Should pastors preach politics?
A report circulating among evangelical Christian pastors this month says the answer is yes, laments that most pastors do not, and insists they are cowards for failing to so do.
“(Pastors) won’t probably get involved in politics because it’s very controversial,” said researcher George Barna, founder of the Barna Group. “Controversy keeps people from being in the seats, controversy keeps people from giving money, from attending programs.”
Barna’s research is the wind behind a firestorm among evangelical pastors debating whether their pulpits ought to be used to support political candidates or mobilize their churches politically.
He cites a two-year survey of American ministers showing that 90 percent agree the Bible speaks to current political issues, but less than 10 percent address those issues from the pulpit.
Barna’s survey results are fascinating.
But his conclusions are mostly wrong.
The notion that it is somehow cowardly to forgo pulpit politicking, very frankly, misses the point of pastoral ministry. And the notion that pastors deliberately keep their churches in the dark on politics for fear of losing money and membership is a divisively broad generalization.
Should pastors preach politics?
Let me suggest two reasons why the answer is almost always no.
First of all, the purpose of the pulpit is to feed the flock God’s truth. Church members who are taught the truth of God, believe it, and actually live it, generally will not need their pastors telling them how to vote.
More on that later.
“Preach the word!” wrote the Apostle Paul to a young pastor in 2 Timothy 4:2. “Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching.”
A congregation must hear God’s truth, and be convinced that it is a reliable life compass, an authoritative measure of godliness.
Much of the decline in mainline Christian churches in terms of attendance, and cultural relevance, relates to their departure from biblical truth. Simultaneously, many of these churches have majored in addressing cultural and political issues from the pulpit. The result has been a steady stream of Christians leaving mainline churches for independent churches where the main focus is Scripture.
I pray more of us pastors forgo the unproductive rants against cultural and political trends and simply stick to the Bible. When we and our congregations know what God’s truth is, no one will need to nudge us toward this or that candidate, or tell us what rally to attend.
Secondly, a church that is overly focused on politics quickly loses sight of its mission to reach sinners with the grace and truth of Jesus Christ.
It saddens me that our communities’ view of evangelical Christians is that we’re mostly frustrated and angry about gay marriage, abortion, and the loss of America’s moral bearings. Yes, those trends ought to offend us and we ought to stand against them as sin.
But wouldn’t it be refreshing if the church was primarily known for radically expressing the love of Jesus Christ? Wouldn’t it be refreshing if the term “evangelical” implied something other than “mad religious person” in our communities?
And that brings me back to Barna’s spurious accusation about pastoral cowardice when it comes to preaching politics.
Here’s the thing: it takes no courage to preach to the choir about political matters we all already agree on. What does take courage is for pastors to consistently point out the gap between what we and our congregations profess to believe and how we actually live our lives.
Is it possible that when God’s people live out his truth and boldly share his gospel, cultural reform is a wonderful – but secondary – result?
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