How can pastors equip their people to think about cultural issues and live out the mission of God in the public square?
By Daniel Darling
One of the enduring myths about evangelical churches is that congregations are too political. It is true that a few churches serve up partisan content on Sundays. Most of the time, however, Christians have the opposite experience. When it comes to being equipped on how to steward their citizenship, there is often little theological reflection. As a result, the public theology of God’s people is formed by other voices throughout the week, from social media to pundits to politicians.
So how can pastors equip their people to live out the mission of God in the public square? Here are five principles for equipping your church to think biblically about cultural issues:
1. Be intentional
As a pastor and church leaders, it is our main task “to equip the saints for the work of ministry” (Ephesians 4:12a, CSB). God has sovereignly chosen to place American Christians in our country in this moment. In Acts 17:26, we read that God has determined the exact places where people live. So, what does it look like for Christians to steward their influence in shaping the political process? What does it look like to live out a healthy public theology in the marketplace, in their homes, and online?
If the church doesn’t help folks answer this question, others will quickly fill the void. There should be a plan to help God’s people not only “give a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you” but to do this with “gentleness and reverence” (1 Peter 3:15,16, CSB).
2. Be guided by Scripture
So, what does this look like? First, pastors should be guided by the text of Scripture and the helpful guidance of Christian tradition. There is a temptation to want to avoid being “political,” but the gospel itself doesn’t allow us to do this. In the first-century church, followers of Jesus huddled in homes and caves, meeting often in secret every week simply to declare the truth that Jesus of Nazareth—not Caesar—was the rightful King of the universe. This cut against the worship of Roman rulers as divine. It conflicted with the everyday worship rituals in the Greco-Roman world. A political gospel cost the apostles their lives.“There is a temptation to want to avoid being ‘political,’ but the gospel itself doesn’t allow us to do this. What pastors should avoid is being partisan.” — @dandarling Click To Tweet
What pastors should avoid is being partisan. We are not to preach allegiance to a party or a person but to declare what God has said about His Son, Jesus, and about the kingdom of God. We should offer the world God’s good way of flourishing. In this, we should be guided only by Scripture, not talking points from politicians or pundits. It will be the faithful, consistent, unwavering exposition of God’s Word skillfully applied to contemporary challenges that will sustain the people of God in this moment.
3. Be courageous
It will require courage to address cultural issues that will almost certainly cut against the idolatries of the age, the small gods our people are inadvertently worshiping every day. Pastors shouldn’t be unnecessarily crass or crude. We shouldn’t speak with the goal of going viral or getting a rise out of people. We should be sensitive to our context. The church doesn’t need carnival barkers but faithful shepherds.“The church doesn’t need carnival barkers but faithful shepherds.” — @dandarling Click To Tweet
Still, the ethics of the kingdom of God will, at times, cut against the ideologies of our day. To be courageous is to speak not only to sins we know our church agrees are wrong but to speak to sins our church might not want to see addressed. Paul warned Timothy against satisfying itching ears. Sometimes what we preach, in the power of the Spirit, will not be received well by everyone who hears. Yet we must be faithful to the task and pray for God to move in the hearts of Christians.
4. Be discerning
To the young pastor Timothy, Paul urged, “Fight the good fight of the faith” (1 Timothy 6:12a, CSB). The “good fight” implies that there are unworthy fights. There are contemporary issues about which Scripture is abundantly clear, and there are cultural issues that are important, but of lesser importance, about which faithful Christians might disagree.
A pastor who opines on everything in the news will quickly lose his prophetic voice. Rather, a pastor needs to model, by his teaching and what he chooses to comment on publicly, which issues really matter.“A pastor needs to model, by his teaching and what he chooses to comment on publicly, which issues really matter.” — @dandarling Click To Tweet
5. Be an example
Lastly, pastors are not merely equipping their people with how to think but how to conduct themselves in the public square. James 3 reminds church leaders of the somber weight of their calling. By virtue of their position, pastors model for their people a way of speaking. God doesn’t just care what we say but how we say it. Peter urges us to both “give a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you” and yet to do it with “gentleness and reverence” (1 Peter 3:15,16, CSB).
If Christians don’t hear how to engage the culture from their church leaders, in community with other believers, they’ll be formed by other voices and unbiblical ideologies.
For permission to republish this article, contact Marissa Postell Sullivan.