Speak Carefully: Words Do Matter!

This post isn’t about the politics of Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton but it is an observation and an opportunity to learn. I want to offer some thoughts about the words we speak in public. While I have in mind church leaders such as elders and ministers, what follows is sound advise for anyone and might just help you avoid having to insert a foot in your mouth or worse.

Unless you’ve been cave dwelling for the last few days, you know that Donald Trump is taking a lot of criticism for his remarks about Hillary Clinton and the second amendment. Trump suggested that Clinton wants to take away the second amendment right to bear arms and that there’s nothing that can be done about it but then suggested that people “the second amendment people” could do something about it. Trump’s critics believe that this is a veiled threat while his supporters believe it’s only a plea for increased political activity.

Hillary Clinton responded by reminding her supporters that “Words matter…” Whatever Trump may have meant is besides the point. What is important and is at least one thing that Clinton is right about is that words do matter!

“Those who guard their mouths and their tongues keep themselves from calamity.”

– Proverbs 21:23

Let’s not pretend that words are insignificant and meaningless. What we say does matter and so we better take care to think about the words we use.

Everyone of us, especially those who speak in public forums, will eventually say something ill-advised. That’s seems par for the course and when it happens, the best thing we can do is apologize. However, the more we speak out of turn, saying something careless or hurtful, the more credibility we lose. And remember, credibility is part of our trust factor and it’s like a tree… it takes years to grow and just a few minutes with a few foolish words to tear down.

As a minister, I write my sermons out word for word as a manuscript. While I don’t preach word for word from the manuscript, writing my sermons out like this accomplishes several objectives and one of those is giving careful thought to the words I say. I’ve learned this lesson the hard way because I have had to apologize for something I said, something that was true but was poorly stated, which led to insult rather than instruction. In fact, if your a beginning preacher, here’s some free advise: take the time to write your sermons, thinking carefully about the words you use because the words you speak do matter.

A politician might be able to play the game of political spin and get away with saying something careless but that is not so likely with us who lead among churches. Regardless of what Trump may have meant, let’s see his carelessness as a reminder that our words do matter. Let us resolve ourselves to be wise and give thought to what we say before we speak!

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4 responses to “Speak Carefully: Words Do Matter!

  1. Wonderful advise to young preachers. Writing their sermons out creates wisdom and growth. I recall Landon Saunders when he once spoke at Harding in the mid-nineteen seventies. He gave a justifiable poke at ministers who, in his words, “…spend the week at the coffee shop; then on Saturday night pull down their little outline book, “Simple Sermons For Simple Preachers”. At the time, as a student, I had some of those books. But his words stayed with me. I began to write more. I’m no longer a preacher….but I enjoy writing….maybe sometimes its an obsession. But when I’m through, I have another reflection of my soul.

    • I enjoy writing too. And I remember seeing some of those sermon outline books but never wanted to use them. To me that is how an unwritten creed becomes dogma and now I also see it as preaching that isn’t speaking to the questions and issues of the pastoral context but instead is imposing questions and issues on the pastoral context.

      Thanks for your comment!

  2. I tried posting a comment; if it comes up twice, I apologize.

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