January 31, 2019
Pressure shapes things. A tire doesn’t take shape unless it’s filled to the correct air pressure. Pressure applied to heated metal shapes the tools we use for everyday life. We warn our kids about the dangers of negative peer pressure shaping their character. Good or bad, pressure moves us toward action or inaction, and shapes the way we live our lives.
It’s no secret that being a pastor is a high-pressure vocation. From composing weekly sermons and studies, to counseling church members, to weddings, funerals, to property management, there’s no shortage of daily stress for those who follow the call to shepherd God’s people. In one sense, pressure comes with the territory, but a new report reveals that pastors are sometimes pressured from the wrong places.
In a new study called Faith Leadership in a Divided Culture, Barna Group found that when it comes to the pressing issues surrounding religious freedom in our culture today, many pastors feel pressure to avoid certain controversial topics, “including those related to the LGBT community, same-sex marriage rights, abortion, sexual morality and politics.” The study found that “Half of Christian pastors say they frequently (11 percent) or occasionally (39 percent) feel limited in their ability to speak out on moral and social issues because people will take offense.”
The report also shows that many of these same pastors who feel limited in their ability to speak on these issues also feel pressured (69 percent) by people in their congregations to speak out on these issues:
“As the research reveals, the issues pastors feel most pressured to speak out on are the same ones they feel limited to talk about. In other words, the squeeze comes from all sides: those demanding that the church take a stand and those outraged when it does (or outraged when that stance is other than what they’d hoped).”
The fact that a pastor might feel pressured by a congregation is nothing new. The Apostle Paul, imprisoned in Rome facing execution, warned about this in his second and final letter to Timothy:
“For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.” (2 Timothy 4:3-5, ESV)
The remedy for being shaped by the pressures of the world is also given by Paul in the preceding verse when he charges the young pastor Timothy to “preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.” A pastor who worries about pressure from those who hear his preaching will forever be a slave to preaching what will be least offensive and least likely to rock the boat. He’ll be shaped by his congregation rather than by the word of God.
A pastor should instead be pressured from above – shaped by the word of God. A pastor doesn’t have to preach a topical sermon on LGBT issues or on abortion or religious liberty. A pastor who simply preaches the whole counsel of Scripture will never be lacking in opportunities to engage on the relevant issues of the day because the Bible speaks to every one of these issues. Preach the Bible and you won’t and can’t avoid controversial topics, but you won’t avoid the remedy for these cultural maladies either!
Serious Christians appreciate serious truth, and need pastors who are shaped by clarity of truth revealed in the Bible. The pastor who is pressured by the world will begin to take its shape very quickly.
If you’re a pastor – or know one – who would like to become more equipped for standing firm against the pressures of this age, please consider the 2019 Watchmen on the Wall 2019 National Briefing. Registration is now open.
Tony Perkins' Washington Update is written with the aid of FRC senior writers.