It seems like all “we” do is preach about problems without actually doing anything about them.
If you’ve been a church leader for four or five years or more, you know how significantly the year 2020 changed everything about ministry, at least for a long season.
The Covid-19 pandemic changed how we gathered, preached, and did discipleship. It challenged how we would show love in practical ways to our neighbors. And it proved to be oddly polarizing along political lines. The deaths of Amhaud Arberry, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd followed by ensuing protests instigated a swell of conversation about social and racial justice and policing. And that year’s presidential election was the most divisive in a few generations.
Pastors found themselves in impossible conversations navigating issues they often felt ill-equipped to handle. The whole year was a wake-up call to the church to take notice of society’s problems and address them with spiritual wisdom. But pastors often found themselves saying one thing while congregations were hearing an opposing message from their favorite media sources.
It’s hard for a half-hour sermon on Sunday to influence someone who is ingesting multiple hours of talk radio, cable news, and social media. But we are messengers. We are ambassadors. We are spokespeople and therefore, we must speak.
One of the deflections often offered to pastors by sensitive church members whose egos have been irritated by being confronted with their own apathy and complicity is the accusation that you should preach less about those topics because…
“All we’re doing is talking about it and not acting on it.”
And to that point, I have a word for you who preach, teach, and lead congregations. Let this be clear in your mind.
Preaching about it IS doing something about it.
Otherwise, most prophets were wasting their time addressing the problems of their day. According to this logic, Isaiah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Elijah, and dozens of others who delivered messages about injustice and inequality were wasting their time. They could have been doing something about those issues instead of just talking.
But, as Abraham Heschel said, “words create worlds.”
Culture is something that is cultivated (notice those are two words from the same root). Culture gets created, and one of the primary ways culture gets created is through words. Both the written word and the spoken word are powerful instruments for moving entire generations of people to alter the direction of society for the next.
When you, as a pastor, talk about issues that make people uncomfortable – especially inequality and injustice – you will most certainly raise the ire of many who have been quite comfortable in their complacency and quiet complicity up to the moment your words pricked the hard outer shells of their hearts.
And then the Holy Spirit gets involved. As you can see in the early chapters of the Acts of the Apostles, when gospel messengers speak plainly and boldly and then the Holy Spirit begins to bring a sense of conviction to the crowd, things get ugly.
When an issue breaks your heart and keeps you up at night, you must pray about it. And if, upon praying about it, God burdens you with a message rooted in scripture that may well disturb the status quo, you must deliver it. And you must do so boldly.
Perhaps one of the ways you can speak more boldly about the issues on which your church needs to meditate and respond with repentance is to know ahead of time that preaching about this issue IS doing something about this issue.
Preaching changes the game. That’s the reason I started Preaching for Change. I believe that few forces are as powerful for motivating people to bring kingdom renewal to the world around them as preaching.
So when the world is unjust and people are oppressed, speak up. When people who could be fed are going hungry, speak up. When Christians are apathetic to suffering, speak up. And know that speaking up IS action.
And if no one else ever says it, thank you for doing something about the issues that grieve the Holy Spirit by speaking up about them.
Photo by Artur Voznenko on Unsplash.