By Dean Inserra
Leading in a politically charged culture is perhaps the new greatest challenge for today’s pastor. Simply misspeak concerning something political, or appear to lack patriotism, and you might see more outrage than if you spoke theological heresy.
In a hypersensitive political climate without allowance of nuance, the reactions of those of us who claim the name of Christ can make it difficult to tell the difference between the church and the world.
If we care about seeing a maturing church where people let their lights shine before others, pastors must have the courage and the clarity to preach about how Christians should approach politics, patriotism, and partisan beliefs.
“Love your country, but love your God more.” I’ve never met a Christian who would disagree with that statement. Yet in much of evangelicalism, we don’t seem to think those words need to be directed toward us.
This is one of the greatest barriers to personal discipleship and effective mission for the church today. The barriers manifest themselves in a confusing merger of Christianity and patriotism.
The mission of the church is negatively affected as the world watches the church divide over exclusively “American” matters that have nothing to do with the gospel. The world is confused on what it means to be a Christian. For many today, “Christian” means a voting bloc.
In short, we have a perception problem, and as the old saying goes, “perception equals reality.”
Paul was concerned with the world’s perception of the church at Corinth and believed there was a certain way Christians should be seen by the world: “A person should think of us in this way: as servants of Christ and managers of the mysteries of God” (1 Corinthians 4:1, CSB).
When I read and think about that verse I am forced to ask myself, Is this how people view me?
Paul made this claim shortly after the beginning of his letter when he rebuked the church for dividing over human leaders. These divisions over non-gospel matters caused Paul to accuse the believers of immaturity.
He couldn’t give them deep instruction because of their infancy in Christ; they should have been more mature by the time of his writing. His response to their divisions was that others should see them as servants of Christ.
If we believe the Word of God is timeless, this certainly applies to us today.
Not as patriots.
Not as Republicans.
Not as Democrats.
Not even as Americans.
But as servants of Christ.
Even more important than how the world sees us is how God sees us. Does our Heavenly Father see us as His servants first, or people who have blended our following of Christ with our personal interests and opinions?
Here’s a diagnostic exam to see whether we are living our lives in step with 1 Corinthians 4:1:
- What most ignites your passions? I remember once being at an evangelical gathering where uniformed officers and elected officials received louder ovations than the missionaries. While I certainly believe our soldiers and politicians deserve honor, that image remains in my mind as problematic.
- What most offends you? It’s easy to get more outraged over a political statement from an opposing view than a theological one that could lead someone eternally astray. It’s not uncommon to find people who leave a church because a pastor challenged something they held politically, before they would leave a church for a pastor differing theologically.
- Do you force Bible passages to fit an exclusively American narrative when they were never intended to do so?
- If someone questions the idea of “American exceptionalism,” how does that make you feel? Is it bothersome to you? Why so?
- Whom do you first see as on “your side?” A Christian in the opposite political party, or a nonbeliever with your same political views?
These are all barriers to discipleship that a strong pulpit ministry must challenge. It mainly requires courage, but the courage will never come unless the conviction is first established that foremost we are to be seen as servants of Christ.
Address these matters and people will surely leave your church, but you will also find a maturing body of believers, who desire to be seen first as servants of Christ.
- Politics Can Push People Out the Front Door
- What Nonwhite Democrats and White Republicans Have in Common
- Pulpit No Place for Political Endorsements, Say Most Americans
DEAN INSERRA (@deaninserra) is lead pastor of City Church in Tallahassee, Florida.