Jan 28, 2009

stuff pastors don't talk about

I recently read that 55% of pastors can identify one or more topics on which they don't like to talk about because the conversation could negatively affect their hearers’ willingness to attend church in the future.

Um... really?

I'm all for helping people feel welcomed and we do a lot in our services to help people laugh, feel loved on, and know we are there to help them take their next step with God. But if a church begins to shy away from sharing bold truth then we start playing a game of keeping everyone happy... and when that happens we begin to miss out on the necessary ingredients for spiritual growth to get cooked up.

Among these topics are politics (38%), homosexuality (23%), abortion (18%), same-sex marriage (17%), war (17%), women’s role in church and home (13%), the doctrine of election (13%), hell (7%) and money (3%).

For the record... I have not done focused an entire sermon on each of these in the past year.

I have, however, regularly addressed each in various ways throughout a message (i.e. "By the way, this principle of surrender applies to all our stuff, including our wallets," etc) or announcements (i.e. "We're taking part in an opportunity in a couple weeks for people to renew their vows. This is our way of affirming God's design for marriage - between a man and a woman - etc." )

So I'm not sure how I'd be registered in the statistics. To be intentionally up front, I'll state my thoughts publicly here, reflecting how I personally have come to understand the core issue behind each of these core issues.
  • Politics: Following Jesus has several political implications, and yet the hope of the world is not ever going to be found in an elected official... that includes any president we've had, have, and ever will have.


    When will we understand this?

    The Israelites once had God as their King, and yet they demanded change to come through a human person. So God gave them a good looking king who seemed to have it all together... he made great speeches initially and everyone enjoyed the idea that change was coming (which, let's face it, every human candidate promises). Then things caved in when an imperfect human king did imperfect human things.

    And then the people realized it's harder to follow a man you can see versus a God you can't.

    While God can use a politician to change the world, it seems like His preference is to change people like you and me and let a real grassroots revolution start. Perhaps this is why what Jesus taught is highly political and yet exceedingly non-partisan.

  • Homosexuality: Yes, homosexuals need Jesus Christ and must surrender their lives to Him.

    Interestingly, so do heterosexuals.

    I'm all for talking about the effects of homosexual sin on our culture... as long as we talk about the effects of heterosexual sin as well... divorce, porn, lust, dirty jokes, etc. So before we "love the sinner and hate the sin" (which is good Christian language from a good Christian intention that often ends in bad Christian judgment), how about if we love God, hate our own sin, and let Him remove the plank from our own eye first? That doesn't mean the person next to us doesn't need a good cleaning, too, but I think there's something wise about that process starting in us first.

  • Abortion: Describing the worth of a baby and the kind of love we're to show to a confused mom-to-be are bigger concepts than most bumper stickers present. Can we stop trying to debate in traffic over this issue with witty jabs?

    I affirm as the Bible does as well as medical science that life begins before birth, whether it's the heartbeat of the pre-born at week 6 or the intelligent design of a loving Creator.

    I also affirm that in our country, one person's "rights" never should trump another's - if we can't tell one person what to do with their body, we can't tell another... no matter which side of the womb they are on. (Think about it)

    I also affirm that there is no point in picketing a clinic, especially since the greater calling is to come into the lives of the lost and broken and extend care and guidance in love. That's one of the reasons our church supports a local ministry that is designed for this very reason - to reach out and care for unwed mothers confused about life.

  • Same-sex marriage: I once heard George Carlin do a routine on words that don't belong next to each other because they sort of cancel each other out - like "jumbo shrimp," "act naturally," and "pretty ugly."

    Having said that, "same-sex" and "marriage" seem odd next to one another in the same way. They sort of cancel out the definition of each, which is perhaps why we seem so intent on redefining them. I read that in California there is legislation that has changed the marriage license form you fill out from "Groom" and "Bride" to "Party A" and "Party B." Apparently someone tried to write in the original words anyway and got in trouble for it.

    Another couple words that don't belong together on the heterosexual side? "Marriage" and "divorce." God designed a marriage between a man and a woman to last, with the two mysteriously becoming "one flesh." Look at how human bodies fit with each other... we seem to be rare among all of creation in that sexual union can happen face-to-face, with the exchange of breath and complementary body parts intersecting with one another. Look also at what happens when divorce occurs - pain unlike any other causes once-lovers to become now-despisers.

    Our world doesn't like it when certain words come together, and we find that easy to spot. Interestingly, God spots some words like that, too, that don't belong next to each other - like "judgmental" and "Christian."

    Ahem... like "judgmental" and "Christian."

    Is this thing on?

    Perhaps there is a way to protect the things that matter without destroying people in the process... and to me, those are two concepts that *do* go together.

  • War: The cross of Christ proves that God can use the ultimate evil to bring about the ultimate good.

    It's not His ideal, and yet He can use it.

    War wasn't in the original blueprint of Genesis 1-2, but because Genesis 3 and 4 exist, God is given the option to use our backward nature to bring about forward momentum for all of creation.

    So the main idea then is to be a people of peace first and foremost... but the secondary idea is that the shedding of blood can be used to bring about peace - only if God is involved with it. Otherwise it only leads to shedding more blood.

  • Women's role in church and home: A woman's role in church and home is to love God with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength - and second, to love their neighbor as they love themselves.

    Oddly enough, this is the same role a man is to have.

    Wouldn't it be great if we lived that out? And as we did, wouldn't we find that we were complementing each other in such a way that we felt like an equal, not because we were the same but because the two had become "one flesh?"


    Perhaps complementarianism and egalitarianism aren't competing ideas after all.

  • Doctrine of election: This cannot be understood without simultaneously developing a doctrine of freewill, for all of theology must be considered when some of theology is considered. And the Bible contains both concepts all throughout.

    As an example, you have been elected to read these words - for you just did - because I as the author knew that by placing them here you would read them as you just have - by choice - even though these words were already here.

    Where that analogy falls short, though, is that I live within time as you do, so I didn't know in advance who would actually read them. It would take someone who lives inside and outside of time to know and affect at the same time... in which case, God's very nature allows us to be "elected" from the birds-eye perspective of time while in a historical sense we are choosing Him.

  • Hell: A literal existence that was never invented or intended for humans... not at all. Yes, Jesus used a metaphor of His day to describe it... but that doesn't discount hell's existence any more than when He used mustard seeds and four kinds of soil to describe the condition of our faith.

    But again - hell has never been an existence we were created to experience.

  • Money: Jesus said don't let your left hand know what your right hand is doing. I'd add don't give God what's "left" - give God what is "right." He owns it all, and yet we try to hold it back when He asks for us to use it in a certain way. In my experience, the hardest part of a person to get converted is their wallet. Even today I struggle with this temptation as well... do you?

    Meanwhile, many churches struggle to accomplish little goals, let alone big ones.


As I see it, what I've written is what I think is most important in each of those topics. I'm sure some may ask for some additional clarity on where I fall on sub-section Q of topic 15c, but I most theological spell checking is for theological spell checkers. If that's you, I mean you no disrespect... but I am a Christ-centered, Bible-based, interdenominational kind of guy.

Which means the greatest doctrine out there as I see it is "Jesus loves me, this I know for the Bible tells me so."

In the fall I'll be covering some of these topics in more textured detail in our church, but in the meantime I hope this causes us to consider what matters most about what matters most.


Anonymous said...

"Perhaps there is a way to protect the things that matter without destroying people in the process..." If only we could learn how to do that.

It seems for christians, like most people, this is easier said than done. Yet as christians we seem to take pride, even pleasure, in judging others.

I believe in sin, but I also believe that it is fear that so often drives us to decide what is sin. The bible is relevant in today's society, as you have said Tony, but there are things that we as a society know are wrong by any modern standard. We don't stone people, we do not damn those who touch the skin of a pig, etc.

But we do consider those that find love, outside of "marriage between a man and a woman" as a sin.

We are pushing believers, good people, away from God, because of our fear, our judgement. I believe that anyone who wants to be with God and to open their lives to Jesus should be welcomed, not condemned because they have found 'marriage' with someone "we" think they should not be with.

I would rather they be together and with God, than apart and against Him.

As for abortion, I have very personal reasons to be opposed to abortion, yet I am not in favor of making it any harder of a decision than it already is for the vast majority of women who consider it.

I pray for anyone who is in such a terrible place that they feel that abortion is the best or only option. But forcing someone to have a child does not help them to take care of it or of themselves. Again it is easy to judge, but not as Jesus taught.

I am proud of you for tackeling these hard topics and agree that as a church we should have more - not less discussion about them.

Tony Myles said...

I'd love to respond to you "anonymous." Can I ask who you are? Context helps conversation.

Jennifer said...

I applaud you for tackling the issues no one wants to talk about. The conversations that arise from your initial discussion could be more important than the message itself...

My question about war is this: How can we know if God is involved with it anymore? In the OT, there are documented cases of God sanctioning the wars/battles, but I don't see that anymore. I agree that things are fallen now, so literal peace on earth is not possible. But, why do we have to act under the notion that since the world is fallen we have to continue to live as though we are fallen?

I ask because this is a question I continue to wrestle with...

Dotty said...

Very, very interesting. lst time reading your post. As far as the emphasis usually put on the homosexual issue - I have known of three persons (relatives) who had to acknowledge this about themselves. In each case they wanted to end their lives - because of the condemnation of this lifestyle. Man is the one who grades sin by "degrees"; God sees sin as "sin". A more readily excused sin is "gossip" which does great harm and can be a serious form of betrayal. What if any of us after gossiping felt that we had done so much harm that we should end our own life? We all want to think we are standing on a higher elevation than "the others", but that just affirms our standing as "humans" incapable of showing love the way God does. Thank God that He does love us -- in spite of ourselves. Each day we receive mercy. "This world is not my home, I'm just a'passing through".

Anonymous said...


It reminds me of the illustration with the salt that Francis Chan used at the last NYWC we were at, eh?

It also reminds me of Jesus being straight up about his flesh recorded by John... everyone left! Some preaching!

Tony Myles said...

Jennifer - Honestly, we don't always know. But you hit on it well - we do not have to continue to live as though we are fallen. Unfortunately, many Christians believe that for self-preservation purposes we should use fallen methods on purpose.

Dotty - You raise awareness of another issue we will see more of as time goes on - people defining truth by what they feel or have experienced versus what "is." That's the hurdle the church will have to address in upcoming years.

Scrammy - Yeah, man. That's the stuff!