So – how’s the weather in your church?
I recently heard the true story of a pastor called to an evangelical church of considerable size and influence in a major American city. He preached in the first service his first Sunday morning with verve and authority and – feeling pretty good about his new situation – was getting ready to preach again when one of the deacons stopped him to ask if he could attend an emergency meeting with the church’s lay leaders after the second service. “Certainly,” the pastor said.
At the meeting, the lay leadership confided to the pastor something they had … neglected to mention in their conversations with him before he came on board: a local bank was calling for the church’s note, and planning to foreclose on its property first thing Monday morning.
Stunned, the pastor watched as the leaders, having passed the great burden from their shoulders to his, made ready to go to lunch. “Where do you think you’re going?” he asked. “Nobody’s leaving here until we get this settled and find an answer for the bank.”
Hours later, after poring hopelessly back and forth through the church budget, the pastor noticed an obscure, generic-sounding item listing … tens of thousands of dollars.
“What’s this?” he asked. “Can we use this this money?”
“Oh, no, no, no,” the lay leaders said. “We can’t touch that.”
“That’s our ‘rainy day’ fund,” they said. “It’s only for emergencies.”
“I have news for you,” the pastor replied. “It’s coming down cats and dogs in here!”
I thought of that story this week as I read the results of a recent Pew Researchers poll that shows most American pastors avoid preaching on the most crucial moral issues of our day: abortion, sexual behavior (what’s classically known as the “virtue of chastity”), and religious freedom.
Only 40 percent of those responding to the poll said their pastor had referenced the importance of – or the growing threat to – religious liberty in America. Only 39 percent reported hearing a biblical perspective on homosexual and related behavior. And only 29 percent remembered their pastor saying a word about abortion.
Those results make for an interesting contrast with another Pew Researchers poll – one showing that three-fourths of the American public is concerned about the shrinking influence of religion on America life. And that nearly half of all Americans wish churches would take a more public stand on moral and political issues.
Not surprisingly, the polling data shows that those most eager to hear church’s address these issues are the people within the churches. In other words, for every parishioner who walks out murmuring “the pastor should mind his own business” … for every letter a pastor gets urging him to “keep your sermons out of the ballot box” … there are many, many others longing to know what the Bible has to say about these most pressing, controversial issues.
Where did we come upon the notion that God’s input and influence is restricted to certain aspects of our lives and culture – that He is not everywhere, all the time? That He’s free to address sin in my life, but not my society or nation?
If I want God to accomplish His will in my life, why would I try to ban Him from what the world now calls “political” questions, whose resolution will shape the world my children and I live in? That’s like a character in a book asking the author to shape his character, without touching the plot or providing a setting. What kind of story – what kind of character – do I expect that to be?
Why would a church that wants to effectively minister to its community try to avoid the issues that are racking that community? Do such church’s leaders really believe that our culture will be more muscular in its Christian morality if believers (and their “coaches”) never exercise those moral muscles? That if we can just keep quiet about our religious freedom – if we steadfastly refuse to defend or assert it – our increasingly oppressive government will somehow change its mind and leave us alone?
Christians cannot exert a faithful witness or a growing influence through silence and trepidation. Cowering in a corner while the innocents are persecuted won’t command respect. Not rocking the boat won’t ensure smooth sailing.
In recent weeks, Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys have challenged efforts by Iowa state officials to force churches to open their changing facilities, showers, and restrooms to members of the opposite sex, and to curtail preaching that upholds the biblical authority on human sexuality. In California – sometimes referred to as “America’s early warning system” – we’re defending churches against government efforts to force them to underwrite abortion in their health insurance policies, and fighting a state bill designed to remove faith-based standards from Christian college campuses and wean Bible teaching from those schools’ curricula.
Fellow Christians, brothers and sisters: it’s coming down cats and dogs out there … while too many of our pastors and priests are holding back faith and courage for a rainy day.
“If the trumpet gives an uncertain sound,” Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 14:8, “who shall prepare himself to the battle?” It’s a question we need to ask our faith leaders – even as we pray for them, stand with them, and intercede for our nation. Because the battles are coming, whether the trumpets sound or not.