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(No, this isn’t a post about swearing. Though that’s probably not a great idea either.)

Recently, my kids and I were listening to a sermon, and it wasn’t going well. The preacher was preaching on Genesis 1, and he was throwing a lot of science into the sermon to support his main point, namely that God is the author of life. (A fine point to make, and Genesis 1 is a great place to make that point, to be sure.)

The problem was this: Often, the science he used was just plain wrong. And my kids, who are pretty good at science, knew it. When he said that all life on earth needs light to live, my son leaned over and whispered, “What about the deep sea vent creatures?” He knew enough biology to know that what the preacher said wasn’t correct. It undermined the preacher’s point in their eyes rather than underscoring it. It caused the preacher to lose some trust in their eyes.

But if those mistakes were like arrows piercing his credibility, what came next was like a pocket nuke.

“The reason people suffer from depression and anxiety and mental health issues today is because our society doesn’t accept God as creator.”

My children have close friends (and a few family members) who suffer from those issues. Some of them are Christians. To my children’s ears (and to mine), such a statement sounded dangerously simplistic and uncaring. It takes a complex, multifaceted problem and turns it into a talking point to make people feel superior to their non-Christian neighbors. (I can only imagine how those believers in the room who struggle with mental health issues must have felt hearing such a statement. “You just don’t believe hard enough?”)

Now, if pressed, I’m certain that the preacher wouldn’t espouse such a denigration of suffering souls. But when you are preaching, you are judged by what you say, not what you meant. And that means that you absolutely must be careful with what you say. If that means writing out your sermon longhand and preaching from a manuscript, so be it.

And if you’re not an expert on a particular subject, double and triple-check your sources before you add it to a sermon. It’s highly likely that someone in your congregation knows more about a subject than you do, and your sloppiness in researching will become an obstacle to you being heard by them. If you’re not sure, leave it out.

Remember the words of Jesus: “I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give an account for every careless word they speak.” (Matthew 12:36).

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