Rhetoric & Homiletics: Losing The Influence Of The Pulpit – And Members!

Musher- sled dogs

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The difference between saying . . . .

Mush & “Sic’Em”

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Why is church life becoming more and more difficult?

It is — and you probably already know that. 

I should say early on, some of that is self-inflicted!

I will venture out and say . . . .

Church life will never be the same after 2020.  In fact, 2020 is flowing into 2021 BECAUSE  2020 has changed life and living.  2020 is flowing in 2021 because a “sea-change” has taken place.  We are not going to b returning back to the regular order of “2019.”

When I read what I thought were reasonable and disarming comments of a well-respected and effective pastor who worked alongside me for six years, I settled into this opinion.  Even those prudent, equitable (Can I use that word anymore?), balanced, wholesome, and wise comments quickly came under assault.

Pastors and church leaders are discovering that the influence they had — or believed they had — in affecting the lives of God’s people in good and right directions, is fading and perhaps, in some cases, is gone.  Disagree with God’s people — socially or politically — and you may well find yourself absent some members and church friends on the next Sunday morning.

In fact, even disagree medically  — “mask or no mask” — in areas in which neither side has any expertise and about which the “scientific opinions” differ widely — and “you are looking for a fight” — or a different church!

There are those pastors who have chosen to wade into the polarized waters of political discussion.  To them, I say, “You did it to yourself!”  It is a lose-lose decision to speak to a broad spectrum of people from “the pulpit.” — the pulpit of the church sanctuary, or Facebook, Twitter, et al.

If you don’t believe that the church congregation reflects a wide spectrum of viewpoints, opinions, thinking, then you are not in the pulpit, [1] you are in the pew.  That is a part of what makes pastoring complicated.  By design, the composition of the church congregation reflects a wide spectrum of individuals.

However, I have seen some of the sanest attempts of pastors to take a reasonable biblical-church-theological position crash and burn as they have simply argued for carefulness and restraint.  As pastors have suggested that the church needs to keep its focus on its calling, even “careful,” “balanced,” “prudent,” and/or “proportional” words have resulted in — “sic’em” — by those who do not like any such words of restraint.

The culture has caught up to the church.  The culture has long infected the church, and it has only been revealed in all of its brassy bold print.  Discussion with people who see things differently, even as to “carefulness,” may quickly devolve from a rational conversation into ad hominem and dismissive comments — “You are just stupid to think that!”  / “That’s just ignorant!”

We don’t like to have discussions with people we disagree with, and the proof is becoming more and more manifest.[2]  The previous proof was the many different churches that keep popping up.  The new present-day evidence is (and will continue to be) . . . .

  • people looking for another church
  • many staying with online watching
  • a percentage dropping out of church life altogether
  • more and more church hopping
  • pastors switching ministries [3]
  • less effective evangelism
  • front and back door membership [4]
  • unstable church staffing, and/or
  • unsettled finances because of some who no longer financially this-or-that ministry.

More and more, the word “Mush” seems to sound like “Sic’Em.”

If the church doesn’t offer something different from what has been happening in culture, the Gospel will no longer be what we are fighting for.  Rather, we are “witnesses” to the reality that we cannot even tolerate each other’s differing vantage, no less those who do not even share our hope and faith in Christ. [5]

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1. Talking to others who well-agree with your vantages is far different from talking with those who hold meaningful differences.  And, while others might say to those on the other side of an issue, in some form or another —  “Pastor agrees with me.” —   that is far different from you personally disagreeing with those individuals.  There is a lot of “pastoral grace” is given by the members and friends of a congregation, but not after an in-person disagreement.

2. Most all of us avoid conflict.  I realize that some must like it.  Nevertheless, I well imagine that anyone involved in a disagreement would rather avoid it — especially after it is over – ugh!   Yes, there are times when strong and needed disagreement needs to be voiced to leadership, but as loyal opposition, because loyalty must never outweigh integrity!  It is “integrity” that calls up loyalty!  And, like you, I “hate” going down that road, but it is only because addressing wrong-doing, and wrong-doers cannot be silenced!

3. Some pastors have already said too much.  Who wants a pastor who is “so stupid.”  We don’t like people who are so wrong in their viewpoints.

“Relevance”:  I know that there is a tendency to claim that preaching and churches need to be “relevant” and address these socio-political issues.  A better time to address the issues of the day might be later than sooner.  A better time for such an endeavor might be after the water has receded, and a better perspective can be had. Perhaps, even what the truth is has been so muddled that it is unwise to socio-medically-politically pontificate.  Let’s ask the great Apostle Paul — I Corinthians 6:12; 9:22.

4. New members found a place where they are more comfortable until the pastor or even others say something that stirs the socio-political waters.

5. There is a parallel “cancel culture” spirit, which can be found in too many churches.  Disagree, and you are charged with “disunity.”  That has been part of the church culture for years in far too many churches.  “Sowing Discord” is the church’s cancel culture mantra used to squelch needed, candid, and truthful criticism.  There is little-to-no place for the loyal-opposition* to challenge the self-serving decisions and actions of those in power and influence positions.

* “Loyal Opposition“:  Those who have given their time, talents, and treasure to the ministry for years and have genuinely sought to support the leadership but now have put “integrity” over any such loyalty.

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