I was speaking several years ago at a Religious Liberty Rally which had a number of local pastors participating. Upon conclusion of the event I was confronted by a group of Christians that attended a well-known church in the community and encircling me they asked, “Why isn’t our pastor here participating in this event? Does he not think this is important? Why would he not want to address these important issues facing Christians?”
My response was, “Maybe it’s time to ask him.”
The era we are living in is desperate for vocal, spiritual leadership. Christians from various denominational backgrounds are recognizing that something is profoundly wrong in the culture and it is deeper than a budget discussion. Truthfully, the foundations are being destroyed and our spiritual leaders appear to be on the golf course as frequently as our President.
Now it must be understood that it has only been recently that I have taken a more confrontational approach to my colleagues. As a pastor, I understand all too well the pressures and considerations of political activity in the church, not to mention the normal challenges of simply working with fallen humanity. A pastor has a unique pressure which may not be fully understood by the membership. This reality is why I have maintained that the best person to reach a pastor is another pastor. No matter how well-intended a grass-roots organization may be in their pursuit of pastoral involvement I can almost assure you that the group will feel incredibly frustrated because it will take a pastor to reach a pastor. This is why the Indiana Pastors Alliance, along with the national network of Pastors Alliances, is working diligently to reach out pastor to pastor in order to coalesce our influence into an effective voice for our concerns.
That being said, it might be an opportune moment to help the conservative grass-roots organizations understand why their pastor may not want to culturally engage. If you can understand some of the objections or hurdles, then perhaps the membership can help reduce the reluctance. So, allow me to give you some reasons why pastors may not engage the culture, public policy or political issues.
1. General ignorance and disconnect
The clergy have been on the sidelines for so long that participation in any public policy discussion or election appears “radical” to many of them. They have no historical perspective on the role of clergy in the civic arena and see no connection of it to their calling. In fact, you will hear many of them say, “That’s not my calling”. This disconnect, along with the unconstitutional Johnson amendment of the IRS Code 501 (c) 3, has produced a passivity which takes most pastors off the field of engagement.
2. Theological compartmentalization
Many pastor’s theological constructs have sealed the Gospel and the Scriptures off from any societal impact. The usual exception occurs only under the philosophy of “getting enough people saved and that will spill over into cultural change”. Our problem is that statistically enormous percentages of the population confess a born-again experience or orthodox belief in God and it has not mitigated the cultural spiral we are currently enduring. They have no theological awareness that God judges cities, regions and nations according to His Word and in much the same way an individual is called to honor God with their life, so a state or nation is called to honor God as well. These pastors are not necessarily “seduced” into a deception, but rather they have “reduced” the Gospel to strictly personal, individualistic piety and salvation.
3. Church growth pragmatism
Cultural reformation is not seen as a “church growth” method. In fact, it has been known to produce a “Gideon Revival” that has thinned the ranks of some churches. The pastor’s need for “success” is not unlike other fields or careers. The current success metric in the church world is “size” and “growth” rather than mission and Scriptural fidelity. Many avoid any controversial or tough topic out of fear of alienating people. Truth, by its very nature can alienate, is at times nuanced or compromised under the pretense of “being all things to all men to by all means win some.” Unfortunately, few clergy have been trained in a Biblical ecclesiology.
4. The role of the clergy
Many pastors see themselves as CEO’s, facilitators, and general managers of the church organization rather than a prophetic voice to the culture. They want to be seen as “nice” by everyone they meet. There is much talk concerning leadership in our current church era, but in many instances it has become merely a “baptized” version of secular leadership tips. For pastors to involve themselves in the culture a renewed vision of the prophetic role of the church will need to be embraced.
5. Lack of training
Some pastors see the problems in the culture and the political system but have no idea what to do or where to start. They are willing but have no capacity to respond or endure the “blowback” they might receive from their membership or the culture. They literally feel like they would be “lambs led to the slaughter”. A recent local TV anchorman called and invited me to participate in a “live” television debate with a Unitarian pastor on the topic of same-sex marriage. He told me that I was the 20th call to evangelical pastors who believed in traditional marriage. He was genuinely confused as to why it was so hard to get an evangelical pastor to respond. The truth is that while some probably just wanted to do ministry under the radar of repercussion, there were many who simply felt incapable.
6. Church government
Most denominational pastors have to navigate a governing board which “hired” them to do ministry. Many of their decisions have to be ratified and approved by that board. If a board (even well-intentioned believers) deems cultural engagement too risky or controversial it immediately escalates the pastor’s risk in becoming involved. Non-denominational pastors generally have a government that is more “pastor-led” which enables those pastors to move more freely at times. Soliciting pastors for the cultural battles ahead will have to take into account the amount of leadership authority those pastors have at their churches. We should not be without some compassion that their repercussion could literally cost them their paychecks.
7. Influential members
Pastors are not immune from the effect of influential members and large donors. If the church has political leaders in attendance, the pastor may feel awkward addressing relevant issues in discussion. If the pastor has wealthy members, corporate CEO’s, and other civic “players”, it can greatly effect his courage to address the issues of the day. This is most often the plight of the “mega-pastor”. The cross-section of demographics in a potentially “seeker-sensitive” church makes it almost impossible to approach certain subjects without alienating someone. This is why many sermons of our era are ambiguous and general in application. Specificity tends to confront and that leads to people leaving.
8. Lack of moral objectivity
It pains me to point out that for some pastors there is a capitulation on the clear teaching of Scripture. Traditionally conservative evangelical pastors are suddenly declaring that they are in a “conversation” with the culture on certain topics. They have drifted from “declaring” truth to “discussing” truth. This has led to an acceptance of moral relativism in many of our churches.
The good news is that there are pastors who are mobilizing to make a difference and embrace their role as Watchmen on the Wall and Elders at the Gates of their city. The Indiana Pastors Alliance (along with pastors alliances across America) is working to remedy the reasons listed above. We hope to share those points in the near future. Incredible progress is being made and the effect of pastors coalescing their influence for cultural change is just now being felt in the halls of Statehouses across America.
Encourage your pastor to check out the IPA or if you live in another state please get in touch with us and we can get you connected in an alliance. Until then, stay connected to this great blog site and be a part of the Great Commission mandate to “disciple the nations” (Matthew 28:18-20). Especially the one we are living in.