By Jim Martin
A loose and undisciplined mouth.
Years ago, I was teaching a Wednesday evening class at our church. The class was about to begin. A woman was still talking as I attempted to start this class. I said something about her to the group, thinking it would be funny. Everyone laughed. Well, almost everyone. She did not laugh. In fact, the next day she called me and wanted to visit for a few minutes. My words had hurt her. They brought up memories of earlier humiliations in her life. Now, in front of everyone, her minister had embarrassed and humiliated her.
I felt awful. To get a quick laugh, I spoke without thinking. I really wished for a do-over.
Trust is everything in ministry. Ministers are people who have a great opportunity to help someone learn what it means to live as a Christ-follower. Yet, that trust is diminished when people witness that our speech is undisciplined. If we are not careful, we can speak in ways that are inappropriate, thoughtless, and even un-Christlike.
*Over coffee one day, you share with your minister friend a struggle that you are having with a particular person. Near the end of the workday, you get a call from a guy in your congregation. He says, “I hear you’re having a problem with ______.” He names the very person you mentioned to your minister earlier in the day.
*A certain preacher has really not prepared as well as he would have liked for a particular sermon. He tells a story in the sermon about something that happened to him in college. Only it didn’t really happen to him. It happened to his friend who told the story a few weeks ago at his church. Several members who regularly listen to that preacher’s podcasts recognize the story. Now they wonder what else is not true in these messages.
*A couple talks with a minister, in confidence, regarding difficulties in their marriage. It was very hard for them to get up enough courage to reveal to this minister some of the intimate details of their marriage. Later, they learn that he has shared some of this information with other people in the congregation. They feel exposed and betrayed.
*One evening a minister is in an elder’s meeting advocating a particular approach to a certain ministry. He is passionate about this point of view. In trying to communicate the validity of this approach, he highly exaggerates its effectiveness elsewhere. Later some of the elders realize this and feel manipulated.
Serving as a minister, preacher, pastor, elder, etc. is tough ministry. A lack of discipline with one’s words is self-sabotaging. It damages the credibility of the person who has broken trust with his/her words.
However, when people know that you can be trusted with your words, regardless of the setting, one gets far more opportunities to make a real difference in another’s life.
Think about a church leader whom you trust. What is there about this person that seems to enhance your trust the longer you know him/her?