"Pastor, where do you stand on ...? Pastor, what should we as a church think or do about ...? Pastor what do you think about this candidate's comments ...?"
These are common questions every pastoral leader faces, but these questions take on fresh fervor and renewed vitality during an election season.
Standing, speaking, leading, nurturing and guiding the "flock of God among you" (1 Peter 5:2) while addressing the confused and conflicted culture around you (Romans 12:2) requires great discernment, fervent prayer and deep conviction.
I'm now entering the fourth decade of my ministry and can honestly say I've never seen or experienced days of greater social upheaval or more ardent political debate. Our nation is divided. Our systems of law and order are unraveling. Our understanding of truth has faded. Our leaders are in turmoil and our people are fueled by attitudes of anxiety, anger and anarchy.
While we are neither helpless nor hopeless, no pastor can be silent and ignore the volatile trends or threatening winds of change and unrest in our culture today.
I believe the Bible teaches the stewardship of citizenship (Romans 13). While applications change in every system of government, ours is one of responsible awareness and participation. We cannot ignore or disengage, but the question remains, "What are a pastor and, ultimately, a people to do?"
Knowing that the congregations we address are a "mixed bag" of peoples from varied backgrounds, opinions, perspectives, political parties and personal experiences, we have to speak to the issues with conviction and compassion. And we have to address the unpalatable pottage of political parties and their conflicting platforms.
Our role and responsibility in all of this is clear: "Preach the Word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. ... As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, and fulfill your ministry" (2 Timothy 4:2, 5).
Application: Fulfilling our calling requires us to address the mess.
No matter how hard we try to craft our responses, we cannot avoid offense or make everybody happy. However, if you are like me, I have learned I can make everybody mad!
So for what it is worth, here are some guiding principles that I try to put into practice:
1. Be biblical, not just controversial. Opinions abound in the blogosphere, "talking heads" fill the airwaves, and everyone has the ability to post their views in 140 characters or less. Don't let yourself be defined by adding to the controversy. Help people to think and live biblically.
For me, this means not just standing on the Bible as if it were my "platform." Yes, I know the lyrics to the "B-I-B-L-E," but I want to teach people to come under the Bible. The critical issue for every authentic Christ-follower is coming under biblical authority while the issue for every unbeliever is to see their need for a Savior and call upon the name of the Lord.
Every true believer—Republican, Democrat, Independent, Libertarian—must come under the authority of Scripture. If we preach and teach the absolute authority of God and His Word, rest assured we'll be "equal opportunity offenders." I want the sharp edge of my conversation not to be political rhetoric or opinion, but biblical truth.
2. Be instructional, not just emotional. Preaching is not venting. As a pastor, you don't want to simply use your platform to vent your views and frustrations upon people just because you are mad at the culture.
Preaching is declaring the truth of God by providing instruction (teaching) from the Word of God. I believe the development of a credible and convictional teaching ministry is vital. Let me underscore again: The goal of every Gospel-centered community is to teach and equip people to think and live biblically.
We are to teach the doctrine of Scripture and deal with current and continuing issues such as the sanctity of life, creative design/intent for human sexuality, and the establishment of governmental authority in addition to a multitude of other issues including human depravity and divine sovereignty.
3. Be pastoral, not simply political. Remember, you are speaking to people. You are not just speaking to issues. You are "their pastor" and you want them to know and be assured of your care for them. They may be caught in the middle if they have family members on both sides of the issues. Love them. Help them. Equip them.
4. Be convictional, not just informational. People don't really need you to rehash the social issues, statistics and political news. They need the Good News. You have the power of the Gospel and the promised work of the Holy Spirit to convict of sin, righteousness and judgment (John 16:8). Exchange political correctness in any form with the spiritual transformation found through an encounter with the living Christ.
5. Finally, be hopeful, not cynical. It's so easy in this world to become a cynic, to become a critic. People do not need a stronger argument; they need a better hope.
As I see it, my job, and yours, is to preach the Gospel in every season and to call people to the one true and living hope found in knowing, trusting and following Jesus Christ (1 Peter 1:3-9).
David H. McKinley is pastor-teacher of Warren Baptist Church in Augusta, Ga., and was one of the "Pastors and the Church in American Politics Today" panel members during this year's Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting in St. Louis. McKinley is the author of two books, "The Life You Were Born to Give" and "The Search for Satisfaction."