I spent too much of my life in churches where a person could use the phrase “Thus says the Lord,” and whatever followed would often carry the weight of scripture. When I was younger and less mature, I would go to conferences hoping that the person on stage would have a “thus says the Lord,” for me. As I got older and saw a lot of harmful and manipulative things follow those words, I hoped I wouldn’t be noticed.People would use the phrase “reading your mail” to indicate that the person on stage would know some intimate detail of your life, and even worse, share it publicly.
One of the things I value most about the time I spent in the Vineyard in the States was the care in which they encouraged people to share the things they thought God was saying or doing. Anytime you sensed God may have something to share with another person, it would be presented as, “I have a sense God may be saying this….does that mean anything to you?” Or something similar.
But it was always said to the person you were speaking with in a way that gave them the ability to say, “No, that does not resonate with me at all.” It was a way of honouring the other person, but also recognizing, “I could be wrong.”
Sadly many Christian leaders lack the humility to recognize that what they think, what they believe, what they think they see can be mistaken. They can care more about how they are perceived than about the person they are supposed to be ministering to. And when they follow up their lack of humility, with the willingness to throw words around carelessly, they have the potential to do great harm.
This past weekend we spent the day at Glendalough. And while the sun was shining, there had been a lot of rain that morning so the rivers were overflowing their banks in many areas. And I thought many people come here and think this is what it normally looks like, not recognizing that this is what it looks like after a lot of rain. And then I had two other thoughts.
First, how often do we come upon someone “post storm” in their life and make judgements about who they are?
Second, while it is easy to look at the surface and decide, this is who you are, and this is where I think you fall short. However, we can’t know what’s going on below the surface without further exploration.
So the expert who makes “thus says the Lord” proclamations or feels free to diagnose a situation without taking time to get to know that person…they can cause a lot of damage to a lot of people.
Sadly, too many look at the flooded waters, and miss that what they are seeing is their own reflection.
Words have so much power. Those of us who are leaders in the church have the responsibility to use them well, understand the ability they have to build up and tear down, and NEVER use them to manipulate or shame.