I recently heard a story from a Mennonite pastor in my local ministerium. Nearly 25 years ago, his wife tragically passed away. One year before she passed away, she made the decision to discontinue wearing the traditional Mennonite head covering for women. After she died, he got lots of support, but he also got two letters from people in his church saying that if she had still worn a head covering, she’d be alive today. He said that hurt him so deeply. Can you imagine what it would take to write that kind of letter? What must be going on inside a person’s heart and mind to have the gall to write that to a person who just lost their wife?
In Colossians 4 verse 6, Paul writes that our conversation, our speech, our words, should be gracious. Even when we disagree with one another, even when we are hurting, we can be gracious. This is the self-control of the tongue, and that is hard for some of us. But know this, we can become gracious. In fact, I think it is best to read Paul’s words here as saying to us that it is imperative that we learn to be gracious, and then actually practice being gracious.
For some of you, gracious talk is the most natural thing in the world. You flow with graciousness. For others of you, being gracious can be difficult. There are extremes both ways. First, for those of you who are naturally gracious, the extreme you need to watch out for is being so gracious that you do not speak the truth. I can struggle with this. When I am in front of my congregation preaching, I don’t struggle so much. I find it much easier to speak truthfully and plainly in a sermon because I don’t see myself as speaking to any one person. I’m speaking to the whole church family. But when I’m speaking to just one person in my office or at a coffee shop, I can hem and haw and cave in to my fears and not speak plainly because I don’t want to offend. That is the shadow side of being gracious. I need, and maybe you need, to learn to speak the truth, even when one on one, and of course, to still speak it graciously.
But maybe you are the other extreme. Maybe you have a hard time being gracious. Maybe you use harsh tones, bold declarations, or even manipulation or intimidation. Maybe you don’t think enough about the feelings of the person you’re talking to. Do you need to work on speaking the truth in love? With graciousness? Do you need to learn to pause before you speak, to make sure it comes out of your mouth with a gracious tone?
Paul also suggests that our speaking of the Good News needs to be seasoned with salt. My family loves Red Robin seasoning. We almost always have that on our table. It takes so good! Not just on fries, but on burgers, on pretty much any meat, on mac and cheese. It is a salt-based seasoning. Maybe you have a seasoning you prefer. Maybe just plain salt! When we season our conversation with salt, we are flavoring the conversation in such a way that we clearly and compelling share the words of the Good News. Matched with a life that consistently aligns with the teachings of Jesus, this is a powerful combination.
You don’t have to be the poet laureate or a preacher or a Martin Luther King Jr to have conversation that could be described as seasoned with salt. Start seasoning your conversation with grace, just like Paul said. Then focusing on telling the story. Talk about how Jesus has impacted your life. And if the person you’re talking to asks a question you don’t know the answer to, say “I don’t know, but I’ll look into it and get back to you,” and then actually look into it and get back to them. If they respond with a point of view that you don’t know how to respond to, then be honest and say “I don’t know how to respond to that, but I’ll think about it or research it and get back to you.” What is absolutely important is to avoid argumentation. We should avoid viewing conversations about Jesus as battles to win. Instead focus on telling stories. Talk about the ways that your church family is seeking to share the love of Christ in the community. In my community, I loving talking about how our ministerium of churches work together in unity, despite their denominational or doctrinal differences.
Invite conversation where you listen and learn. The person, after the conversation is over, should be able to say of you, “They really listened to me…they were really interested in me.”
Prayer and sharing the Gospel through word and deed. Those are two excellent ways to measure a church.