The adage, “sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me,” is false. Words can hurt.
“The pen is mightier than the sword,” by contrast, is true. Words are mighty and powerful.
Words, spoken and written, have a unique power, so we should choose them carefully.
Music and art have power too. They move us deeply and touch us intimately. They stir and inspire.
I do not mean to give them short shrift here, but words convey meaning more specifically and thus have a distinct ability to influence and persuade – and hold a unique place in our day-to-day communications.
Words connect with us intellectually. Words touch our souls. Words encourage our minds to soar, and they cut deep into our hearts. Words evoke laughter and provoke tears.
Words are the building blocks of ideas and theories, of story and myth, of government and laws, of dreams and imagination, of relationship and love. They are the fundamental form of human communication. So how we choose to use words is extremely important.
I’ve been writing a few words on my daily calendar for years now. I started with four: modern, progressive, evangelical and balanced.
Mine is a work calendar and those are the four words I dream of for the church.
I dream of a church with a modern sensibility – one that makes an effort to feel familiar and even comfortable to new generations.
I dream of a church that is progressive enough to be open to new ideas, new approaches to ministry and even new expressions of theology.
I dream of a church that is grounded enough to stay true to our evangelical roots – one that isn’t too hip to still believe in the active power and presence of God in our world.
I dream of a church that takes a balanced approach to life and ministry – a church that understands the hurry and stress of modern living and seeks to serve as a haven of rest – a church whose pendulums of faith and practice don’t swing wildly and unpredictably in pursuit of every new fad.
More recently, Heritage Fellowship, where I serve as pastor, adopted three words that guide our life together: holy, healthy and whole.
Over the last two years, I’ve grown rather fond of these words too.
We’ve dreamed at Heritage about being a place where holy individuals form healthy relationships to build whole communities together, and I’ve added those words to my daily routine so I’ll remember that they are important goals toward which I’m striving.
These seven words – modern, progressive, evangelical, balanced, holy, healthy and whole – have served me well. Every time I think of jettisoning one of them to make room for a new one, something draws me back to the originals. So I’ve stuck with them.
We should make it a practice to consider regularly what words are guiding us. What words guide your vision for your classroom, your business or your role in your home or workplace? What words guide your life as a Christian?
If you don’t have any, I’d encourage you to give it some thought.
As important as private words of personal guidance can be, public words of communication are even more important.
Over the last few weeks, as my family has been preparing for a move to a new place of ministry, we have been blessed by wonderfully generous words of affirmation and farewell from people we love in Canton and beautifully thoughtful words of welcome from those we are just beginning to know in Newnan.
During this time of transition, I’m especially aware that there’s nothing quite as uplifting as well-chosen and well-timed words – and nothing quite as harmful as poorly chosen ones.
We should always seek to choose our words wisely. We should be generous with them – in affirmation, support, encouragement and love. We should use words to be generous in your relationships and with your emotions.
Do not leave your kindest words unspoken.
If what you mean to say is, “I love you,” come right out and say it. If someone else’s gesture or comment has touched you, say so.
Use your words to build the spiritual and emotional world you’d like to see around you.
Words have a unique power in our world. Choose them well, and use them wisely.
Matt Sapp is pastor of Central Baptist Church in Newnan, Georgia. He begins his ministry at CBC today, Sept. 11, following a tenure as pastor of Heritage Fellowship in Canton, Georgia. A version of this article first appeared on Heritage’s blog and is used with permission. You can follow him on Twitter @MattPSapp.