How and When to Preach on Current Controversies — and When Not To (Part 3 of 3)

Pastor, I’m convinced we should be teaching on current social controversies. I’ve been saying so already in two previous articles. I don’t want you to think, though, that this means you have to teach it all the time. Nothing of the sort, actually; instead I’m saying you should teach it when it fits. Even that would be more than many pastors have been accustomed to doing.

So I’m closing this brief series with ideas on how you can fit it naturally into your current preaching or teaching calendar. But first this:

How To Find Teaching Resources

Before you being thinking about when to teach, you probably want to know how you’re going to do your study. Here are six great sources:

  1. The Stream. I’m a senior editor at The Stream. I genuinely believe it’s the premier site for a Christian view on current cultural issues including apologetics, ethics, economics, and politics.
  2. Breakpoint. Founded by Chuck Colson, now led by my friend John Stonestreet, Breakpoint is a premier Christian worldview center, marked by clear biblical thinking on crucial issues.
  3. Stand to Reason. Greg Koukl has been doing radio broadcasts on Christian worldview and ethics for decades now. He and his team are superb thinkers on both apologetics and ethical issues of the day. Their real strength is in making the answers understandable to everyone.
  4. Ravi Zacharias Ministry. Ravi is legendary among Christian thinkers, displaying grace, wisdom, and knowledge, while remaining thoroughly biblical. He and his team do the same in their web articles and their videos.
  5. Cold-Case Christianity. J. Warner Wallace is a retired cold-case homicide detective, and one of the best writers on apologetics today. He focuses mostly on apologetics, somewhat on ethics, less on politics and economics.
  6. I’ve also covered many of these issues on my recently-retired blog, Thinking Christian.

When Not to Teach on Current Cultural Issues

When should you not teach on cultural issues? That answer is straightforward. If you’re teaching the Bible, teach the Bible!

Your church needs to know God’s word. Don’t think for a moment I’m asking you to alter that plan in any way.

Yet still, I really have been saying you must teach on current social controversies. Is that realistic? How do you fit it into your teaching calendar? It’s not that hard, actually…

When to Preach on Current Social Issues

When It Fits in Naturally

Say you’re teaching on the latter half of Romans 1. It’s got obvious implications for questions on homosexuality. Take the opportunity! Dig out the important issues— especially the challenges being raised by activists and skeptics today — and teach the answers.

Suppose you’re in Philemon. You’ll run into the slavery issue — which is surprisingly hot among atheists these days.

In fact these two topics have a connection. Atheists  love to say, “The Bible supports slavery, so how can you believe what it says about homosexuality?” or, “Someday you’ll be just as embarrassed you opposed gay marriage as you are that southern slave owners used the Bible to justify slavery.” That’s your chance to answer that one, too.

And what if no one in your church has run into those questions? I predict they will, for one thing, and you’re doing good ministry by preparing them with good biblical answers. Even if that never happened, though, you’re still doing good ministry by helping them think about biblical topics in new ways.

A Great Example, and a Source

Timothy Keller, until recently the pastor at Redeemer Presbyterian in Manhattan, was an absolute master of this. He’d be teaching a passage, and then he’d say something like, “Now, here’s where New Yorkers can have a problem with this.” He was in touch with both his flock and his mission field, so he knew.

The problem could be, “How could that possibly be true, given all that I’ve heard before?” It could be, “How could I possibly live that out?” “How can I explain it to my friends?” or any number of questions.

The point is, the passage you’re teaching on next Sunday is bound to raise questions. Search them out. Answer them!

Need a source for these questions? Atheists actually store up challenges on the web for use against Christianity.  Do a keyword search on atheist sites like Rational Wiki or the American Humanist Association, or multi-view sites like Patheos. Then look up answers on the Christian sites listed above. (You can also get some good current questions from those sites.)

When You’re Teaching Youth

Young people have more questions than adults. And why not? They run into more anti-Christian messaging. So if you’re a youth pastor or teacher, you’ve got to pay special attention to this. Ground them in the word. Teach doctrine — my son was in a class on Grudem’s Systematic Theology when he was a teenager, and he loved it.

Make sure they’re solid in the basics, but not only on a basic level. Address their hard questions, too. Do it openly, authentically, and often.

When You’re Supporting Other Teachers in Your Church

Someone in your church is probably really involved in current events. With any luck, that person is also a trusted teacher. Let them teach! Give them freedom to start a Sunday morning class or a weeknight small group. Realize, though, they’re going to need your endorsement from the pulpit. If you never take notice of their work, it’ll soon appear to be a sideshow, a geeky group, or something the church merely tolerates.

They can — and should — go deeper into tough social issues than you’re likely to do from the pulpit. But you don’t want to create the impression that what they’re learning isn’t real Christian discipleship. I’ve made the case in this series that it is. You need to support them in it.

When Your Church Needs It Now

This is infrequent but it happens. It’s the one, rare time I’d suggest you interrupt your major teaching schedule.

Sometimes your church members need a Christian perspective on current events right now. I’m talking about unusual circumstances. It could be hotter-than-usual racial conflict, the threat of war, a stock market crash. Today as I write, this, it could be the current nationwide upsurge of debate on abortion.

How do you know your church needs it now? By listening. Ask church members what they think about what’s going on in the world. Do they have an answer, or do they ask you to explain for them? Do they seem confused? Are their answers more influenced by the world than the Bible? If so, they’re letting you know they need your teaching.

When the issue is hot, chances are they need your help sooner, not later. They’re having those conversations this week, after all.

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