Archives For Bible

The Briefing

W.V. Bible class faces legal challenge
For decades Mercer County’s public schools have offered a weekly Bible class during the school day — 30 minutes at the elementary level and 45 minutes in middle school. The program is not mandatory, but almost every child in the district attends. And there is widespread support for the classes: Parents and community members help raise nearly $500,000 a year to pay for the Bible in the Schools program. Now, two county residents with school-age children argue in a lawsuit that the program violates the establishment clause of the First Amendment and the West Virginia constitution.

Baptist Baylor picks first female president
Linda Livingstone succeeds Baylor University’s first non-Baptist president, Kenneth Starr, who was fired last year over the Texas institution’s bungled response to ongoing reports of rape on campus. Livingstone, a former faculty member of Baylor and Pepperdine University, leaves her position as business school dean at George Washington University to become the Waco school’s first female president in its 172-year history.

Porn deemed public health crisis in 5 states
At least five states have officially declared pornography a public health crisis or harmful to the public, and at least one other is considering a similar measure, according to bill updates filed on state legislature websites.

Saudi Arabia elected to UN women’s rights commission
Saudi Arabia was elected to the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women. The addition of the Gulf nation was first flagged by UN Watch, a nongovernmental body that monitors the United Nations. The Commission on the Status of Women’s executive director slammed the election. “Electing Saudi Arabia to protect women’s rights is like making an arsonist into the town fire chief,” Hillel Neuer said.

‘John 3:16’ NFL suicide mystery
It wasn’t a suicide note that former NFL star Aaron Hernandez left in his prison cell when he reportedly hanged himself. Instead, the Massachusetts corrections officers who discovered his body Wednesday morning saw “John 3:16” written across Hernandez’s forehead in red ink. A Bible in the cell lay open to the same verse.

Sources: Washington Post, Christianity Today, Baptist Press, The Hill, STL Today

Surrendered life

Martyn Lloyd-Jones was one of the greatest preachers of the twentieth century. He pastored the Westminster Chapel in the heart of London for nearly three decades, and by the end of his ministry he was one of the most influential ministers on earth. But before Lloyd-Jones was a great preacher, he was an accomplished physician. After earning his medical degree, he came under the tutelage of Lord Horder, caregiver to His Majesty, King George V, and enjoyed one of the most promising medical careers in all of England.

In considering God’s call to ministry, Lloyd-Jones wrestled with his “physician’s dilemma”—giving up medicine to pursue preaching. Ultimately, it was a war of desire, and his desire for ministry won out:

“We spend most of our time rendering people fit to go back to their sin! I want to heal souls. If a man has a diseased body and his soul is all right, he is all right to the end; but a man with a healthy body and distressed soul is all right for sixty years or so and then he has to face eternity in Hell.”

From his book, “Discerning Your Call to Ministry,” Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary President Jason K. Allen offers insight on ministry, calling, and Christian education.

Are you willing to surrender?
A generation ago, “surrendering to ministry” was a common phrase in evangelical churches. It was certainly common in my childhood church. Most every sermon ended with an invitation to surrender to ministry. This immediately followed our pastor’s appeal to follow Christ, be baptized, or join the church.

Like Moses at the burning bush, you can persist in your excuses, or surrender to the call of God on your life.

As a boy, the phrase “surrender to ministry” both mystified and unnerved me. It sounded as though one was embracing an unwanted life, a call to a distant land for an undesired work. It seemed like a call one intuitively resisted—as long as possible—until finally buckling under the Spirit’s pressure and embarking on a life of ministry that, albeit noble, would be marked by sacrifice and hardship.

In hindsight, I do not think that is what my pastor meant, nor do I think that is what the New Testament implies. As I found in my own life, surrendering to ministry is not caving to an unwanted vocation; it is embracing what becomes increasingly irresistible: gospel ministry.

In other words, if by surrendering to ministry we mean engaging in an undesirable work, then jettison that phrase now. But if we mean surrendering to minister as unto the Lord and self-consciously choosing to forgo other life opportunities, conveniences, and ambitions, then surrendering to ministry is a good, healthy phrase. In fact, I am convinced “surrendering to ministry” is a phrase the church needs to recover and ministry-posture the church needs to cultivate. Every faithful ministry begins with a surrendered life, and that submissiveness shapes every aspect of one’s ministry, including why, where, and what one preaches.

What surrender entails
Surrendering to ministry rightly establishes the pastor’s motivation. After all, the pastor’s incentive should not be material gain, the applause of men, or any other earthly enticement. Rather, the preacher should, like the apostle Paul, know in his heart, “If I preach the gospel, I have nothing to boast of, for I am under compulsion; for woe is me if I do not preach the gospel” (1 Cor. 9:16).

To surrender to preach the ministry is to be so gripped by God’s call, and so moved for His glory, that one shares Jeremiah’s burden: “If I say, ‘I will not remember Him or speak anymore in His name,’ then in my heart it becomes like a burning fire shut up in my bones; and I am weary of holding it in, and I cannot endure it” (Jer. 20:9).

The urgency with which one preaches may ebb and flow based on a multitude of factors, including the receptivity of the congregation, the preacher’s spirituality vitality, and the tenor of the text itself. But, for the man rightly surrendered to ministry, the “why” of the ministry is settled—it is for Christ and His glory.

Additionally, surrendering to ministry includes a determination to follow God’s call wherever it may lead. This may include a willingness to leave family and friends, go to a distant place, and undertake a new work. After all, Jesus reflected, “Foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head” (Matt. 8:20).

Too many ministers are perfectly willing to follow God’s call as long as it does not lead out of their hometown. Such kingdom restrictiveness is alien to the New Testament and stymies one’s availability to be used by God. Practically speaking, you can know if you are limiting God’s call if you’ve already placed—perhaps even unconsciously—limits on where you are willing to serve Christ.

A willingness to go wherever includes a willingness to minister to whomever. There are churches across the land poised for anything but numerical success. Challenging demographics, an unreceptive audience, or a dilapidated neighborhood might make God’s call unattractive, but if it is God’s call, it is a glorious one—regardless of the zip code. After all, struggling churches and dying communities need ministers, too. God typically calls more to a people than a place. If God calls you to minister to a church in a challenging area, are you willing to go?

Don’t settle for the path of least resistance or the best payout. Seek God’s will and surrender to it.

Surrendering to ministry also means operating under the authority of God’s Word. Most especially, this relates to the act of preaching itself. The role of the preacher is not to cobble together anecdotes with human insights and then sprinkle in a couple of Bible verses to produce a “homily.” The faithful preacher tunes his ear to the Spirit of God, not the critic’s grumble. His finger is on the text, not in the air, gauging the wind. His voice is given to preaching the Word, not peddling shallow sermons for shallow people.

Too many pastors are textual acrobats, contorting their preaching to avoid Scripture’s sharper edges. Such preachers have become adept at explaining away difficult texts and dodging confrontational verses. From the earliest days of ministry you’ll have to guard your heart from pleasing anyone other than the Lord. Fearing combative personalities, overreacting to legitimate criticism, or stubbornly desiring man’s approval can all compromise your message and disorient you from paramount loyalty: loyalty to the One who called you—God Himself.

Two stories of surrender
The Bible offers no better case study of surrendering to ministry than the Old Testament prophet Jonah. God called Jonah to go to Nineveh, and preach repentance so the people there might be saved. It’s crystal clear that God was concerned about the why, where, and what of Jonah’s message.

Tragically, Jonah resisted God’s call in spectacular fashion. When God called Jonah, he was in Israel. God instructed him to go to Nineveh, which was about 550 miles east of Jerusalem in what is now modern-day Iraq, but Jonah did the exact opposite. He struck out for Tarshish, located in modern-day Spain, some 2,000 miles in the opposite direction!

Why did Jonah resist God’s call to preach repentance to the Ninevites? The Ninevites were the sworn enemies of the Israelites. The last thing Jonah wanted was to see the Ninevites repent and escape God’s impending judgement. In fact, Jonah actually confessed that he fled to Tarshish because he knew God was “gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abundant in loving kindness, and one who relents concerning calamity” (Jonah 4:2).

God’s ministers are not spiritual free agents. We are not ecclesiastical entrepreneurs who strike out on our own and minister in accordance with our own desires. As Jonah’s sin was running from God’s appointed place of ministry, a more common twenty-first-century sin might be running to a preferred place of ministry.

On the contrary, aspire to be like John Piper, who went to Bethlehem Baptist Church in 1980 despite a small, aging congregation in dilapidated facilities located in a transitional neighborhood. He sensed God’s call, followed it, and has been used by God like few others in our generation.

A number of years ago I faced a similarly challenging decision. A church reached out to me about helping them through a season of challenge and transition. I felt God’s leading to serve the church, but several friends sought to dissuade me. I vividly recall one friend telling me, “Stay away. That church will ruin your resume. It’s a troubled congregation in a troubled part of town. Billy Graham couldn’t grow that church. You’ll have plenty of great opportunities in the years ahead. Don’t settle for anything less than God’s best for you.”

Though well intended, that counsel was altogether unhelpful and disorienting. For a while it confused me, until I remembered that God’s will for my life is God’s best for my life. By enlarging my circle of wise counselors, reflecting on the church’s needs, and my wife and I seeking the Lord and gaining His peace, it became clear that God was indeed calling us to that church.

The bottom line is, if you had a million lives to live you could not improve upon the life God has called you to live and the ministry to which He has called you. Don’t settle for second best by choosing the path of least resistance or the ministry that promises the best payout. Seek God’s will and surrender to it.

These days the phrase “surrendering to ministry” seems a vestige of the previous generation of church life. This is more than unfortunate; it is unhealthy, and the church is the big loser.

Surrendering to ministry means you’re willing to go to anyone, anywhere, anytime. But don’t be confused; as you surrender you will enter more fully into God’s joy and blessing. A surrendered life is integral to a healthy ministry.

– Reprinted by permission

Hero

All of my life, I have looked for heroes whom I could love, respect, and follow. There is an old photo of me as a small boy with my brother, standing in the backyard with towels pinned around our necks. We were trying to be like Superman, ready to fight against the bad guys and fight for justice. He was probably the first hero we had as children.

During my teenage years, I played the guitar and wrote songs, so my heroes became famous musicians who displayed their lyric artistry in recordings and concerts. When I entered the ministry, I turned to those pastors and authors whose words had profoundly shaped me. They became my heroes to admire and emulate. Later, when I became a classroom teacher, I loved to read stories about the great teachers and their influence on students.

It seems that no matter what stage of life I was in, I was constantly looking for and looking up to heroes.

I know I am not alone in my search for heroes. It’s something we all do throughout our lives. But what is more intriguing is that no one ever instructs us on the need to find and emulate heroes. In addition, no one ever explains to us the characteristics our heroes should have. We seem to be wired to look for men and women whose lives display something good, beautiful, and noble — something that tastes of glory. Think about the heroes you have admired, and you will see something of those same qualities.

Our hero worship, however wrongly directed, is an understandable longing for what has been tragically lost.

But there is something else even more intriguing. We have all engaged in something that can best be described as hero worship. It’s not just that we love, honor, and respect our heroes. We do something to them akin to worship, putting them on a pedestal and expecting things from them that they cannot possibly give. The disappointment that comes is inevitable, yet we keep hoping for heroes to come and save the day, whether it’s the new church pastor, the new government official, or the new company boss. Our search for and disappointment with our heroes can generate enormous confusion. I know it has for me.

The Bible shines a unique and penetrating light on this confusion. Paul says that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23, CSB). The idea of falling short is that we are missing something and are now destitute and lacking. What are we missing? The glory of God. We were meant to bathe in that glory and then radiate it out as His image-bearers, but in turning away from Him, we lost the glory and now live in sin and shame. Yet, the longing for glory never leaves us, so when we sense a glimmer of that glory in someone else, however faintly, the draw is magnetic.

Without deliberation or hesitation, we immediately know that this is what humans were meant to be like, what we, in fact, were meant to be like. Our hero worship, however wrongly directed, is an understandable longing for what has been tragically lost. But the Bible’s story of glory doesn’t end there.

He loved and served and gave without expecting anything in return for Himself.

Enter Jesus. John states that he saw the glory of Jesus, the glory of being God’s unique Son, the glory that took on flesh and came to dwell among us. (See John 1:14.) And how did that glory dwell among us? As the hero we have all longed for. Everything Jesus did was heroic.

He spoke the truth, even when it made Him enemies.

He did good works wherever He went, healing the sick, freeing the demon-possessed, and preaching a message of hope. He loved and served and gave without expecting anything in return for Himself.

And in the end, Jesus gave His life away for the sake of the entire world. He chose to take our place by bearing our sin and shame so that we could be set free. He did everything we ask of a hero and so much more. He is not only the King of kings and Lord of lords, but truly the Hero of heroes.

What should our response be to the Savior of our soul? Our misdirected hero worship should rightly reside and remain on Him. He is the great Hero we have all been looking for, the One who perfectly lived in the Father’s glory and radiated it out to all. Our hearts long to find someone to respect, honor, adore, and love. Because of Christ’s defeat over death and sin, we can now place that longing on Him and never again be disappointed. Yet, in the end, He will do something even more marvelous, something with eternal significance: He will turn us into creatures filled with glory like Himself. We will one day feel again the glory we tragically lost — the glory that will move us to our purest worship of Jesus, our Great Hero.

Bill Delvaux, author of Landmarks (B&H) and Divided (Thomas Nelson), leads Landmark Journey Ministries as a speaker, small group coach, and spiritual director. This article first appeared in Mature Living, a publication of LifeWay Christian Resources. Learn more at LifeWay.com/magazines.

A new Bible

ib2newseditor —  March 20, 2017

Like most Americans, I’ve always respected founding father Thomas Jefferson. But I was surprised, and frankly disappointed, to learn recently that in the latter years of his life, Jefferson actually constructed his own version of the Bible. He did so by literally cutting and pasting, with razor and glue, numerous sections of the New Testament, intentionally omitting the miracles and any mentions of the supernatural, including the resurrection of Jesus.

To be fair, Jefferson apparently didn’t refer to his reconstruction as a Bible, but rather titled it “The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth.” Yet over the years it has come to be commonly known as “The Jefferson Bible.”

In fact, from 1904 into the 1950’s, the Government Printing Office gave all new members of Congress a copy of the Jefferson Bible, and that practice was resumed by a private publisher in 1997. The American Humanist Association published its own edition of the Jefferson Bible in 2013, adding passages from the Quran, the Buddhist Sutras, the Book of Mormon, and other works, and distributing it to members of Congress as well as President Obama.

Bible readership

We as Southern Baptists should be truly grateful that, since 2004, our own LifeWay Christian Resources has stewarded its own original Bible translation from the original languages, the Holman Christian Standard Bible. And now, this month, LifeWay is introducing a revised and updated version, renamed simply the Christian Standard Bible (CSB).

Recently I was invited to LifeWay, along with other state executive directors, for an overview presentation of the new translation. In fact, it was there that the Jefferson Bible was used as an illustration of what can happen when God’s Word is not stewarded carefully, and faithfully. In the CSB, LifeWay has sought to balance the two most important aspects of Bible translation: accuracy and readability.

I came away from that presentation greatly encouraged, but also greatly challenged. You see, I also learned during this presentation that Bible ownership is not really the main problem today. 88% of American households own a Bible, and the average number of Bibles per household is 4.7. The real problem is that only 37% of Americans read the Bible once a week or more. With the CSB, LifeWay’s goal is not to sell more Bibles; it is to grow the number of people who read the Bible, and are spiritually transformed by it.

LifeWay has carefully studied the activities linked to true spiritual growth. And the number one activity contributing to spiritual growth is Bible reading (91%), followed by church attendance (87%), personal prayer life (85%), and being mentored by another mature believer (81%).

By providing a freshly updated translation, LifeWay is seeking to grow the number of people engaged in the activity that most often leads to spiritual growth—reading the Bible. In doing so, they have relentlessly preserved accuracy, calling on some of the world’s finest Bible scholars to serve on the translation committee. Yet they haven’t sacrificed readability. Rather, they have sought to carefully balance the two.

So I came home from LifeWay with a new Bible. I don’t really need one. I’m the son of a pastor and a school librarian, and I worked in Christian publishing for almost 20 years. I already have way more Bibles than the 4.7 average per household.

But this new Bible gives me a fresh incentive to delve more deeply and more frequently into God’s Word. It gives me a renewed appreciation for our friends at LifeWay who faithfully steward this translation. And it gives me a reason to give others a new copy of the Bible, and to pray that our reading of it will bring the true spiritual growth that God desires.

Nate Adams is executive director of the Illinois Baptist State Association. Respond at IllinoisBaptist@IBSA.org.

Nathan Carter

Nathan Carter

At our church we have a questionnaire that anyone who desires to be an elder has to fill out. One of the questions is, “What are the five solas of the Reformation and would you be willing to be burned alive at the stake for holding these?” We strongly believe these rallying cries of the Reformation are still just as needed today as they were 500 years ago.

Before returning to Germany and facing his eventual martyrdom at the hands of the Nazis, theologian and pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer lived for a time in the United States. His assessment of the religious scene here was “Protestantism without Reformation.” This critique still largely holds true. We may not be Roman Catholic, but might some of the same problems that precipitated the Reformation in 16th century Europe be present in 21st century evangelicalism? I am afraid so.

The five solas provide a helpful grid for assessing the American church’s current spiritual climate and guide us in how to pray and work for revival.

Sola Scriptura (Scripture alone)
I think there are many churches who say on paper that they believe the Bible to be the inspired, inerrant, authoritative, sufficient Word of God. But in practice, you cannot tell. Scripture does not saturate their worship services. The sermon is cut short and full of stories and tips instead of exposition and proclamation of the whole counsel of God. The Word is not trusted to grow the church, but rather we look to and lean on techniques and tricks. Science is respected over Scripture, psychology prized over theology, experience trusted over exegesis. And many church-goers today are as biblically illiterate as they were in the Middle Ages.

Sola Fide (faith alone)
If we gave Southern Baptist church-goers a test with this true or false question—“People get into heaven by doing good”—I imagine a majority would know enough to say FALSE. But that doesn’t mean they could pass an essay question on what justification by faith entails.

We may have simply lowered the bar or tried to lighten the law, but we still are preaching a form of works-righteousness when we major on what people need to do…to end sex-trafficking, get out of debt, have healthy families…instead of what Christ has done to free us from sin, forgive us our debts, and adopt us into his family. The truth is that you actually have to be perfect to get into heaven, and thus our only hope is having Jesus’ perfect record given to us as a gift, received by faith.

Sola Gratia (grace alone)
We like grace—when it is seen as an assist for our slam dunk. The polls are heart-rending that show the number of Christians who think that the quote “God helps those who help themselves” comes from the Bible. Do we really believe our salvation is wholly of grace? If so, we could never allow our Christianity to be a badge of pride that makes us feel superior to or live in fear of the big, bad world.

Solus Christus (Christ alone)
We may say that we believe Jesus is the only way to God, but do our actions back that up? We live in a highly pluralistic society. Do we really believe that the nice Hindu family living down the street is destined for hell apart from faith in Christ? Do we believe it enough to lovingly and sacrificially share with them the gospel of what Christ has uniquely done?

Our lack of evangelism betrays our lack of belief in the exclusivity of Christ. Furthermore, so much of our faith talk is vague spirituality that does not really need the virgin birth, perfect life, substitutionary death, victorious resurrection, and imminent return of the historical God-man Jesus Christ. We spout meaningless Oprah-esque mumbo-jumbo and it is no wonder that our kids start to think Christianity is not that distinct from the other religions and philosophies of their friends.

Soli Deo Gloria (the glory of God alone)
Ministry can so easily become about our name or brand. We like to take the credit for our successes. Plus, there is a pervasive man-centeredness in our culture which has seeped into our churches. We are not in awe of God, but obsessed with our felt needs. Therefore, we fundamentally view God as there to serve us instead of the other way around. We have not been struck by the utter weightiness of the triune God, but are pathetically shallow and flit easily from this fad to that fad.

In our consumeristic context where everyone is bombarded with endless options all the time, the solas can at first seem like a straightjacket. But they truly represent our only hope. We are in desperate need of a fresh vision of God’s glory, in the face of Jesus Christ, as a result of his grace, perceived by faith, in the pages of the Bible.

Nathan Carter is pastor of Immanuel Baptist Church in Chicago.

Cultivate spiritual health

ib2newseditor —  February 9, 2017

tibbettsTimes of ministry burnout are coming, Heath Tibbetts told leaders gathered in Springfield for the Illinois Leadership Summit. So are areas of weakness. But there is a way to prepare for those inevitable difficulties, said the pastor of First Baptist Church in Machesney Park.

“Spiritual build-up prepares us for burnout and blind spots that we know are on the horizon,” Tibbetts said during his breakout session on the spiritual health of a leader.

One warning sign that spiritual build-up may be lacking, Tibbetts said, is reacting poorly to challenges. There was a time, he said, when his church didn’t plan for occasional obstacles, like losing a Sunday school teacher or facing a bill they couldn’t afford to pay. Leaders can fail to prepare in the same way, if they allow their current plans and level of knowledge to be enough.

“Visionless ministry punches the clock.”

So, how can a leader make sure his or her spiritual health is strong? Tibbetts suggested several ideas, including coaching from other leaders. He recently starting a mentoring relationship with a pastor in another part of the country, which started when Tibbetts read a magazine article about how the other church was utilizing facility space and e-mailed the pastor a question.

There’s also a need for trusted friends who can ask questions like, “How’s your relationship with your wife?” Tibbetts added.

Building oneself up spiritually also comes from time with God himself, he reminded his audience. “Personal devotion is one of the easiest things to let slip in your life.” As a pastor, if sermon preparation is the only study he does, Tibbetts said, and if he isn’t spending devotion time in other parts of Scripture, not only will the sermon be lacking, but he’ll also be missing a valuable build-up opportunity.

When ministry burnout does come, Tibbetts said, there are ways to confront it. Unplug, and “say no a lot.” Leaders need to remember their vision for ministry, even apart from what they are currently doing. “Visionless ministry punches the clock,” Tibbetts said, asking leaders to identify, What defines you separately from your ministry?

And keep building up. Tibbetts said a man in his church recently waited two months to call him for a counseling appointment, because he knew his pastor would ask about his spiritual life, and he wanted to make sure he was reading his Bible. If you’re confronting burnout, Tibbetts said, schedule more times of prayer.

– MDF

Hard issues are heart issues

ib2newseditor —  November 28, 2016

The pulpit is the best place to address difficult topics

Open Bible

I remember a time when I sensed God leading me to go deeper in my preaching, specifically on the topic of racial reconciliation. As I was speaking to the congregation, I felt the level of tension rise almost immediately.

This was confirmed by comments I received later.
­

It’s not easy to preach on difficult topics. The cultural issues of our day can be divisive. They can cause conflict in a church. Pastors tend to know where their people stand on the hard topics, and since they do, many would rather stick to abstract application in order to avoid hitting a nerve with consistent volunteers and faithful tithers. No wonder we tend to shy away.

But we can’t avoid the issues people in our world are navigating every day.

In his seminal work “Christ and Culture,” H. Richard Niebuhr wrestled with how Christians are to relate to contemporary culture. For Niebuhr, the best approach is not to stand against, blend in with, take the best of, or try to sanctify culture. Rather, Christians should aim to transform culture.

There is no doubt that Niebuhr was correct in his assessment. Anyone who has understood the Gospels will affirm our Lord’s purpose and desire to change the heart of man, which invariably leads to a change of culture.

Preaching is an integral part of the process of cultural change. It is during the preaching moment that people are most in tune to the voice of their shepherd, and it is during that moment where the Spirit of God is at work both in the heart of the preacher and in the hearts of those who are listening.

The apostle Paul exemplified this kind of preaching. For him, the gospel removed barriers of race, gender, and religion; it also gave clarity to domestic issues, such as marriage and divorce, as well as matters related to sexual deviance and perversion (Romans 1:18-24; 1 Corinthians 5:1-5, 7:1-16; Galatians 3:28).

Since the church still contends with these same issues, preachers must continue to proclaim and apply the same gospel.

Three reservations
Some preachers hesitate to deal with cultural issues and difficult subjects because that approach lends itself to topical preaching, and away from a more expository method. However, those of us who preach should understand that some of the most effective preachers in Christian history preached sermons that were not expository in the strictest sense. And even still, one can preach expository sermons while addressing key topics as they arise.

Another reason some preachers neglect these issues is a lack of sensitivity. Pastors preach about and congregations prioritize the things that resonate most with them and the areas in which they are most involved. I know a pastor in Laredo, Texas, near the border of Mexico. He spends the majority of his time ministering to illegal immigrants trying to escape the violence perpetrated by drug cartels. Therefore, his view on whether America should build a wall is much different from someone who lives elsewhere in the U.S. The point being, in order to speak to the issues, pastors must gain some level of familiarity with the issues, if not for themselves, for the sake of those they serve.

Perhaps the most common reason pastors shy away from difficult topics is that preaching on these issues can cause conflict within the congregation. This, of course, is a pastor’s nightmare, one I faced head-on when I felt the tension begin to rise the Sunday I preached on racial reconciliation. But remember, people usually come around.

In our case, after some time had passed and those present had the opportunity to prayerfully consider what was said, their testimonies and changes in behavior demonstrated to me that spiritual growth did occur, enabling several people to move a step closer toward true healing.

Four suggestions
What then are some helpful tips for pastors who want to move forward in preaching on cultural issues and difficult topics? I offer four:

First, be sure to always revert to overarching principles in Scripture, such as love, justice, reconciliation, grace, and forgiveness. In his book “Principle-Centered Leadership,” Steven Covey argues that leaders do better to maintain focus on principles, rather than values. Values change and may differ between people and organizations, while principles remain constant.

The same prescription can be applied to pastoral leadership and preaching. Take for example issues such as abortion, the death penalty, and health care for the elderly. The reality—even in Southern Baptist circles—is that there are differences of opinion when it comes to these issues. However, the overarching principle is the sanctity of human life. Approaching any of those issues from that perspective will remind people that all life is precious in the sight of God—in the womb, the nursing home, and everywhere in between. This is where the preacher is able to deal with the issue while helping people see beyond their personal values, and lead them to submit to a higher theological principle—in this case, God’s value on life.

Second, consider the idea attributed to Karl Barth, that sermons are best prepared with the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other. Pastors must be aware of the conversations taking place. Understand the arguments. The people you preach to on Sunday are looking for answers to the pressing concerns of the day. They are trying to figure out what position is the right position.

If pastors fail to search the Scripture and provide a biblical perspective, there is the risk that church-goers will fix their moral compass on the thoughts and opinions of Sean Hannity, Oprah Winfrey, or the panel of “The View.”

Third, after listening well to the issues, do not be afraid to deviate from a 10-week sermon series you’re currently preaching in order to tackle a difficult topic. When the entire world is talking about human trafficking, a terrorist attack, or protests and issues of race, Christians want to know the heart and mind of God on such issues.

Some are questioning where God is when tragedy strikes, and if your people are not asking these questions for themselves, it is likely they know someone who is. Imagine the witnessing opportunities members of your church will have when you have equipped them with a sound biblical perspective for the discussion that is sure to take place in the cafeteria at work or at the student union on campus.

Finally, use other venues that allow your congregation to hear your voice on crucial matters. In my experience, some of the deepest theological discussions related to culture have taken place during our mid-week gatherings. There are a couple of advantages to using a Sunday evening or Wednesday evening to preach or teach on difficult topics: If the topic is published beforehand, church members who normally do not attend may, and they might even invite a friend who does not attend church at all. And, I have found, difficult topics and current cultural issues often make room for seasons of focused prayer.

If evening or mid-week services are not an option, look for another opportunity, like a written article distributed to your congregation. For example, I wrote an article titled “The Ministry of the Peacemaker” based on Matthew 5:9 in response to violence in Africa, the Middle East, and our own city of Chicago. In the article I challenged the congregation to live incarnationally within their own sphere of influence, allowing the peace of God to emanate from their lives as a means to bring about change.

A close examination of the words of Jesus in John 17 reminds us that to isolate ourselves from culture was never our Lord’s intent. Our responsibility as pastors is to facilitate disciple-making. One way we do this is by equipping the saints to share their faith and make disciples wherever they go.

With the ever-increasing presence and influence of social media, our challenge is a culture that is constantly bombarding those who God has placed in our charge. For their sake, we must be careful not to shy away from difficult topics. Instead, we must speak clearly and authoritatively from the perspective of God’s Word.

Bryan Price pastors Love Fellowship Baptist Church in Romeoville, the congregation he started in 2003. This article was originally printed in the Spring 2017 issue of Resource magazine published by IBSA.