In the same way, the tongue is a small thing that makes grand speeches. But a tiny spark can set a great forest on fire. And the tongue is a flame of fire. It is a whole world of wickedness, corrupting your entire body. It can set your whole life on fire, for it is set on fire by hell itself. [James 3:5-6 (NLT)]
Recently, a pastor shared a troubling experience while at the annual conference for his denomination. Along with other ordained ministers, he was to vote as to whether or not candidates for the ministry would be ordained. While usually a gratifying experience as this ministerial board accepts people into their vocation, on occasion the vote can be heartbreaking. If a candidate receives a negative recommendation from his supervisor, he or she is permitted to offer a defense before the vote is taken. At the last conference, such an instance occurred and, sadly, one individual did not receive an affirmative vote for ordination.
In their deliberations of the ministerial candidates, the board considers qualities of faith including evidence of God’s grace in the candidates’ lives, their ability to communicate the Christian faith, their worthiness of people’s faith and confidence, and their accountability to the church, its standards, authority and discipline. Candidates are expected to take responsibility for their actions and exercise self-control, emotional maturity and social responsibility. Unfortunately, this candidate had responded to an unfavorable assessment by a superior with a social media diatribe and Facebook rant. Foolishly, he took a private evaluation into a public forum and launched an attack; as a result, his several years spent in university, seminary and the ministry went up in flames.
In the days before social media (or as this pastor calls it—“unsocial media”), James wrote of how an untamed tongue can set our world on fire. Nowadays, that applies to untamed fingers flying across a keyboard, as well. The pastor who shared this story of a future turned upside down added that he asks his staff to wait a full twenty-four hours before responding to negative comments and always to lead their response with an expression of appreciation for the other person’s words. He also admitted to not always following his own advice!
It’s not just potential candidates for the ministry, pastors, and their staff who should maintain high standards of holy living in the world—we all are called to do just that. Those in the ministry may lose their careers with untamed tongues, but we all can lose relationships, respect, reputations, and our ability to be effective witnesses for Christ. Simply put, if we can’t control the words we use and the way we use them, it appears that other areas in our lives are equally out of control. But, when we allow the Holy Spirit to control our behavior, we have no need to worry about seeing our hopes and dreams go up in flames.