From pandemic response to racial justice to politics, the last year has produced more than its fair share of public controversies—along with pressure for pastors to address them. If public figures, including Christian leaders in forums like TGC, are speaking about an issue, isn’t it reasonable to expect your pastor to address it as well? And given that so many other people (including Christians) are so wrong, it sure would be nice if he would clear everything up!
As a minister who pastors college students during the week and sits in a pew on Sundays, I want to encourage my fellow pew-sitters to think carefully about whether we want our pastors addressing current events regularly. Though there are certainly matters to which pastors should speak, our expectations here are often too high and may paradoxically reflect too low a view of a pastor’s call.
Our expectations for pastors speaking to current events are often too high and may paradoxically reflect too low a view of a pastor’s call.
Your pastor is hired by God as his representative, speaking God’s words as a herald of the King and caring for Christ’s flock as the undershepherd of the Good Shepherd. This calling is high, to be sure, but it is also specific and limited. And that is something for which we can be thankful, even when it means that he doesn’t offer the perfect words on every major event.
Here are five truths to bear in mind.
1. Your Pastor Has Specific and Limited Authority
Despite what some congregants (and pastors) may think, a pastor is not a Christian TED Talk speaker—he occupies a royal office with specific authority and responsibility. When a pastor preaches, he is engaging in a particular kind of speech, which flows from his unique office that both empowers and constrains his speaking.
If you are a member of a congregation, your pastor has the right and duty to implore you to show up for public worship every week, listen to him speak, and heed what he says. That remarkable power comes from his authority to speak God’s words to you. Like an attorney hired by a client to speak on their behalf, your pastor does not speak for himself. This should give both a pastor and his church’s members a healthy sense of caution in considering whether, how, and when he should speak to current events. We should be grateful for a pastor who takes his calling seriously and is careful about abusing his unique authority.
2. Your Pastor Has a Specific and Limited Message
Though a pastor can certainly offer an optional evening seminar on gardening or any other topic, that’s not why God hired him. He is uniquely called by God to proclaim Christ to you, warning and teaching with all wisdom, with great toil and struggle, so that he might present you mature in Christ (Col. 1:28–29). This will include applying the gospel to your daily lives, but his speaking should always point you to Jesus.
A pastor is not a Christian TED Talk speaker. He occupies a royal office with specific authority and responsibility.
Your pastor has your attention for a limited time each week. Though perhaps you wish he’d hurry up sometimes, we should expect and celebrate his stewardship of that time to tell us the good news of Jesus, even if that means speaking less or differently about a given public controversy.
3. Your Pastor Has a Specific and Limited Purpose
In addition to heralding God’s Word, a pastor also shepherds God’s people. Your pastor is uniquely tasked with your spiritual care and dedicated to your progress and joy in the faith (Phil. 1:25). If and when he speaks to a public controversy, it must be for this purpose. He is not responsible for ensuring that all of his people have the right opinion on every disputed issue of the day. As a Christian, you should absolutely care about such issues and discuss them with your brothers and sisters. But your pastor isn’t called to referee every conversation—and that is a good thing for both him and you.
4. Your Pastor Has a Specific and Limited Flock
A pastor is called to care for specific people in a specific congregation in a specific place (Heb. 13:17). He can’t pastor the whole world, and this will necessarily affect both the issues to which he speaks and his manner of speaking. God has hired your pastor to care for you and your church with specific, personal care. Despite the impression given by social media and cable news, not every issue is global. Indeed it may be deeply edifying for your pastor to address truly local concerns rather than the latest national headlines.
5. Your Pastor Has Specific and Limited Capacity
Beyond a pastor’s limited call from God, we need to acknowledge his limitations as a human. A pastor can do only so much. He is called to pray, study the Bible, write a sermon, visit the sick, counsel the hurting, evangelize the lost, and lead a church. You will search the Bible in vain to find punditry and hot takes within the list of pastoral responsibilities.
You will search the Bible in vain to find punditry and hot takes within the list of pastoral responsibilities.
Your pastor can certainly spend 10 hours this week keeping up with the latest controversy and crafting the perfect statement that will speak truth in love, preserve the peace of his church, and honor his limited authority from God—but is that really how you (and God) want him spending his finite time and energy? This will be appropriate at times, and some pastors will have unique gifts to do more of this in their ministry. But we can and should be thankful for pastors who take seriously the limitations of their high calling, both on principle and in practice.