“If you aren’t preaching on abortion, your silence is damning.”
“If you aren’t preaching on sex trafficking, you are a part of the problem.”
“If you aren’t preaching on racism, you are enabling racists.”
“If you aren’t preaching on political issues, you aren’t leading your people.”
There aren’t enough weeks in a year. Not enough weeks in a year to preach on all of the hot topics I’m supposed to be preaching on. Sorry, Twitter–I’m just not cut out to be your definition of a “faithful” pastor.
The tyranny of the urgent constantly clutches at the necks of the elders in our congregations. Trending topics flash in the sidebar: “We demand your undivided attention, pastor!” Voices shout through social media platforms: “Your people need to know how to think about these issues, pastor!” And week after week, the pastor who lets culture dictate to him how he ought to shepherd grows wear, guilty, and defeated.
The way many people talk–or tweet–you’d think it was a pastor’s job to tell his people merely what to think. The people mindlessly wander around for six days, completely inept and unable to process what is going on around them until they stumble into church to be handed the stone tablets from on high, inscribed by the finger of their pastor–the infallible point of view on everything. If this is the case, then every Sunday will turn into a running commentary on social issues.
But I’m not a priest–at least not that kind of priest. In the days before the Reformation, the Roman Catholic church opposed Bible translation because they believed the people were unable to comprehend the Scriptures. It was too dangerous for them to interpret things for themselves. Better that they come to a trained minister and have the text mediated to them.
Do we realize that many of us are functioning in this same way? We teach our people what to think about the world around them–but never how to think. This creates a cult of personality wherein our members are completely dependent upon us to digest world events and cultural trends for them. Flattering as that is, it can only lead to colossal failure because–surprise!–I’m not an expert on everything, and that’s not how God designed the body to function.
No, I’d rather teach week after week how to interact with the culture. I’d rather model how to interpret the stories around us in view of the story of what God is doing through Jesus Christ. It is my job to equip the saints, not cripple them. John writes to all believers, “But you have been anointed by the Holy One, and you all have knowledge” (1 John 2:20). I am not the only one filled with the Holy Spirit. Every single believer is. My preaching ministry should never deny or undermine this truth.
This is reality: the world is sinking sand. The world is on fire. The world is a raging battlefield of death and sin. We come crawling out of muck and mire before our Sunday gatherings. We need something firm to grab onto. We need to know there is at least one place in the world that will never shift under the waves of culture. I want our church to be that place. We come desperate for a Rock that will never be shaken. I know the Word made flesh is that Rock.
For six days competing narratives snatch at our minds and hearts in the news, social media, and the public square. We gather once a week to draw one another out of the narratives of this world and to be reminded that we are living the grand narrative where Christ has died, been raised and exalted as our heavenly King, and is coming back for us.
This is why I refuse to let the world dictate my sermon topic from week to week. Instead, we soldier on through the narrative of Scripture, chapter by chapter. Sure, I could preach on the latest cultural problem every week, but I’d be like a school boy trying to put out a forest fire with his tiny bucket, running back and forth to the spigot behind the house. I’d sure be working hard–and accomplishing absolutely nothing.
We overestimate the effect of a single sermon. We underestimate the effect of a years of sermons preached faithfully and fearlessly. We ought to march against the Devil’s schemes arm in arm, putting one foot in front of the other. The people of God don’t need generals who frantically lead a new charge in a different direction every week. They need fierce and courageous comrades-in-arms who teach them to suit up in the armor of God, to wage war, and to fight as peacemakers in a culture that is going to hell.
I write all of this, and yet in four years of expository, book by book preaching somehow we’ve tackled racism, abortion, porn, greed, tragedy, racism, divorce, adultery, global crises, politics, racism, and hundreds of other current issues. It is more than possible to preach the Word verse by verse without being tone deaf to the real, heartbreaking issues that need to be addressed. I am often amazed at God’s providence when I’m putting together a sermon on a passage mapped out months before that somehow exactly addresses an issue from that week. I mean, it’s almost like the Spirit knows long beforehand exactly what our people will need to hear each week…huh.
The narratives of this world are all swallowed up by salvation history. The issues that plague our culture, the kings who rise and fall, the sins that destroy the people around us all fit into a story God is writing about His Son Jesus, the Savior of the World.
We have to flip the script. We cannot allow culture to tell our story. We are a people drawn from different classes, colors, and creeds to one Savior and Lord. He narrates our story now.
Postscript: In every congregation, there will be critical moments that have to be addressed specifically from the pulpit. There have been a few at our church through the years. May the Spirit grant every shepherd of the flock the wisdom to discern how best to handle those circumstances and to have the right Word for those times.