When my cousin, James Dobson, and I were kids, I almost shot him twice. The first time, we were squirrel hunting, and I didn’t know whether the safety on my gun was on or off. It was off, and I whistled a shot close to his ear. I will not soon forget that day — neither will he. The second time, I was bird hunting with him and, as I was walking across a gully on a log, I lost my footing, fell from the log, and the shotgun went off. It was another close call.

I have often thought to myself, “I could have altered the course of history.” I did get a tongue-lashing from my cousin and his dad. What do you do when you almost shoot someone? You apologize like crazy!

Now to the point: So often in our worlds, we shoot one another. We do not use guns, but we do use a weapon. Our mouth becomes our firearm; our words become our bullets. We can do irreparable damage to another by accusations, innuendos, gossip, and idle conversation.

All of us have been “shot at” by a colleague or parishioner. It always hurts and can result in permanent injury. I bear the scars, as do you.

Proverbs 21:23 says, “He who guards his mouth and his tongue keeps himself from calamity.” In other words, whatever you do, don’t shoot anyone. If you do, you lessen yourself in the eyes and ears of those who watch and listen.

Paul suggested to the church at Ephesus, “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).

The news today is full of stories about “who said what and who they said it to and did they really mean it?”

I remember one time when an old pastor said to me, “Young man, every word you speak may have consequences that could follow you for a lifetime.” I’m sad to admit that I’m still paying for some of my thoughtless words. We all need to heed that old pastor’s advice.

Satan loves to trip us up. I’m sure he delights in our stumbles. We all need — I need — to be really careful. We need to consider what we say, how we say it, and who we say it to. Weigh your words and deeds carefully, my colleague. What you say or do can and will follow you for a lifetime. Your words can haunt you and be used by others any way they choose. There are times when it’s best to just say nothing!

The psalmist wrote, “Keep your tongue from evil and your lips from speaking lies” (Psalm 34:13).

“A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger” (Proverbs 15:1).

Further, “A man who lacks judgment derides his neighbor, but a man of understanding holds his tongue” (Proverbs 11:12).

Well, I think you know where I’m going with all of this. Watch what you say and when and how you say it. I have had to eat my words too many times. Instead, speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15).

“If anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight rein on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless” (James 1:26).

Now, having said that about saying too much, I believe that the people in your church — those under your care — want to know you. And they want you to know and hear them. So many congregations are wrapped in a black cloak of contention because they have few opportunities to ask questions of their leaders. More and more of America’s clergy are retreating behind closed doors rather than walking in the village and hearing the concerns of their people.

I know we can use up a lot of energy dealing with troublesome members, but I also know your people have a right within reason to access you, your staff, and your other church leaders. In my dealings with church boards, I’ve often felt they could overcome many congregational struggles if they would just make themselves available to those who want to know how the budget is being spent, why the music style has been changed, or why a staff associate has been released.

I know this will add a few hours to your week, but I also know good communication can add years to your ministry. Do your people feel listened to? Do they have access to you and your staff? Do the leaders of your congregation clearly communicate what’s being done and why? Maybe it’s time for a town hall meeting!

“And all the believers lived in a wonderful harmony, holding everything in common. … They followed a daily discipline of worship in the Temple followed by meals at home, every meal a celebration, exuberant and joyful, as they praised God. People in general liked what they saw. Every day their number grew as God added those who were saved” (Acts 2:44, 46-47, MSG).

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