Not money, sex or fame.
But what to say and how much to say and how directly – or not – to say it. That’s the moral struggle pastors face each week.
It’s obvious our culture is at war with itself right about now. Pick an issue, any issue, and you’ll find groups of people who believe their perspectives surely must be right.
Even more, many of them believe their perspectives are gospel, the spiritually fitting way to understand said issue.
This means that all other perspectives must be not only wrong or misguided, but also spiritually unfaithful, or perhaps even destructive.
In this kind of atmosphere, people see the way forward in terms of binary categories: winners and losers, faithful and unfaithful, spiritually correct and incorrect.
This is the culture in which pastors are preaching and teaching. Then along comes an incident, well two incidents, like what happened in El Paso and Dayton.
More mass shootings. How many times have we prayed for victims? Aren’t we tired of praying without doing?
Yet, pastors know that speaking a prophetic word related to these shootings, calling people to action, will offend someone(s) in their churches.
Racism, gun control, sin, immigration, political policy – each of these is a live dynamic contributing to the particular shooting in El Paso.
Pastors know they will offend more than one group in the church when they say nearly anything about this latest mass shooting.
To complicate things, a quick read through my social media platforms this morning makes it clear that plenty of social media influencers know what pastors “should” say.
They communicate, either directly or by inference, what every spiritually responsible pastor would preach after this incident.
I’m not so sure.
Yes, I believe the brokenness of humanity is on full display in these mass shootings.
Yes, I believe many dynamics contribute toward shaping a culture wherein this kind of tragedy repeatedly happens.
Yes, I believe pastors need to address the issues of our day.
And, I also know what it’s like to be employed by a church who can terminate one’s employment at the drop of a hat.
Though some denominations include safeguards and safety nets, pastors know they will sow the seeds of their demise with just the wrong word or statement.
Feeding their families, paying a mortgage, providing for their children – these are real-life considerations factoring into sermons.
There are people in churches who will quickly move toward terminating their pastor when he or she contradicts their perspectives on how the world does or should operate. This is the reality of pastoral leadership.
So, the moral dilemmas of pastors are less often about money, sex or fame, and more often, week in and week out, about living in the tension between their consciences, the still small guiding voice, and the political realities in their congregations.
Is it better to soften one’s prophetic voice and remain in place to continue the growth process with this congregation?
Is it better to go all in, letting the pieces shake out as they may?
What’s God’s guidance here, based on who God is as revealed through Jesus Christ?
When your words don’t influence your family’s financial security, it’s easy to have opinions on what others should do.
Here’s my hope for pastors in this crazy age of cultural division.
I hope there will be times when pastors don’t speak about the hot issue of the day, instead pointing to the enduring foundations of our faith, comforting God’s people with the awareness that we are part of the ongoing story of God.
I also hope there is more than one occasion when a pastor risks it all, knowing he or she could not sleep well without having called out injustice, even when it angers the powers that be in the church.
Which to do when? That’s the challenge of preaching in 2019; the ongoing moral dilemmas of pastors.
Mark Tidsworth is president of Pinnacle Leadership Associates.