Whether it’s worth the price, pastor

Once in a while, a pastor has to made a tough call.

Do you speak out on a controversial issue or not?

Yes, you could come down hard on the latest political correctness issue that is dividing the country and enraging both halves.

You could address the racial matter that is driving the liberals crazy and inflaming the conservatives to near-incineration.

You could take a public stand on what your community is experiencing, knowing that many on both sides of the issue are upset with the others.

Some will insist you should take a stand.

They speak of having the courage of one’s convictions, of how the Old Testament prophets never feared public opinion, and that you can become a champion for this noble cause.

You aren’t a coward, are you?  They will cite the Joshua passage, “Be strong and of good courage.”

The other side warns you against getting involved. You are a pastor of a church, you have constituents on both sides of this issue, the church doesn’t need any more enemies, and you have bigger fish to fry.

You are a gospel-preacher, aren’t you?  They will cite the Pauline command to “Preach the word.”

What to do?

I will not be telling you, that’s for sure.

That’s the role of the Holy Spirit within you. Ask Him.

If you are a Martin Luther King, you will speak up.  You end up taking major steps toward changing the culture of this country and improving the lives of countless millions. But you pay for it with your own murder at the age of 39.

A huge price to pay. We are confident Dr. King would say it was a small price to pay for what it achieved.

In all likelihood, pastor, you and I will not be gunned down for addressing community issues from the pulpit.  We will not be burned in effigy or be the cause of protest rallies or be hauled off to jail.

But taking a public stand on issues will cost you, nonetheless.

Abortion divides this country. So does capital punishment and Obamacare. The Trayvon Martin/George Zimmerman case is the most recent public event to divide society. It’s reminiscent of the Rodney King affair in Los Angeles some years back, or the O. J. Simpson trial in the mid-1990s.

Your community will have issues to arise with racial and economic and spiritual angles.  You will have deep feelings about some of the events–compassion for those who were hurt, concern for those being victimized, anger over statements made by principals, disagreement with editorials in your newspaper, and disgust over the self-seeking rants of the glory-seekers.

And you will consider using your “bully pulpit” to vent.

Should you do this?

Here are some questions to ask before you decide to address these controversial issues from the Lord’s pulpit:

1) Is it your pulpit or the Lord’s?

If yours, do as you please. If it’s the Lord’s, then ask Him. Just because you feel strongly about something does not automatically make it fair game for a sermon.  “We do not preach ourselves, but Christ Jesus as Lord….” (2 Corinthians 4:5).

When a pastor friend got involved in a project which turned out to be divisive, he made the front page of the local paper. At a quickly called meeting of the deacons, he was asked to explain his participation in the matter. He said, “I was not acting as pastor of this church, but as a private citizen.” They wasted no time informing him that he was not a private citizen, that his name was on the sign in front of the church building, and that everything he did reflected on the Lord’s work through this church.

It was a painful, but necessary, lesson for that pastor.

2) Is there a biblical, spiritual, and moral aspect to the issue?

Does Scripture speak so clearly to what’s happening that Christians should be of one mind regarding their position? And do others of your conservative, Bible-believing group agree? To be sure, God’s Word addresses almost every subject conceivable either explicitly or implicitly.  So, one must take great care here.

3) What does your spouse say?

I changed “wife” to “spouse” since a few of our readers are of the female persuasion and serve as pastors of churches.  Now, I have no idea whether God has gifted the husbands of women preachers with sensitivities for what she should or should not preach in the same way He seems to have gifted the wives of us male preachers with that uniqueness. But personally, my wife is the first one I would ask.  Her instincts are far superior to mine in knowing whether a subject is off limits.

Oh, and my rule is this: if she is even in doubt, the answer is, “No. Don’t do it.”

4) Is your congregation of one mind or divided?

Will your sermon further unite them or completely alienate some good people? And if, it will alienate many, the next question becomes….

5) What is your goal here? to unite or simply to vent?

The unity of the Lord’s church is of great importance to HIm. (See Ephesians 4 and John 17).  Believers should not take this lightly.

If your purpose in speaking publicly on a controversial matter is to “let them know where I stand,” nothing good is going to come of this.

Simply stated, pastor, no one cares where you stand. You are a messenger of the living God sent to proclaim His good news concerning Jesus Christ.  Even if the community awards you certain prestige or a high level of respect, its citizens and its leadership do not stand in the wings awaiting your pronouncements on every issue.  (In fact, they may resent that you got involved in something outside your field. That does not mean you should not speak up. It just means that doing so is going to cost you and you should not do so impulsively or thoughtlessly.)

In our state, the governor appoints members of an ethics commission to keep watch over the doings of the various agencies and to rule on matters brought before it. The provost of our New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, Dr. Steve Lemke, is a member of this august panel.  Recently, when the newspaper announced that a member had resigned and the governor would be appointing his replacement, the thought hit me, “What would you do if they called you?”  Answer: Run like crazy.  No normal person would want such a responsibility. (Provosts are not normal, believe me. Smiley-face goes here.)  The burdens for getting it right, the ramifications if you get it wrong, the complexity of these issues, and my own human fallibility, all cry out that I am not qualified to sit in judgment on such matters.

Before addressing such matters from the pulpit, pastor, you might want to tell yourself the same thing. You are messing with the fine China of human lives here. Be careful.

6) What will it cost you in terms of your ministry?

Once again, we’re not saying not to speak out or not to take a public stand on some key issue. We are suggesting that you “count the cost,” a good biblical consideration.  Will you be branded in the community unfairly? Will outsiders conclude your church is one way or the other and will that be detrimental or beneficial?

I once wrote a letter to the editor concerning something the local rabbi, an acquaintance from the ministerial association, had written with which I profoundly disagreed.  I edited the letter carefully and was certain that my sentiments were Christlike and sound and not further divisive. On the whole, the letter was well-received, but one result was surprising.  I began getting letters from anti-Semites thanking me for putting the rabbi in his place.  It became obvious that the local manifestation of the KKK thought I was identifying with them.

After that, I kept my mouth shut on that matter.

7) When you stand before the Lord, will you be pleased or ashamed of your actions? 

That’s another way of asking, “Will the Lord be pleased or ashamed of what you did in addressing–or keeping silent–on that issue?”

Paul’s words to the Colossians applies to a thousand aspects to our lives, and particularly to this: “Whatever you do, do all for the glory of God” (I Corinthians 10:31).

And remember one thing, pastor: Yes, it will require courage for you to take an unpopular public stand on some important issue. But it may require just as much courage for you to resist those pressuring you to speak out when the Spirit within you counsels otherwise.

Courage comes in all shapes and sizes.  Sometimes it looks like timidity and surrender (such as when our Lord went to the cross) and at other times it takes the form of harsh action (when He grabbed a whip and cleansed the temple).

Let the Spirit lead you, and you will be all right.



4 thoughts on “Whether it’s worth the price, pastor

  1. Joe, thank you for this message – I agree with you totally on your stand.
    It is so hard to keep my mouth shut on this latest in the Martin case.
    Personally I think the jury made the right choice. I am so thankful it was
    not done without a lot of time and studying the evidence. We had an experience
    at a fast food that really bothered me. There are very few whites that work there
    and when we went in as normal, talking with the cashier, and others, the
    manager (who we have known for about 15 years – and was always so friendly)
    but that day she avoided us. A black man came in and was talking about
    the case and Bob turned around to see who was talking. When we started
    to leave, this manager (who normally speaks when we leave) turned and
    went to the back to keep from saying anything to us. We told the cashier and
    the others that it was very good and hope they had a good day. It hurt us (knowing we had not done anything to this manager) that she would treat us differently. We have many black friends that we enjoy their friendship but after experiencing this
    I saw how some feel about the white.

    • I recall how the whites felt after O.J.Simpson was acquitted. Very similar. In a pastors conference soon afterwards at an African-American church, the (black) pastor welcomed everyone and soon found himself talking about the OJ business, saying what a wonderful verdict it was, etc etc. I said, “My brother, you could talk for hours and not say anything with which some of us would disagree more!” We have such a long way to go, don’t we?

  2. Agree, we have long way to go. But, we are a lot closer than we were and a lot closer than most people think we are. Our media does not help and certain leaders on both sides of the issue, seem to not want to see the other side. I try, but I still can’t feel what others feel. What gets me is that many say they want to have a conversation about race, but when you bring up the crime in our country and how the majority is committed by young black men, many do not want to discuss that issue. Until that demographic changes, it is hard to say we should stop racial profiling by our law enforcement officials. Dr. King said that it was a moral problem in his “Dream ” speech. I agree. And the majority of every race, I believe, agree. Of course, if the answer to this moral delimna is Jesus Christ and I believe He is, what better way to change our culture, but to get kids, regardless of race, from an early age, underneath the tutelage of Godly men and Godly Pastors that can mentor them. I know we have these programs in churches all over our city. Despite growing up in a Christian home, I still didn’t come to a saving knowledge of Christ until late in life, too many mixed messages and my own stupidity. Thankfully, I did and I believe allowing Christ to become your own personal Savior is the Only hope for our nation and the world. Paul says “we are His workmanship”. Although many times I fall way short. It is still true, “God intends for us to walk in them”. As far as pastors preaching about controversial issues, I think what Christ said in John 8:32 says it best for those contiuning in His Word. Truth always wins and you can’t say there are two truths about the same subject. When God told Samuel in his choice of a king, not to look on a person’s outward appearance, and God says that He is no respector of persons, He means it. No one is better than anyone else at the foot of the cross, nor should that matter in the world we live in today. God does not see color. He looks on our heart. Who we are down deep inside. He sees us fro who we really are. Not who we think we are. It should be the same with us. We should be colorblind, I try to remember that no matter who I am speaking with. Pilate didn’t want to know what truth was. He asked “what is truth”? We know and telling others is not only the pastor’s job. It is ours, too.

  3. The most effective and successful messages from the pulpit are those that tell us that God loves us, He has a plan for us and that we must have Jesus in our lives. Our actions and character should be influenced by these sermons. The greatest preacher of our time, Billy Graham, always preached these points. If anybody in the congregation has a problem with social issues, these sermons should help them sort through their issues. ~Bill~

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