This week I was having a strategy session in my mind on the way to work on a constant struggle I have with the church. Please note, I am not talking about a particular church. I’m talking generalities from the lenses of one who sits in the pews Sunday after Sunday.
I am consistently frustrated that the warriors on the tip of the spear are getting their clocks cleaned while pastors seem to be silent on the issues impacting our culture. The pews have been replaced by jumbo lazy boy recliners and the kitchens are stocked with the latest new coffee. Believe me when I say, there is nothing wrong with coffee. I am the chief connoisseur of the coffee world. The problem is the silence and apathy that sits in the lazy-boys Sunday after Sunday…. week after week… drinking the latest feel good message, then hanging up their “Christian” title in the coat closet before they leave. Rinse… lather… repeat…All while the enemy has slipped in and stolen our liberty.
My general statement that morning, although not politically correct, upset a lot of people.
Here is what I said:
Later that night I read through the comments, and one particular comment stopped me. I asked the author for permission to share it with you. This is from Jim DeCamp, a retired Army Chaplain and Civilian pastor.
He said this:
The observations below began in the late 1970s as a seminarian, then as a pastor in different areas of the country, and now as a retired pastor in Indiana. It would be a mistake to conclude I have any one church or pastor in mind. None of these applies to every church or pastor, and none represents my understanding nor approach (I can make a rebuttal for each point below). But I share these thoughts as a colleague in ministry, and hope to shed a little light on what, for a great many people in the pews, is an inexplicable silence.
In no particular order (and without commentary), below are reasons why pastors do not enter the public square. Perhaps this partial list may help church members pray more knowledgeably and encourage their pastors more effectively.
- It only takes one or two. A very small number of complainers in a congregation–or even those who stop in from outside the church–can be enough to silence the pastor, and thereby change the voice of the church. Most pastors who have experienced significant conflict will go to almost any length to avoid it–especially if it has to do with “nonessentials” of the faith.
- Shared leadership. Many pastors must abide by decisions of the entire leadership team. One powerful member of the team may persuade the others to take what appears to be the safest path.
- Nearing exhaustion. Many pastors (and I could have numbered myself among them) are running with tongues hanging out, so to speak. They believe that giving a witness in the public square is very demanding–emotionally, physically, spiritually–and they do not need ONE MORE THING on their plate.
- “We want to be known for the Gospel, not for a lesser cause.” Some pastors point to churches where “social issues” have grown to such an extent that the ministry of the Word has been eclipsed, or compromised.
- More attracted to Samaria and beyond. There are pastors who are more comfortable traveling to the uttermost parts of the earth to preach the Gospel, than giving testimony before their city council or state legislature.
- The church as refuge. Some see the role of church leaders as merely welcoming the people on Sunday, who are empty and bruised, then binding up their wounds and refreshing them for the coming week’s witness.
- “It’s the people’s work.” The actual work of witness in the public square is seen as belonging to lay folks.
- Avoid being tainted. Politics is seen as corrupt, filled with unethical conduct and immoral behavior, and the church should not go near all of that.
- Activists have a bad name. Activists may be thought of as angry conservatives, right-wing evangelicals, those with a chip on their shoulder, or practitioners of American triumphalism. Most leaders don’t want to risk being thought of that way.
- Avoid ad hominem attacks. Pastors do not want the media to paint them with negative caricatures, as the media so relishes doing.
- The public square should not be a pastoral priority. Because the time is short, limit your witness to the core of the Gospel message. Jesus is coming soon, and in any case most students of end time prophecy do not see the United States as playing a significant role in future world events.
- Uncomfortable territory. Most pastors are reluctant to delve into areas where they have little training or experience.
- Burned in the past. Some pastors have been unfairly or harshly (by their account) criticized for lack of cultural engagement. Pastors are more likely to respond positively if they are challenged/encouraged in the context of an affirming relationship.
- The virtue of nonpartisanship. Pastors who are unaware of the founding of our nation, often value “crossing the aisle” over standing for freedom. This leads them to avoid controversial subjects.
- The influence of professors. In some evangelical seminaries–and certainly in liberal ones (I have studied at both)–there is a left-of-center bent in the faculty’s political and economic views. Some pastors enter the ministry lacking a full-orbed understanding of these subjects, and are inclined to avoid individual liberty/responsibility issues, which are integral to much Biblical or conservative or libertarian thinking.
- Why interrupt progress? Some pastors in a liberal position have no reason to enter the public square to oppose restrictions on religious freedom because 1) they accept the legitimacy of the homosexual lifestyle, 2) they do not affirm the Bible as “the only infallible rule of faith and practice,” and 3) they are invested in government solutions instead of personal freedom/responsibility.
- “The blood of the martyrs is the seed for the church.” Those who hold no particular passion for liberty may come to think, “We’ve had our fill of freedom; it’s on to persecution” (buoyed by verses such as, John 16:33b: “In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (ESV).
- Some see virtue in the lesser position. They view the subservient position (that of the jailed Christian, for example) as more befitting of Christian discipleship than being near the seat of power, as they tend to view political influence.
- Some may not have looked very far down the road. Some pastors, apparently, are not aware of the impact that proposed legislation will visit upon their congregation, their children and their grandchildren.
- Their silence. Many pastors, I am convinced, are not aware that their silence on high profile subjects communicates to a watching world what is, or is not, important to God.
- Lacking the experience. Most church leaders, apparently, have never tasted the joy and fellowship of walking with brothers and sisters through the fire of public square ministry. They, quite literally, do not know what they are missing. The closeness to Christ that comes from utterly depending on Him is powerful, and an immeasurable blessing.
The stakes for Indiana are high this year. God is able to touch our pastors. Let us pray….
Is there hope?
I’d love to hear your thoughts. Have you spoken with your minister? If not, I’d encourage you to do so. Maybe he needs to hear from you? Maybe he needs released to do his job? The sad reality of the congregation “taking their toys and going home” when a congregant gets mad is a reality for ministers. Mortgage is a reality. Could it be that we also have a responsibility to replace the lazy boy chairs with pews ready for action? Could it be the blame falls at our feet?
I’d love to hear from you!