If I were to illustrate the cultural setting in which our churches currently exist, I would paint a picture of a ship in the middle of a raging storm, trying to maintain its direction in the darkness of night. The wind is attempting to blow the ship off course. The waves are tossing it to and fro. In complete darkness, it is nearly impossible to know which direction is north.
Today in our churches, the pastor—who functions like a ship’s captain—is tasked with leading the church through the cultural storms of the day.
I understand that every generation of pastoring has had its difficulties. I imagine pastoring a church through world wars and great depressions and other world-wide catastrophes was extremely challenging. But I do believe that in our current day and age, there exists a new level of difficulty for the pastor that has never been seen.
Because of technological advances in media networks and the rise of social media platforms, anyone has the ability to have news at their fingertips and can immediately voice their judgement for the world to see. The result, in my opinion, is what we have now: a country that is tragically divided. In my own experiences, these divisions have seeped (if not poured) into the church. This is especially true in the political sphere.
So how does a pastor navigate through these treacherous waters? Here are three simple reminders that I believe serve as a compass for pastoring during these times (and all times):
Remember your purpose: Preach the Gospel
I believe this is most important. Too many times I have observed pastors use their platforms (which include their pulpits) to advance the cause of a political party. They nearly vilify anyone who even thinks about another point of view. This is a distraction at best and a stumbling block at worst. As pastors, this is not our purpose.
On several occasions I have heard the president of the SBC, J.D. Greear, remind people about the background of Jesus’ disciples. Within that group there was Matthew the tax collector and Simon the Zealot. Both of these men would have held polar opposite views on the political issues of the day. Yet they were unified around a greater purpose, and that was Jesus Christ and the advancement of His kingdom.
The hope for the world is not a particular political agenda. The hope for the world is not a particular presidential candidate. The hope for the world is the message of Jesus Christ. Pastors, as we continue to preach week in and week out, let us remember to uphold our purpose and faithfully preach the Gospel. As Paul says in 1 Cor. 2:2, “For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.”
Use your platform: Apply the Gospel
Yes, our purpose is to preach the Gospel and for our people to have a knowledge of the Gospel, but they also need to know how the Gospel applies to the issues of the day. They need to know that the Gospel speaks to issues such as: racism, injustice, abortion and the sanctity of marriage.
For example, in our immediate context, if we are not addressing matters such as racism and injustice, then we have our heads in the sand and have lost an opportunity to explain the relevancy of the Gospel. This can be challenging, but it is a challenge upon which the pastor must labor.
We can especially see this throughout Paul’s epistles. In Ephesians, for example, he spends the first three chapters lining out the heart of the Gospel, and then, in the last three chapters, he seeks to apply the Gospel to specific issues within the church and the culture. Pastors, let us use Paul as an example and seek to apply the Gospel to our people and our society.
Speak with poise: Model the Gospel
In Col. 4:6 Paul says, “Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.” For us pastors, this is crucially important as we seek to preach the Gospel and live it out in our daily lives.
We, of all people, need to remember that we are representatives of Jesus. And as such, there must be a gracious way in which we communicate the truths of God’s Word. Too often, we let our manner of speaking obstruct the message. Let us not be pastors who unnecessarily add to the division that already exists.
The Gospel, in and of itself, is an offensive message to the pride of mankind. Do not intensify the offense through your own speech or conduct. With Jesus as your example, “Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matt. 5:16).