Barna, speaking on American Family Radio, tells us that he has just completed a two-year research project gauging the political, cultural, and societal convictions of "theologically conservative pastors." To summarize, he states,
‘What we're finding is that when we ask them (the pastors) about all the key issues of the day, [90 percent of them are] telling us, Yes, the Bible speaks to every one of these issues. Then we ask them: Well, are you teaching your people what the Bible says about those issues?--and the numbers drop...to less than 10 percent of pastors who say they will speak to it.’
Chuck Baldwin then comments,
I agree with the percentages Barna and Baldwin assert concerning evangelical pastors' silence on controversial issues. But I disagree with the reasons for the silence. It is not always a determined resistance to bring God's truth, but rather a combination of fear and a sense of inadequacy to deal with complex issues. There is also the concern about the priorities of ministry.
George Barna does not tell us his list of "key issues." But it's not hard to come up with a host of cultural, political, and societal battlelines. Here is the beginning of my list:
1. Gender issues and gender identity.
2. Marital failure and divorce.
3. Homosexuality and the LGBT agenda
6. Destructive economic policies and practices
7. Child abuse
8. Sex trafficking and slavery
11. Religious freedom
12. Scientific over-reach.
13. Global warming
In many cases, pastors know they need to address these things, but it can seem a "no-win" situation. They are usually preaching to the "already converted" when speaking to their own congregations. The people they want most to affect are outside the walls. While I do not personally agree with this sentiment, pastors can feel there is no upside to delving into controversy.
I came across an unusual illustration of this point. Brian McLaren is perhaps the top leader of the emergent church movement. Some call this the "apostate church movement." It is my firm opinion these once devoted Christians have in essence left the faith.
On July 21 of this year, McLaren tells in his blog how he moved from being an "evangelical pastor" refusing to deal with the LGBT agenda to one that fully endorses it. He lists a 5-step process he underwent.
1. Disengagement. Wishing the issue would go away.
2. Fear. If I don't speak out in support of gay rights, I will lose 4% of my congregation.
3. Fear. If I DO speak out in support of gay rights, I will lose 40% of my congregation.
4. Hesitation. If I take a stand, I will be misunderstood.
5. Oh well. My cover is blown. Everybody now knows I support the gay agenda.
McLaren moves in the opposite direction of that advocated by Baldwin and Barna, but it is still the same sequence. Most pastors do not desire to be unfaithful to their call. They simply wish the thorny "no-win" issues would just go away.
The second reason pastors fail to communicate about hard issues is because they haven't done the hard work to feel capable of doing so. I believe that the Bible speaks to every issue facing mankind. Some of those issues require careful thought, study, and consideration. The last thing we need is a host of half-educated preachers pontificating about things they do not understand.
For this reason, many church leaders restrict themselves to pure Bible preaching. We certainly have a scarcity of sound biblical preaching and teaching. Why shouldn't the pastor stick to his strength and leave the technical stuff to experts? In reply, we certainly need more of God's Word, but we also need a biblical worldview applied to modern situations. We need to hear the Bible APPLIED to every issue. whether it be poverty or piety, pornography or politics.
WHAT'S MOST IMPORTANT
Baldwin's phraseology is provocative. It alleges a pre-meditated intent to deceive -- to "keep in the dark." Do I believe many, if not most, pastors are shy to speak out on controversial issues? Yes. But does that constitute intentional deception and negligence?
In truth, most pastors are peace-loving individuals who already have their share of difficulty, challenge, and controversy. Between warring deacons, whining parishioners, anemic budgets, and a nagging sense of needing more, being asked to fight the demons of a world gone crazy can seem too much.
One of the strengths of the great evangelist Billy Graham was that he stayed ON TASK. He never wavered from his basic commission from God. He tells of how he was tempted to become an anti-communist political activist. Instead he stayed on his message: Jesus love you, He can forgive you, and give you a new life.
By the nature of our calling, pastors must address more than just the pure Gospel message. We must bring "the whole counsel of God." In doing so, there is the continual challenge of keeping balance and proper priorities.
One of the historic strengths of America is the power of the pulpit. From Jonathan Edwards and the Great Awakening to Martin Luther King, Jr., America has been shaped by her preachers. So, may God's servants lift up their voices. It may be the voice of one crying in the wilderness, but if it carries prophetic impact it will shape our land once again.
By overcoming hesitation and fear, then doing the hard work of preparation, there can be a reclaiming of the power of God's Word in our land. It has happened before. It can happen again.