One of the sobering realizations during the sabbatical is that being a pastor is going to be difficult. Not that I didn’t already know that, being 14 years into ministry has offered an ample sample size as to the travails of ministry. But at times you hope that, after a certain amount of experience, it will become easier. In studying some “hot topics” of the day over sabbatical – social issues that not only affect society but also affect the church – one thing is apparent, for Bible believing pastors, there will be a consistent need for courage.
Some may think that leading a Gospel church is simple, “just preach the Gospel message.” I wish it were that simple. Yes, we need to preach the Gospel message every week. That, in itself, brings enough challenge and scrutiny which I am used to and embrace. What many people miss is that pastors are also called to shepherd people in how to live the Gospel. You’d think this would be simple, but unfortunately in the days of mass media distributing mixed messages, it is not.
This realization came to me after reading a book called Gender Ideology by Sharon James. I have preached on issues like transgenderism and homosexuality before, absolutely not my favorite topic to speak publicly on, but feel I must as the Bible talks about it. With this issue in particular, it takes courage to preach a Gospel/Biblical message that communicates clearly what the Bible teaches on the issue, while at the same time imploring Christians to love those experiencing same sex attraction or gender dysphoria. When speaking on this topic, as well as many others, pastors end up being unintentional equal opportunity offenders. When publicly calling homosexual practice a sin, it could possibly offend those who are struggling with same sex attraction, not to mention can be potentially hurtful to their friends and family. It goes without saying the non-believing culture will also have some opinions on the matter as well. At the same time, by emphasizing love for the person who is struggling with issues of gender identity and sexual orientation, asking the church to create an environment for believers to come along side the person struggling, pray with them, offer them a shoulder to cry on, can unfortunately bring scorn from the church as an “endorsement” of sinful activity or lifestyle. Hence, the need for courage. A pastor should never pander to the whims or desires of the people, but preach and lead for an “audience of One.” God Almighty.
The example given above may sound extreme, but since coming back from sabbatical I’ve experienced the same type of scrutiny in speaking on things like wearing masks or loving a person from a different political party. Believe it or not, at the core of how we interact with people who are different from us or hold a different ideology is indeed a Gospel issue. Maskers and non-maskers refusing to split the church over masks is actually a Gospel issue. Christian Democrats and Republicans being called to love one another shouldn’t be controversial, but (trust me), it apparently is. I cannot avoid the topic, though, as how we honor one another is a Gospel issue. So, as a pastor, my job is to be courageous, even if I don’t feel like it, and call people to Gospel lifestyles.
The temptation is always to align oneself with someone or something other than the Bible. Not because I desire to be liked, necessarily, but because being the “bad guy” can get old. My job would be easier if I decided to lead us as a politically aligned church. To be a church who won’t let a person who is gay cross the threshold of the church building. Allow people to disregard the health concerns of a brother in Christ and not worry about wearing a mask. This would make my life easier, and at the same time would be contrary to my calling and position as a minister of the Gospel.
I distinctly remember sitting on my back patio when it hit me. This will continue to be hard. This job will be difficult right up until I retire or see Jesus, whichever comes first. Scripture is clear that my job, as was Paul’s, is to teach the “whole counsel of God.” (Acts 20:27), to “proclaim, admonish, and teach people in all wisdom” to present them mature in Christ (Colossians 2:28), to promote unity amongst the body (Romans 15:5-6), as an extension of sharing the Good News of salvation through Christ alone. So I can’t simply ignore issues when Christians want to handle disagreements like the world or how popular vloggers recommend. Athletes who speak on social issues are often told “stick to sports.” Pastors are told “stick to the Bible.” We must look at issues through a Biblical lens, which means as a pastor, I have no choice but to wade into the fray to try and bring the whole counsel of God into a situation. Hopefully through prayer, study of the Word, and the Holy Spirit I can continue to do so. The final thing I must have is courage, for which I covet your prayers.