He said, “We’ve got to get beyond the hashtag.” If all we’re going to do is make statements on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, or whatever, then we’re just trying to make ourselves feel better because we’ve taken a stand, whatever that stand might be. Enough with our hashtags. It’s time to hash out solutions. It’s time to do something. It’s time to be the change we speak about. Knowing that his students could be pulled into other’s demonstrations and riots, Jerrod took the bold step to organize what he calls a righteous riot. Jerrod organized a prayer march. Jerrod gathered other youth ministries in his city together to pray for the change that they knew only God could bring. They are still praying, and they are seeing God bring change in their city.
“If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it?In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.”
We need to ask ourselves what kind of a leader we’re going to be. Will we be known as leaders who make eloquent statements, or as leaders who take bold action? In this moment, what are we doing to lead #beyondthehashtag?
By Doug Holliday