So there I was yesterday, minding my own business, picking up a few grocery items. I had just come out of the very busy store and was placing the groceries in my bicycle buggy when I picked up on a conversation that was being had between three people. They were standing right next to the entrance where dozens of people were going in and out in a constant flow. There was no attempt to speak softly here as their voices carried over the sound of busy people and traffic. The topic of conversation? Their pastors.
The three of them came from three different churches and were comparing the bad qualities of the men of God who guided their spiritual lives. It was an ugly conversation witnessed by a lot of people that day. What damage was done to the spirit of those passing by? Instead of lifting up the name of Jesus they were tearing him down by tearing down his servants. My heart broke but maybe not in the way you think. As I rode away from that conversation conviction came upon me for a couple of things.
First, how many conversations had I participated in that were similar to that? Maybe not about pastors but certainly about other people. What a complaining tongue we possess. The Spirit allowed me to see how ugly it looks and sounds when the children of God tear down instead of build up. Complaining is the lazy man's conversation. It is the easiest thing to do, finding people's faults and criticizing them for it. But it goes contrary to the Spirit of God. Oh how we must grieve the Spirit some days. The Word says:
Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing. (1 Thessalonians 5:11)
It takes effort to set aside what comes naturally to us and to do what pleases our Father. It takes effort to find and concentrate on the good bits about people and to overlook their glaring faults. But the idea is that as we do this for others it is also being done for us. The tongue is a powerful instrument for healing, building up and encouraging, but it is also a terribly destructive weapon. Again, as followers of Jesus, the instructions we have received are clear:
Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. (Ephesians 4:29)
We need to set a guard over our heart and mouth to stop the many unwholesome conversations we have. We are different than the world and we are here to make a positive change not to add to the cesspool. Conversations that tear people down are ugly and they hurt all of us, including Jesus. We forget that we are all part of the same body and are connected to one another. The conversation I heard yesterday hurt me and caused me to grieve because of our connectivity:
From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work. (Ephesians 4:16)
The building up of the body in love did not happen yesterday in that conversation nor has it happened in some of the conversations I have had. We are not suppose to be criticizing each other as we go about doing our Father's work. The Word says that the world will know we are disciples of Jesus Christ by our love for one another. The implication of our conversations is a frightening thing. How many of us are truly possessed by Jesus Christ?
I said the Spirit convicted me of two things and the second one had more to do with the fact that I am a pastor. It is my responsibility to correct where correction is needed. I should have politely interrupted that conversation yesterday and warned them what they were doing. Perhaps some would say it wasn't any of my business but if we are truly the Body of Christ then anything that happens in that Body is my business. I have been called to servant leadership and I have been given authority to bring correction where needed, not to destroy but to build up. It is one of the most delicate and difficult responsibilities in leadership because we often think, "Who am I to judge?" But we do not judge by our own standards but instead by the Word of God. It is not my opinion that these people were wrong yesterday, it is a fact according to Scripture. I was neglectful in my duties as a pastor.
Let's realize that we are not an island and what we do impacts others as well as our Lord Jesus. We have been given specific instructions as to our relationship with one another and what our responsibilities are to each other. I haven't even touched on the Scriptures that tell us to honour the people of spiritual authority that are placed over us. It should be enough to say that we are builders not destroyers. We are encouragers not de-motivators. We are a positive people, filled with hope, joy and love as we spread God's sunshine in this world. Watch your mouth then and do not let any unwholesome talk come out of it. You never know who is listening but there is one person you know for a fact is there in that conversation and I don't think any of us want to grieve his heart.