I’m frequently reminding my 9 year old that “never” is a very strong word in the English language. Lately he’s used it as a reaction to an unfavorable parental response. In other words,
Son: “Can I have a pack of Yu-Gi-Oh cards?”
Dad: “No, you have a binder filled with them and a bin with even more.”
Son: “I NEVER get Yu-Gi-Oh cards!”
When he invokes the word “never” he’s doing so from a place in the heart not from the head. He believes that his statement will get him what he wants. Good try, bud! Instead I remind him that “never” should be used with great care and thoughtfulness.
Two recent conversations gave me an opportunity to reflect on the use of the word “never” in the church. One conversation was about money and the other was about timing. My reflection leads me to this statement:
There will NEVER be enough money, and it will NEVER be the right time!
The previous statement is not novel and is a universal claim, however I am focused on its meaning for the church today. It is often true that we’re blaming budgets and calendars for our reluctance in ministry. We lament that there isn’t enough money to do what we want to do and that the timing is wrong. By doing so, we forget that the church is founded in faith. Look at Hebrews 11 and the references to “By faith…”
Faith includes trusting in that which we cannot see or understand. Faith involves hoping for something that may seem impossible. Faith includes an element of risk-taking. Congregations and pastors are called to step out and risk everything. In the riskiest of moves, Jesus invites Peter to step from the relative security of a boat to the chaos of the water. To his credit Peter stepped out, but soon became overwhelmed by the chaos. How many of our ventures start out similarly but whose failures are blamed on it not being the right time or with lack of funding when its really about a lack of faith?
We need to be careful about how we use the word “never” in church.
The church has found occasions to use the word “never” inappropriately. There was a time when God-fearing, good Christian men and women said that the church would “never” open its doors to people whose skin color was different. There were church leaders who believed that the purity of the church meant keeping those without homes or jobs out of the church. There was a time when church government said that women were “never” to be considered for office as deacon, elder and pastor in congregations. There are some who argue that worship should “never” include certain types of music or instruments and that worship should never take place outside a sanctuary looking room.
We should use the word “never” carefully in church as it can be mis-used to exclude people and because it limits our openness to hearing the voice of the Spirit in the church. If we are a church whose witness is filled with “never” then our future will be “never”-more.
When should we use the word “never” in the context of faith? We should use it to share the message of Easter: “God will never abandon us and proves it by sending Christ to die for our sin.”
The word never is a powerful word. Be careful in how you use it.