Pastors Dealing With Controversy
In this video Conversation, Joel Hunter offers his thoughts on the challenges of preaching on controversial topics and offers advice to pastors who consider introducing these complicated discussions into their own congregations.
“I have a basic motto,” says Hunter, “Never underestimate people’s insecurities.” He explains that even people who are seemingly confident in most areas of their lives often have significant insecurities in anything that might upset or challenge their status quo. Thus, if a pastor tries to bring discussions of science and theology or creation care to the pulpit, this might be met with some resistance by congregants that are looking for scriptural direction and affirmation for issues they are dealing with as individuals. Broadening the scope of the discussion to include something like evolution might then be perceived with skepticism or fear, because it is not the kind of message many are searching for.
Hunter notes that as a pastor himself, he understands this perspective of church members just as he understands the predicament that pastors find themselves in when they think about how to initiate difficult discussions. Most churches are simply trying to survive from week to week, says Hunter, so there is tremendous insecurity on the part of pastors who worry that teaching controversy might lead to their exit.
Pastors are pastors , however, because they care about people and their hurts and concerns. Therefore, one of the things that pastors need to do, Hunter suggests, is to consider all of the issues a congregation is dealing with—and determine how they can introduce controversial topics in such a way that it will help reassert God’s sovereignty and power.
Any introduction must consider the insecurities of the congregation as well as God’s great gift. When approached in this manner and the pastor has a bit of a history, it may be received better. If a congregation knows how strongly a pastor perceives scripture and Jesus Christ, that helps one address things that may make some people uneasy because the pastor has the benefit of a church’s trust that a solid track record may provide.
Commentary written by the BioLogos editorial team.
Joel Hunter is senior pastor at Northland, A Church Distributed in Longwood, Fla. Hunter is also a board member of the World Evangelical Alliance and author of the book A New Kind of Conservative.