No matter where you pastor, you will have to navigate through difficult issues. A smaller church or a rural church can sometimes be more difficult because the difficult issues are much more entrenched in the church culture. If a pastor is going to navigate the issues and steer the church toward positive Gospel-centered change it is important that he learn to use the pulpit to honestly deal with issues that need to be dealt with.
I believe that there is no better way to lead a church toward positive change than by faithfully preaching the gospel. Sure, planning is important. Outreach is important. Ministries are important. But, without a doubt, the most important thing that a pastor has to lead a church toward change is the gospel. Learning how to deal with church issues with your preaching ministry is one of the most important things that you can do and I want to give you five ways that you can develop this.
1. Love your people.
I truly believe that being a good pastor helps you with being a good preacher. This is not to say that there are not good communicators of the gospel that are not pastors but I do not believe that many good preachers are leading a church toward lasting change without being a good pastor. The more you know, love, and shepherd your people, the greater chance you have in leading your church through your preaching.
Additionally, the better you know your church the better you will be able to deal with specific issues in your preaching. When people know you love them, they are better able to listen to what you are saying in the pulpit.
2. Trust the Word.
I believe that systematically preaching through books of the Bible is most conducive for church change. This is not to say that everyone has to do this. However, it has been my experience that preaching through entire books of the Bible has forced me to preach through specific issues that I would have not otherwise. For example, I have dealt with racism, divorce, paying a pastor well, greed, and wayward members all because the topics were dealt with in the next text. Trust the word.
3. Let the text speak for itself.
Whatever text you are preaching, allow it to say what needs to be said. While you need to articulate things well, it is important that we let the word do the heavy-hitting. You do your part but allow the text to speak for itself on specific issues.
4. Make it personal but don’t make it personal.
When you let the word speak for itself you will often have the opportunity to speak about specific issues that are going on in the church that everyone knows about. This can be a bit awkward. For example, the text might be speaking on unity and everyone in the church knows that there is a situation that is causing disunity in the church. Make the text personal but don’t make it personal! You do not have to call them out by name; instead, trust that the Spirit will deal
5. Be patient.
Often, we want to deal with every issue that pops up in our church. While some of these issues should be addressed and addressed quickly, we must understand that certain issues must be dealt with patiently. You cannot deal with everything. You will have to deal with some things but be patient in figuring out when to speak out on an issue.
6. Be wise.
Do not use your preaching as a way to be a bully. You are the pastor and shepherd. Don’t use your preaching as a way to “silence” your critics in the church. This will backfire and, to be honest, is a poor way of trying to shepherd your people. Be wise.
7. Be clear.
Say what you mean and mean what you say. If you are having to deal with specific issues through your preaching, you need to make sure that you deal with it in a clear manner. People do not have a chance to ask questions in your sermon (most don’t anyway) so they will not get the chance to get you to clear up what you say. So it is crucial that you make it clear the first time.
As a pastor, you need to be honest about what is going on in your church. Honestly dealing with issues in the church is one of the best tools that we have and, I truly believe, honestly dealing with them through your preaching is one of the best ways to see lasting change.
Adam, a second-generation pastor, is the pastor of First Baptist Church, Leakesville, MS. He is a doctoral candidate at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary writing his dissertation on a biblical assessment of patriotism. He can follow him on twitter, @pastor_adam.