Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear. (Ephesians 4:29 RSV)
Today I want to talk about the power of the spoken word as a ministry in your Sunday School/small groups. The Bible is pretty clear that the spoken word has great power. In Genesis, we read that God spoke the world into existence. Isaac spoke a blessing to Jacob that he could not take back, and give to Esau. Once a word has been spoken, it cannot be taken back! Our preschoolers, children, youth and adults need to hear grace-filled words from us.
What you say matters! We have an awesome responsibility as teachers. Are we helping people grow in their faith through our words, or squelching their desire to learn how to be in relationship with God?
Many years ago at a church, I had been ministering to a young adult (with long hair and an earring) who grew up in the church, but had stopped coming in his teenage years. I had encouraged him with grace and God’s love.
He showed up one Sunday morning to my surprise. During our greeting time, several adults came over to speak, and I was thrilled. Later that day I called him to see how he felt about the worship service. He said, “I enjoyed the worship service, but I won’t be back.” Taken back by his statement I asked why. He responded, “Several adults came over who taught me as a child about God’s love. Instead of asking how I had been or sharing their joy that I came back, they begin to ask me why my hair was so long and about my earring.”
I am sure that none of the adults realized how their spoken words hurt him that day. Instead of grace-filled words of love, they had spoken words of judgment. Share words of hope and encouragement instead of words of judgment.
What you are not saying is just as important as what you are saying. Are we encouraging our children, youth and adults with our spoken words in order to build up? Do we sometimes catch ourselves speaking negatively about others? Encouraging words requires intentionality.
One of my earliest recollections of Sunday School took place when I was five. Our teacher, Brother Potts (a senior adult who taught our class), would get down on his knees to be eye level with us and share words of hope: “I love you. God loves you, and I know God has great plans for you.” Years later I am still encouraged by his words, and reminded of a Scripture:
For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope. (Jeremiah 29:11 RSV)
What a great word to hear.