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How Pastors Can Apply the Brown M&M Test

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The Story: Half of Christian pastors feel occasionally or frequently limited in their ability to speak, given concerns they will offend people, according to survey conducted earlier this year. Here’s why addressing controversial issues can be an important way of uncovering disobedience to Christ.

The Background: As Christianity Today‘s Griffin Paul Jackson notes, many pastors say they are “subject to scrutiny from outside their congregations as well as within them.” “The stakes are high in the public square,” the researchers wrote. “The issues pastors feel most pressured to speak out on are the same ones they feel limited to speak on,” with LGBT issues and same-sex marriage at the top.

Almost half (44 percent) of Christian clergy say they feel limited in their ability to speak about homosexuality by people within their own churches. At the same time, more than a third (37 percent) say they feel pressured by their congregations to speak on the matter. Most pastors (64 percent) also worry more about how their own congregants will respond than they are about the outside world.

What It Means: You’ve probably heard the decades-old tale about how the rock band Van Halen included a provision in their backstage concert rider (i.e., an addendum to a contract that contains additional obligations) that stipulated that brown M&M’s were to be banished from the band’s dressing room.

For years I assumed this was another arbitrary and outlandish demand by spoiled rock stars. But the provision served a practical purpose: to provide an easy way of determining whether the technical specifications of the contract had been thoroughly read and complied with.

As Van Halen lead singer David Lee Roth explained in his autobiography:

Van Halen was the first band to take huge productions into tertiary, third-level markets. We’d pull up with nine eighteen-wheeler trucks, full of gear, where the standard was three trucks, max. And there were many, many technical errors—whether it was the girders couldn’t support the weight, or the flooring would sink in, or the doors weren’t big enough to move the gear through.

The contract rider read like a version of the Chinese Yellow Pages because there was so much equipment, and so many human beings to make it function. So just as a little test, in the technical aspect of the rider, it would say “Article 148: There will be fifteen amperage voltage sockets at twenty-foot spaces, evenly, providing nineteen amperes . . . ” This kind of thing. And article number 126, in the middle of nowhere, was: “There will be no brown M&M’s in the backstage area, upon pain of forfeiture of the show, with full compensation.”

So, when I would walk backstage, if I saw a brown M&M in that bowl . . . well, line-check the entire production. Guaranteed you’re going to arrive at a technical error. They didn’t read the contract. Guaranteed you’d run into a problem. Sometimes it would threaten to just destroy the whole show. Something like, literally, life-threatening.

Roth’s “Brown M&M Test” provided a simple but effective early warning system to warn the band of impending danger. Pastors can apply a similar test by preaching about controversial social issues, especially homosexuality, or by having a type of “brown M&M” clause within our church membership documents.

LGBT issues and same-sex marriage are not the most pressing issues in America, much less in our churches. But the pressure to uncritically accept homosexuality and the increased acceptance by Christians provides us with our own need for a Brown M&M Test. By speaking out about an issue Scripture has clearly addressed we can gain insight about our people from their reaction.

When we receive backlash for teaching what the Bible says about sexual ethics, it’s a clear indication that we should be looking for a broader failure of discipleship. The people in the pews who condone or endorse homosexuality and transgenderism are almost assured to have a lower view of Scripture, a reluctance to submit to biblical authorities, a degraded perspective on sexual ethics, and a general unwillingness to obey Christ in all areas of their life.

When using this test we should be aware that it is unidirectional. While embracing the LGBT agenda is a danger sign, the rejection of such homosexual issues is not in itself a sign of a healthy church. In some congregations it may also be necessary to use another issue, such as racial superiority, as the litmus test.

Overall, though, having such a test can be a useful and indirect method for exposing the true idols of the heart.

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