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Words are Powerful

Are you familiar with the cartoon B.C.?

There are two characters I want to point out: A woman who carries a big stick and a snake. In one cartoon, the woman is beating the snake with her stick.

One day, as she is walking up one side of a hill, the snake is coming up the other side of the hill. They meet at the top. At that moment the woman realizes that she does not have her stick. So, she looks at the snake and says, “Bam! Bam! Bam! Bam!”

In the next frame, the snake is in a hundred pieces. The caption reads, “Oh the power of the spoken word.”

Yes, words are powerful.

Words Create Worlds

You can use words to create images and assumptions. Those words shape the way we view one another and the world. You can use words to encourage and build up as well as discourage and tear down. Words feed our prejudices, cultivate relationships, and set the course for decision-making.

Over the past several weeks, in the United Methodist Church, there has been a plethora of words that have given birth to disillusionment and disappointment. I have felt the distress, anxiety, and pain that have come with words like anger, fear, and defeat.

A word from the Word

As I have reflected upon our situation, I have wondered if we are anything like the church at Ephesus. In Ephesians 4:29, Paul wrote, “Do not use harmful words, but only helpful words, the kind that builds up and provides what is needed, so that what you say will do good to those who hear you.”

Because Paul wrote those words to a church, does it mean that there were problems with the way people spoke to one another?

The church in Ephesus was a diverse church. Because of its diversity, there was a conflict of values. The Jews, who had a deep ethical background, were people who lived with religious values. The Gentiles, who did not have the same background or heritage, had a different set of values.

I can image there were times when the two sets of values clashed and created tension. So, Paul is teaching about the new life in Christ. He was teaching what would become some of the values of the Christian faith.

Ephesians 4:25 – 4:29

Let’s look at this passage closely.

Ephesians 4:25

“…putting away falsehood, let all of us speak the truth to our neighbors.”

In other words, stop making up what you don’t know and tell the truth. You don’t have to exaggerate your importance or project a more desirable image. You belong to one another. Your life and talk are dedicated to the truth rather than to yourself. So, give up falsehood and speak the truth.

Ephesians 4:26

“Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger and do not make room for the devil.”

Anger is not necessarily evil or sinful, but nursing a grudge or unforgiveness is. It poisons your life and the life of the church or community. It is in the unforgiveness that gives root to evil. So, care for your anger. Understand your emotions and respond appropriately.

Ephesians 4:28

“Thieves must give up stealing; rather let them labor and work honestly with their own hands, so as to have something to share with the needy.” Paul gives a warning against stealing. The assumption is that those who have the world’s goods will share with others.

Ephesians 4:29

“Do not use harmful words, but only helpful words, the kind that build up and provide what is needed, so that what you say will do good to those who hear you.” (TEV)

In a time of conflict, Paul is instructing the church to say kind, supportive, encouraging words. When you open your mouth, do not let evil talk come out of your mouth. Don’t diss one another. Say only what is useful for building up as there is need so that your words may give grace to those who hear. The teaching is similar to Jesus saying, “it is not what goes in but what comes out that defiles…”

What are the courageous words you're speaking today? How are your words building people up, encouraging them, and helping them? Explore what Ephesians has to say to us in this blog post and hear the wisdom of a modern truth teller along the way. #courage #ephesians #bible #leadership #leaders #transformingmission Transforming MissionWhat Is Paul Teaching Us?

May we learn something from Paul here? In times of stress and conflict, use kind, caring words of truth. Be a courageous leader. Step up and name the current reality while speaking the truth with care and encouragement. Be the leader who uses helpful words to build up those who hear them.

Although she is writing about more than words, Brene Brown writes, “In times of uncertainty, it is common for leaders to leverage fear and weaponize it to their advantage…If you can keep people afraid, and give them an enemy who is responsible for their fear, you can get people to do just about anything.”¹

Consider for a moment: How have your words created fear? How are you creating time and space for safe conversations?

Brown also says, “…when we are managing during times of scarcity or deep uncertainty, it is imperative that we embrace the uncertainty…We need to be available to fact-check the stories that team members may be making up, because in scarcity we invent worse case scenarios.”²

Consider for a moment: Are you making up what you don’t know? How are you helping lower the levels of anxiety with your words?

A Final Reminder

In times like these, we don’t need to be right. But we do need to be righteous. Not self-righteous but holy as God is holy. If you are unsure about God holiness, look at Jesus. In Jesus, you will find the embodiment of God’s holiness and love.

Remember, it is Jesus who said, “it is not what goes in but what comes out that defiles…” As a leader, take the time to allow God’s Word, Jesus, to take up residence in your life. When you do, it will be Jesus who comes out.

“Do not use harmful words, but only helpful words, the kind that builds up and provides what is needed, so that what you say will do good to those who hear you.” (Ephesians 4:29 TEV).

Ready to put your words and actions together? Download the Rumble Starter Kit and Listen to Episode 059 of LeaderCast: How to Rumble

 

  1. Brene Brown, Dare to Lead, p. 104
  2. Ibid., p. 105

Imagine picking up your car from the shop after a routine tune-up.  The technician says, “Your car is in great shape. You do a great job in maintaining it.”

On your way home the brakes fail.  You discover there is no brake fluid.

Now, how do you feel?

You go to the shop, find the technician, and say, “Why didn’t you tell me there was no brake fluid in the car?” And the technician says, “Well, I didn’t want you to feel bad. I was afraid you would get upset with me and I want us to be friends.”

Just how furious would you be?

Would you say something like, “I don’t come here for a fantasy-based ego boost! I come to have my car maintained.  When it comes to my car, I want the truth.”

Imagine going to the doctor for your annual check-up. At the end of the examination, the doctor says, “You are in great shape. You have the body of an Olympian. Keep up the good work.”

Later that day, while climbing the stairs, your heart gives out. Tests show clogged arteries.

You go back to the doctor and say, “Why didn’t you tell me about my condition?” The doctor says, “Well, I did see that you were one jelly doughnut away from the grim reaper, but I didn’t want to hurt your feelings.  I didn’t want any problems between the two of us. What if you started liking another doctor?”

Now, what would you say? “I don’t come here to be pacified about my health. When it comes to my heart, I want the truth!”

When what gets in the way becomes the way transforming misssion

The Truth of Courageous Leadership

When something matters to us, we don’t want a false comfort based on pain avoidance. We want the truth. In any discussion of leadership, we if we are to build trust, we must deal with the risk of honesty and the gift of clarity. Truth-telling in the church is about courageous leadership. Specifically, it’s about embracing the skill of vulnerability.

Being a courageous leader is hard work. No one is writing hymns that sing, “Amazing truth, how sweet the sound.”  As a leader, the closer the relationship, the harder the truth. In every one of us, there is the feeling that we do not want to hurt those who mean so much to us.  That’s why so many leaders, in their relationships, run into the “Jack Nicholson theology.”

You Can’t Handle the Truth

Remember Jack Nicholson in “A Few Good Men?”  Remember that famous scene near the end? It’s the one scene that even people who never saw the movie know. Nicholson’s a marine officer on the witness stand.  He is angry.  Out of his anger he shouts, “Do you really want to know what happened?”

Tom Cruise says, “I want the truth!”

Nicholson shouts, “You can’t handle the truth!”

A lot of leaders run on Jack Nicholson theology. We act like people can’t handle the truth. We don’t want to hurt others and we don’t want others to hurt us. Since when did caring for people and truth become divergent paths? When we give up our role as a leader for the sake of not hurting feelings, or being liked, or for keeping things peaceful, even our silence speaks loudly.

What Gets in the Way of Courageous Leadership

The question is, “What gets in the way of you being a courageous leader?  We have learned that what get in the way usually becomes the way. We abdicate our role as a leader, contributing to establishing a church culture that becomes a barrier to disciple-making.

After reflecting on the work Brené Brown has done around courageous, daring leadership, we had to ask ourselves the question: What behavior and church cultural norms stand in the way of courageous leadership?

We need courage to focus on our mission of disciple-making. Do any of the following behaviors and church culture sound familiar? Do any of these behaviors stand in the way of your courageous leadership? Because what stands in the way, often becomes the way.

13 Behaviors that Get in the Way

  1. Do you avoid tough conversations?
  2. Are you being nice and polite in the place of being truthful and compassionate?
  3. Do you say one thing to the pastor’s face and another to your friend?
  4. Are you undermining the leadership of the church by gossiping or by making up what you do not know and passing it off as truth?
  5. Do you avoid talking about Jesus or the mission of the church because you don’t want to offend people?
  6. Do you participate in parking lot meetings? The meetings that take place after the meeting where you agreed with the decisions but outside the meeting you disagree?
  7. Do you fail to acknowledge your fears and feelings in regard to change in the church? Changes like a change of pastors or sharing a pastor or having fewer people capable to serve and to give.
  8. Does your church lack connection to the community? Are you no longer vulnerable? Do you avoid relationships with people in the church because you were hurt by someone or offended by someone in the past?
  9. Are you afraid of failure? Do you fear looking stupid or saying something wrong about situations, relationships, or opportunities in the church?
  10. Do you explain away or ignore external criticism? Have you ignored or rationalized the ministry environment and the current cultural situation inside and outside the church?
  11. Has denial and blame of others taken priority over examining your soul?
  12. Are there needed changes that no one is willing to make? Are there untouchable areas and unspeakable issues that are debilitating but are declared to be “off limits” from critique or discussion?
  13. Do people have a sense of hopelessness? Is there talk about tomorrow with any sense of clarity or excitement, or has nostalgia for an unreturning yesterday replaced the stepping into the future?

What’s the Solution?

There are no quick fixes or easy solutions to the complexities of the behaviors and cultural norms we just named. But one of the ways to address these behaviors is to develop our skills as brave and courageous leaders.

And that starts with learning the skill of vulnerability. If we want to share the truth, we’re going to need to practice the skill of vulnerability.

We can’t lead with courage without embracing vulnerability. No, we’re not talking vulnerability for vulnerability’s sake. What we’re talking about is relational vulnerability.

Here’s how Brené Brown describes vulnerability from her decades of research, “Vulnerability is the emotion that we experience during times of uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure.”

Disciple-making necessitates vulnerability. Without vulnerability, there is no connection with people, let alone a connection with Jesus. To love is to be vulnerable. If we love God and are going to love our neighbors, we are going to be vulnerable. From the place of vulnerability, we can learn not only to tell the truth with compassion but to ask for what we need.

when what gets in the way becomes the way transforming missoin

An Invitation to Practice

We know practicing courageous leadership means sometimes we will fall, sometimes we will fail. But we also know, “our ability to be daring leaders will never be greater than our capacity for vulnerability.”1 Vulnerability is a skill. It’s a skill we can learn.

It’s time to talk about what’s getting in our way so we can get it out of the way. If you’re willing to go on this journey with us, head over to the LeaderCast Podcast and listen to Episode 050: What Gets in the Way of Disciple-Making? We talk about the 13 cultural norms and behaviors above as well as share an experiment to begin practicing courageous leadership.

In Christ,

Tim Bias and Sara Thomas

 

 

  1. Brené Brown, Dare to Lead: Brave Work. Tough Conversations. Whole Hearts. , p. 11