Archives For preaching

Hard issues are heart issues

ib2newseditor —  November 28, 2016

The pulpit is the best place to address difficult topics

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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.
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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.

Is preaching passe?

Meredith Flynn —  August 6, 2015

COMMENTARY | Nathan Carter

Nathan_Carter_August4In his little book, “The Priority of Preaching,” Christopher Ash writes what every pastor has thought at some point.

“Is it really helping when we spend so much of our week laboring at the Word of God, preparing to preach it to the churches we serve…Is it worth slogging away preparing Sunday’s sermon with such a world of need outside?”

Maybe you are a pastor and you have doubted whether your preaching is really doing anything. Maybe you are a church member who sometimes falls asleep during sermons and you wonder if there is a better way of connecting with today’s postmodern culture. Is preaching a thing of the past?

We are far from the Puritan days when one minister apologized to his congregation for preaching a two-hour sermon and they all replied, “For God’s sake sir go on, go on!” During the era of the Baby Boomers, preaching in many churches became a casual talk on how biblical principles can address felt needs, bolstered by the use of multimedia technology.

Many Gen Xers and Millennials are now looking for new expressions of church, and the very idea of preaching is being re-imagined. Wouldn’t it be more authentic to have a dialogue about the Bible where everyone could share his or her own experiences and insights?

I define preaching as one-directional, verbal proclamation of God’s Word culminating in the gospel. And I still maintain that this is an absolutely essential practice for the church. Why? For one, we see it happening all over the Bible (i.e. Acts 10:33-44). That’s descriptive, not necessarily prescriptive, you might say. Well, it is also expressly commanded elsewhere (i.e. 2 Tim. 4:2).

But couldn’t the intent behind “preach the word” be fulfilled in other ways than one person talking at other people for an extended time? I certainly believe there are several different legitimate styles of preaching. But the method of preaching is critical.

We need times when we bite our tongues as we are confronted by the authority of God’s Word. In an age of relativism and rebellion against authority, it makes sense why we don’t want to sit under preaching. We don’t want doctors; we’d rather self-diagnose. The idea of a wiki-sermon that we all have a hand in constructing is much more appealing. But our great need is to hear, “Thus saith the Lord,” and let his external word rebuke us, call us to repent, make us ready to receive the message of the gospel, and then respond in faith and obedience.

Hearing a declaration of something that has happened, something to which you can’t contribute a thing but must respond to with either belief or disbelief, best comports with the gospel. Since there is a constant need to have the double-edged sword of God’s Word pierce our souls to expose our sinful hearts and then graciously present Christ to us in all his resplendent glory so that we can trust in him as our righteousness and healer, preaching will always be indispensable.

There is a place for small group discussions and seminars and life-on-life mentoring. But preaching is an essential element of the life and health of a church. The practice of preaching can be abused (when it becomes a chance to express one’s own ideas instead of expound a text), but that shouldn’t cause us to avoid its proper use. Some preachers are more gifted than others, but the mark of a mature believer is to be easily edified as long as the Word of God is being preached.

Charles Spurgeon said, “I do not look for any other means of converting men beyond the simple preaching of the gospel and the opening of men’s ears to hear it. The moment the Church of God shall despise the pulpit, God will despise her. It has been through the ministry that the Lord has always been pleased to revive and bless His Churches.”

May he do it again today!

Nathan Carter is pastor of Immanuel Baptist Church in Chicago.

The_BriefingTHE BRIEFING | Meredith Flynn

A new Barna study explores what kinds of worship spaces are most attractive to Millennials, and what words describe their ideal church. Not surprisingly, not every answer matches up: 77% chose “sanctuary” compared to 23% who answered “auditorium.” And 67% of Millennials chose “classic” over “trendy” to describe their idea church. But modern and casual also won out over traditional and dignified.

Barna points out this “cognitive dissonance” evident in the survey: “Many of them aspire to a more traditional church experience, in a beautiful building steeped in history and religious symbolism, but they are more at ease in a modern space that feels more familiar than mysterious.”


After the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals became the first such court to uphold states’ rights to ban same-sex marriage, Southern Baptist ethicist Russell Moore said it’s now up to the Supreme Court to take up the issue, The Christian Post reported.


From ChristianityToday.com: “The Pakistani state has to act proactively to protect its minorities from violence and injustice,” Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif said after a Christian couple was beaten and burned to death one week ago. A mob attacked Shahzad Masih and Shama Bibi, who was five months pregnant, over accusations that Bibi had burned the Qur’an.


Christian Kenneth Bae returned to the U.S. over the weekend after two years of imprisonment in North Korea, CNN reported. “Kenneth has been in God’s care all this time, and we are thankful that he brought him home,” Bae’s sister, Terri Chung, told reporters. “He only has the best wishes and intentions for that country, still.”


The organizers of International Day of the Bible are calling for people around the world to read Scripture out loud at noon on November 24.


Baptist Press reports Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary has finalized the purchase of its new, larger campus in Southern California and is on schedule to relocate its main campus from the Bay Area by June of 2016. The seminary will request a name change—to Gateway Seminary of the Southern Baptist Convention—during the 2015 SBC Annual Meeting in Columbus, Ohio.


International Mission Board President David Platt launched his new podcast series, Radical Together, on Nov. 3. “Every 2 weeks, 30 minutes of Word to exhort you to pray, give, & go however God leads in the world,” he tweeted.


Things are looking up for church giving, according to survey by LifeWay Research. More than half of the Protestant churches surveyed reported still feeling the negative impact of the economy, but two-thirds are meeting or exceeding their budgets for 2014. And 74% report offerings at or above 2013 levels.

God wants his people to trust in him and arise, said Pastor Marvin Parker, referencing the theme of the 2014 IBSA Pastor's Conference. "Get up, get out, get going."

God wants his people to trust in him and arise, said Pastor Marvin Parker, referencing the theme of the 2014 IBSA Pastor’s Conference. “Get up, get out, get going.”

Kevin Smith (left) and Jill Finley (right) joined local ministry specialists including IBSA's Sylvan Knobloch (center) for the Elevate Marriage conference Oct. 16 in Springfield.

Kevin Smith (left) and Jill Finley (right) joined local ministry specialists including IBSA’s Sylvan Knobloch (center) for the Elevate Marriage conference Oct. 16 in Springfield.

NEWS | Preachers don’t have to make the Word of God relevant, said Kevin Smith, a pastor and professor in Louisville, Ky. “The teaching of Scripture is relevant. But we must teach Scripture.”

In practicing the prophetic role of the pulpit as it relates to biblical marriage and sexuality, pastors need to preach systematically the whole of Scripture, including its teachings on those topics, Smith said during the “Elevate Marriage” conference held Oct. 16 in Springfield, Ill.

Pastors and church leaders gathered at the Illinois Baptist State Association to hear from national and local experts, including Smith, Jill Finley, women’s ministry director from Bethel Baptist Church in Troy, and Andrew Walker of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission. IBSA sponsored the one-day conference to help leaders navigate the shifting marriage culture in Illinois and nationwide.

Illinois’ state legislature legalized same-sex marriage last November, and unions officially began in June. The U.S. Supreme Court decided this month to let stand lower-court rulings on marriage. Their action plus a subsequent appeals court decision means a total of 35 states could soon have legal same-sex marriage.

But the wave of support for same-sex marriage isn’t the only cultural shift threatening biblical marriage. It is a symptom of the decline of marriage, Walker told conference attenders in a video message, not the cause. The ERLC’s director of policy studies urged church leaders to be “happy warriors” in defending biblical marriage. “To speak the truth as we’re called to do, is to do so in love,” he said.

Ministry specialists from the Illinois Baptist State Association also were on hand to update churches on constructing their bylaws and membership policies in ways that protect marriage, and preaching on the topic in a way that elevates it. The process, said IBSA’s Mark Emerson, starts at home.

“Before we can elevate marriage in the church, we have to elevate our own marriage. We have to take a look at our own life.” Tim Sadler, IBSA’s director of evangelism, followed Emerson with four tips for preachers preaching on marriage:

1. Preach the truth of God’s word as a sinner/saint,
2. Preach biblical marriage, instead of “traditional” marriage,
3. Root your theology of marriage in creation, and
4. Understand and preach the role of Christian marriage in evangelism.

“Christian marriage done properly is a picture of how Christ loves the church and sacrificially gave himself for her,” Sadler said, referencing the apostle Paul’s words in Ephesians. “So, in our preaching we need to elevate biblical marriage and the living out of biblical marriage before a watching world, because it is only in biblical marriage, marriage done rightly, that the watching world gets a beautiful picture of how Christ loves the church.

“And any time we mar the picture, then we convolute the picture the world has of how Christ loves the church and is in relationship with the church.”

Look for more on on the “Elevate Marriage” conference in the next issue of the Illinois Baptist, and watch for videos of presentations by Kevin Smith and Jill Finley on www.e-quip.net, IBSA’s online training resource. Go to www.Vimeo.org/IBSA.

COMMENTARY | Eric Reed

In the past couple of weeks, I found myself reaching for the remote every time the news showed that video of NFL football player Ray Rice coldcocking his future wife in a hotel elevator. Seeing him drag her, unconscious, into the hallway and dumping her body on the floor is too much to take. For some of us, domestic violence hits too close to home.

A 2010 survey by the Centers for Disease Control showed 24% of women and 14% of men have been “hit with a fist or something hard, beaten, slammed against something at some point in their lifetime” by a partner. And yet, new LifeWay Research shows 4 out of 10 pastors never preach or teach about it, and only 2 in 10 raise the topic annually.

Country Church InteriorThat means in two-thirds of our churches, attenders might hear domestic violence, which affects one-fourth of households, referenced in a sermon or large group meeting once a year, if at all.

Spousal abuse still isn’t a subject for public conversation—even from the pulpit.

In my years of hearing and reading sermons, I’ve encountered only one on domestic violence. The preacher was a quiet man, unmarried, and he gave no indication what prompted him to tackle the subject. He chose as his text the account of Jephthah’s daughter in Judges 11.

So many more familiar verses would have supported his argument and from a more positive angle: Man, God made womankind to be your perfect complement (Genesis 2:18). Love your wife as Christ loves the Church; love her as you love your own body (Ephesians 5:25, 28). And as simply as this: love your neighbor as yourself (Matthew 22:39, Mark 12:31).

But instead the preacher trudged faithfully through the gruesome report of a rash vow that ended, by most interpretations, in the slaughter of an innocent woman. This wasn’t violence of a husband against wife, but the horrific act of father against daughter was just as unthinkable. And the preacher’s willingness to tell the bloody story made domestic violence very real, even within the sanctuary.

The preacher applied Jephthah’s brutality to parents who abuse their children and husbands who beat their wives. He even spoke of domestic partners and live-in relationships where it appeared degradation perversely motivated staying together, even when no law required it and no church encouraged it.

Knowing his congregation, that was a brave move. In his neighborhood there along the streetcar line, brutish Stanley Kowalski was still a common character. TMZ attests he still is.

Not many pastors tackle the subject as bravely. Even pastors who preach on domestic violence once in a while are more likely to think violence in the home troubles their community (72% said it did) more than their church (only 25% said so). Lifeway Research says half of senior pastors (52%) say they don’t have enough training to deal with the issue. Many say nothing.

I remember my mother wearing sunglasses in church of necessity, and rehearsing an excuse that she ran into a door should anyone question her. No one did. Even as she directed the choir and led the singing behind shades, the cause of her bruises was never raised.

But what the church historically hasn’t done, perhaps TMZ and the NFL will force us preachers to do: bring what happens in angry, broken households into the light and hold it up against the Word of God.

Because for too many of us, domestic violence hits close to home.

Eric Reed is editor of the Illinois Baptist.

–Statistics from BP.net and LifeWay Research

IBSA PASTORS’ CONFERENCE | The annual gathering for Illinois pastors and leaders kicked off this afternoon in Springfield, and beloved hymns have ruled the day so far, with a twist. JourneyWorship, the team from Journey Church in Bourbonnais, led the crowd in “Down at the Cross,” “I’ll Fly Away” and “Victory in Jesus,” complete with thumping percussion and electric guitars.

Chuck Kelley, president of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, brought the conference’s first message on “Leading through Disaster.” His voice breaking several times, Kelley shared how he led the seminary in the days and months following Hurricane Katrina. “In a disaster, you always tell the truth. You don’t act like it’s no big deal. You don’t act like it’s going to be easy,” he said.

“You get in touch with who God is, you get in touch with your mission, and you get to work. And with your heart breaking, and with every day a battle, you simply get after it.”

Follow the Pastors’ Conference and IBSA Annual Meeting here and at Facebook.com/IllinoisBaptist.

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