Wednesday, August 08, 2012

Pastors: Your Words Matter

Guest post by Daniel Darling

If you read it, right, the third chapter of James should haunt every pastor. It should haunt him because it contains some very sober warnings about the impact of the words we say on Sunday morning.

“Not many of you should become teachers,” James writes, “for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.”

James then unfolds the rest of the chapter, focusing on the power of the tongue. Most of my life I’ve heard these verses preached as sort of a general warning against gossiping Christians. And, to be sure, the words ring true. A Christian’s tongue can either be a source of life or a source of death.

But I wonder if we’ve missed James’ entire point. I think he’s specifically talking to those tasked with teaching the Word of God. Remember James 3 begins by referencing pastors.

Here is what I have found. Pastors, more than anyone in the church, are responsible for the cultures they create. We set the tone by the words we use, especially the words we use on Sunday morning when we open that sacred book, the Bible. You see, people who flock into our churches, assume that what is said in the pulpit is from the Word of God. They assume we’ve studied and prayed and meditated over the text.

This is why James gives such a dire warning. The people we feed assume that a pastor’s words are from God. This is why we must not play with those words. Why we must not parachute our opinions into the texts. Why we must resist the temptation to elevate our preferences to the level of orthodoxy. Why we must not use the pulpit as our personal soapbox.

The pulpit is sacred. And the culture that emanates from a pastor’s words help shape the spiritual lives of the people God has called him to serve.

As a child of the church, I’ve seen this dynamic work in good and bad ways. I’ve experienced a flippant disregard for the office of pastor, with pastors injecting political points, personal opinions, and other things into a sermon. I’ve seen earnest people assume that what was said was gospel and then form an incomplete or even false theology.

I’ve also seen healthy church cultures where pastors strive only to preach what is in the text and inspire a people toward a healthy hunger for God’s Word. What a joy it is to see the Sunday morning sermon used as a launching point for further study, deeper commitment, and real life change.

As pastors, teachers, even parents, it’s important that we create healthy, gospel cultures where the faith can thrive. This means we must shed our opinions, our preferences, our pet legalistic ideas. Because when the Word is delivered with power, it shapes the culture of a community.

Daniel Darling is a pastor and author. His latest book, Real, Owning Your Christian Faith ($2.99 on Kindle), examines the struggles of those who’ve grown up in the church. It’s available now. 

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