Preacher Driftwater told me, “I want to preach about America in the worst way.”
I told him it’s been done.
What he said is not what he meant, of course.
The worst way to preach about America is negatively.
“The world is going to hell.” “America is decaying from within.” “The country is becoming socialist.” “The president is our worst enemy.” “The Supreme Court is ruining America.” “The home is breaking down. Marriage is a thing of the past. You can’t get a good two-dollar steak any more.”
Okay, strike that last one.
The U. S. Supreme Court has just ruled that homosexuals can marry in any state in the union, forever changing the character of this country.
We are justifiably concerned. And we are stuck with their decision.
Does this mean the United States is through? Will God write ‘Ichabod’ over what used to be a great country? Should we preachers deliver its eulogy from our pulpits?
Not so fast.
When a friend sent his sermon outline for the July 4th message he planned to preach–it was mostly a litany of what’s wrong with America–he was not asking for my opinion. He said, “What do you think is the future of America?”
I mulled that over a few hours before replying. Then I said something like the following….
I don’t know what the future of America is. I’m not sure where this country is going. But I can tell you something about that sermon as you have it laid out so far.
He didn’t ask for my opinion, but I was giving it. Oh my. Why do I do these things?
Everything you said is true. But your people already know that. So, the sermon is going to tell them what they already know. And, it’ll be depressing. Frankly, this is cheap preaching. Anyone can preach about all the negative stuff this country–or any nation–is doing. Nations are made up of sinners, and their leaders tend to reflect that.
All governments have sinned and come short of the glory of God.
Give us some remedies (I told my friend). Tell about someone who is doing it right, who is a strength to America and a blessing to mankind. Yes, go ahead and lay out the problem. But don’t dwell on it. Move on to the positive, to examples of people who are doing something helpful, something inspiring, something righteous.
This week I came across an article of mine from the 1980s urging pastors to tell their church members the right way to lead a family and not just harass them for not doing all they should be doing.
Here is an excerpt…
When I was 19, I joined a Southern Baptist church near my college. Before long, I began hearing negative preaching flowing from the pulpits, usually accompanied by flailing arms and raised voice: ‘…And our homes no longer have family altars….’
I had to ask someone what a family altar was. The term suggested to this untaught mind a place of human sacrifice.
Often in Sunday School, teachers would drop in testimonials such as: ‘In my childhood, Dad would gather us all around after supper and we would spend a half hour reading the Word and praying. People don’t do that anymore. What’s the world coming to?’
To me, the spiritual infant, this all communicated one impression: no one has a family prayer time any more and this is the norm. If you are not praying together as a family, you’re like everyone else. So don’t beat yourself up about it and feel guilty.
The negative preaching and teaching had communicated the opposite of what had been intended.
What, I wondered, would be the result if we told stories of parents who got this thing right?
I thought of Jim and Sondra. Jim jogs from 5 to 6 each morning, and Sondra from 6 to 7. While she’s out, Jim awakens their preschoolers, dresses them, and plays with them. They have a solid hour together every morning. Sometimes in the afternoon, Jim calls home. “Honey, I’ve got 30 minutes with no appointments. Get the kids ready.” He rushes home from his veterinary practice. He walks in the door, sets the oven timer for 30 minutes, goes into the children’s room, closes the door, and plays with them. When the timer sounds, he’s out the door and back to work.
As Jim’s pastor, I delighted in telling what he did. It’s a positive declaration about family life and encourages people rather than depressing them under a load of guilt and worry.
I used to have a veteran deacon who would teach the young men about leading their families. “My wife and I love to use the Open Windows (devotional quarterly). They’re just long enough and have excellent readings. And the church provides them free.”
He was telling the young men that this was the norm, that as a godly father you should lead your family and here is one way to do it.
Is anything right in America? Then, tell it, pastor.
Is anything doing something inspiring in America? Let’s hear it.
Absolutely, call attention to the areas of concern. No one is suggesting you ignore the dark side and tickle the ears of the congregation. But if the goal is to produce righteous saints who function as salt and light in a dark world, tell how it’s done.
When Bryan led a teenager to Christ, he stopped a destructive trend in its tracks. The teen’s parents were alcoholics and her family history was terrible. But suddenly, when Jesus Christ entered her life, she was born again to a living hope. She became a great student in school and went on to do wonderfully in life. She married a terrific Christian guy and their home seems to be healthy, alive, happy, and godly.
The most patriotic thing I can do for America is to lead a child to Christ, to raise a healthy offspring who becomes part of the answer of this nation and not another of its problems.
I cannot undo the Supreme Court’s ruling. But I can do everything in my power to help the redeemed in Christ to have solid Christian marriages.
Let’s build sermons around that, pastor. Let’s show them how it’s done instead of bemoaning the fact that no one is doing it.
You have a difficult assignment, preacher. It’s so hard to hit the themes that need to be sounded and yet stay on focus with the Good News of Jesus. Finding that balance is tough, I know. But keep trying.
One more thing. When you pray for America in your worship service, model for your people how to pray for a country that has jumped the tracks. Don’t tell them “this is how it’s done.” Just do it.
The more discerning will pick up on what you are doing.