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Preaching on Tough Topics

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Trying to make sense of tough topics, most people will end up online and in social media listening to friends or cultural icons. Nothing compares, however, to how a pastor will be around after the service, available over email and present the next week.

I recently joked with my wife that I have become “that sex guy”. I gave one talk on a biblical view of human sexuality at a pastor’s conference, then did a version of that talk as a sermon at church. Eventually, I was asked by a few others to come to their retreat or church and talk about human sexuality. I never would have picked this as a topic to teach on, much less to several groups of people. But I learned something important: pastors and congregations want to talk about it. They want to know how to think about human sexuality from a faithful, biblical point of view.

Human sexuality is a tough topic to speak on in part because of how controversial our culture has made the biblical point of view. And this is not the only topic like this. What about immigration? Religious liberty in a pluralistic culture? Environmental activism? These topics and more are controversial, but there are ways to talk about them with biblical fidelity and intellectual honesty. And, as I have discovered, Christians want to hear their pastors do exactly that.

Your Congregation is Already There

Chances are the people in your congregation are already dealing with tough topics. Major corporations have mandatory diversity training, schools substitute out history classes for environmentalism and gender, and major media tend to promote values at odds with the Christian faith. Christians are subject to the influences of a culture that values biblical wisdom less and less, and they begin to feel the pressure to either “go along to get along” or to see things in a new way.

Where once we could rely on culture to generally support a biblical worldview, we can no longer do so. Pastors need to assume the only place Christians will receive a biblically faithful view on tough topics is in their church. And when we come to terms with this, it makes our time behind the pulpit and our churches’ discipleship programs all that more valuable.

They Want to Know What Scripture Says

The very nature of these topics is that they are complicated and politically divisive. People tend to react to complicated issues by reducing them to easy-to-swallow positions. It is far easier to believe in a slogan and vilify those who believe differently than it is to think it through or honestly hear other points of view. As a result, our culture’s solution to complication is to oversimplify and condemn other points of view. This may be a common reaction to divisive topics, but more and more people are dissatisfied with it. In fact, it becomes an open door through which a well-prepared pastor can step.

Christians want to hear people they can trust – their pastors – present a thoughtful and biblical view on difficult issues. You may be surprised at how many people in a congregation will respond well when they get a chance to think through a contentious topic in a safe environment with a pastor who has done their homework. It won’t be everyone, but many will be thankful.

A sermon that reflects the oversimplification and vilification around us produces outcomes at odds with biblical values. It tends to create anger in the hearts of the already convinced and suspicion and distance in the hearts of honest seekers. Instead, a pastor should do their homework, both about the cultural issues as well as the relevant biblical data, and help a congregation see how God’s wisdom and grace apply.

Stay Personally Connected with Them

Trying to make sense of tough topics, most people will end up online and in social media listening to friends or cultural icons. Nothing compares, however, to how a pastor will be around after the service, available over email and present the next week. Social media drones on endlessly, its infinite scrolling feed never stopping for our pressing needs. For all we think it does it can’t replace healthy Christian community.

Because I have talked openly about some of these issues, I have uncovered situations in the lives of Christians that I might not otherwise know. In one Q&A session, I got to hear from a twelve-year-old who identified as bisexual. In one open forum with pastors, we all learned about one couple’s struggle with their daughter’s sexuality. Teachers and employees will email me with their stories of workplace pressure to leave their Christian faith at the door.

These stories need wise and patient pastors who are ready to be present with people over time. Eventually, a good pastor is better than a social media feed. As consumed as we are with social media, Instagram comes up empty when it is time to tackle an issue that has suddenly become personal.

You are a Public Intellectual

In the end, remember that pastors count as public intellectuals. We often imagine talking heads with Ph.D.’s, or authors of multiple books as society’s influencers, but pastors have the ears of their congregation on a regular basis. You have the ability to help guide people into the depths of their faith. You can open their minds and hearts to the kind of wisdom that comes from the God of truth and love.

This only happens, however, when a pastor is a proven and reliable guide into the things of God. Have I spent an appropriate about of time studying up on this issue? Do I understand opposing views well enough to interact with them honestly? Do I have a good enough grasp on the biblical data to speak to it with authority? Have I spent time with God on this issue?

The people in our pews already know what their company thinks and what their child’s school thinks. They are looking for a glimpse into what God thinks, and you can help lead the way.

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