“Words are the raw materials of dreams. The miraculous task of conveying meaning, taking something that rests in one human head and heart and somehow transferring it into the head and heart of another, is the strange and supernatural business of words.”
Brian Sanders, Microchurches: A Smaller Way
We use words all the time, right? As ministry leaders we are in the business of words. I am crafting words right now with this blog post. You will likely do so at some point this week. Coffee with a student. Message prepping for your college service. Putting the finishing touches on your new small group curriculum.
I don’t know about you, but I spend a lot of my time trying to come up with the perfect words. The perfect way to cast vision. The perfect way to articulate what God is doing in my heart. What he is speaking to me. The perfect collection of vowels and consonants arranged in a precise way needed to capture someone’s attention and affection.
But here is the thing: As Andy Stanley states in his book Making Vision Stick, “Vision doesn’t have much adhesive.” I would say the same is true about words in general. It doesn’t matter how clear you are or how carefully you craft your message. Inevitably someone is going to ask a question or make a comment that is going to make you wonder, “have you been paying any attention?”
Maybe words aren’t enough. Maybe, what we say is much less important than what we do. Here is what I am being reminded in this season—words don’t matter as much as our behavior does. Jesus spoke to this is Matthew 23:2-3: “The teachers of religious law and the Pharisees are the official interpreters of the law of Moses. So practice and obey whatever they tell you, but don’t follow their example. For they don’t practice what they teach.”
Ouch. That one hits a little close to home. The old adage “do as I say, not as I do” is actually from Scripture.
When I think about the words often used surrounding college ministry, I think of gospel, discipleship, community. I know you could add more to this list. Each ministry has its own distinct culture and language.
For our college ministry, we use language around “authentic community” a lot. We know this, right? Life is better connected. You weren’t designed to do life alone. We have heard it over and over. Why? Because it is true. It is transformational in the life of our students. The sooner they embrace and pursue authentic community the better.
Yet, over the last 18-24 months, I have noticed something. My language, my words, have turned more towards “do as I say, not as I do,” when in fact they should be “follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ” (1 Corinthians 1:11).
When I think of someone being pharisaical it is usually about something legalistic. Some plank-in-my-eye type of issue that creates division and judgment. But if I am being honest with you, Jesus might as well be talking about me in Matthew 23.
While I would agree strongly that authentic community is beneficial, even necessary, you wouldn’t know it a lot of the time by looking at my life. My actions would tell you I value isolation, aloneness, individualism. My habits would tell you the same story. I often avoid accountability. I struggle to be open about my weaknesses. I don’t have many deep meaningful relationships outside my marriage.
Why? I could give you a laundry list of excuses. No one will understand my struggles. Ministry is hard. I need to act with confidentiality. I don’t want to distort someone’s view of Christ. On and on. All distorted versions of truth at best. But really, they are lies. I convince myself I am different from everyone else because I have a calling. Am I the only one that does this?
But there is hope. We aren’t alone. We aren’t the only ones walking this path. We don’t have to carry the weight of ministry alone. Even as I look around my city, there are dozens of men and women who are passionately pursuing Christ while also working in the field of college ministry.
Maybe this is why David said in Psalm 133:1, “How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity!”
Unity. There is another one of those words we like to throw around. Merriam Webster defines unity as “the quality or state of being made one.”
For something to be made into something else requires effort, refining, blending. You must commit all of who you are to whatever you are trying to unite with.
By now I have learned if God says something is “good,” it is worth pursuing. So, I guess this is not a charge to do as I say . . . let’s do what God said.