Friday, February 01, 2019

Barna Study Regarding Social Issues: "Pastors Intimidated By Congregations"

Print Friendly Version of this pagePrint Get a PDF version of this webpagePDF

A new Barna study released Tuesday finds that American pastors often feel the greatest pressure to either speak out on or avoid talking about so-called divisive cultural issues inside the church.

And the percentage of pastors feeling the squeeze is increasing each year.

Be informed.

The Christian Post says, "In recent years there has been considerable debate over the extent to which clergy can speak about political and social issues, especially on things like the federal Johnson Amendment, which prohibits churches from endorsing political candidates."

While the Johnson Amendment, which President Trump has promised to abolish, does speak to clergy endorsing candidates, it flies in the face of constitutional religious freedom.

What protestant pastors are thinking?

A Barna study released this week finds that it really isn't the Johnson Amendment that has silenced pastors, it's their own congregations.

Barna found that 50% of surveyed pastors felt either "frequently" or "occasionally" limited in their ability to speak out on certain issues, with respondents being more likely to identify those within the church as the reason.

And 64% of pastors said they felt "limited" in their ability to speak out on "moral and social issues" due to those within their congregations, while 69% said they feel "pressured" to speak out on "moral and social issues" when they are "not comfortable discussing them."

This pressure to speak on certain controversial issues has increased among pastors. In 2014, 44% felt pressured, while in 2016, 69% felt pressured.

The report explains:
"These hot button issues run parallel with some of the most significant religious freedom issues of our day, including those related to the LGBT community, same-sex marriage rights, abortion, sexual morality, and politics."

Barna says "the squeeze comes from all sides."

Roxanna Stone, Barna's editor in chief, says, "The pressure for leaders and especially faith leaders to satisfy everyone on all sides, and to avoid offense, is very real today, especially in the digital era."

She says:
"As research reveals, the issues pastors feel most pressured to speak out on are the same ones they feel limited to talk about. In other words, the squeeze comes from all sides: those demanding that the church take a stand and those outraged when it does (or outraged when the stance is other than what they'd hoped)."

Or findings revealed that 53% of clergy feel it's their role to help people understand their responsibility to vote on specific issues, and 21% agreed it is part of their job to help Christians understand why they should vote for or against certain candidates.

The study also found that 90% of pastors say it is a major part of their role to help Christians have biblical beliefs about specific social issues and 72% believe helping Christians think well about the culture, in general, is a major part of their job.

Some personal thoughts.

Having been an ordained minister for the past more than 40 years--- you can imagine this study caught my attention.

I have and do have many friends who are pastors or have been pastors during their lifetime.

Having served in large churches, and on the boards of a couple of national Christian organizations, I've had a lot of contact with them over these years.

If you haven't been a pastor, you can't fully know the uniqueness of the role. I love my pastor friends.

However, I disagree with some of them.

I have seen a growing tendency for pastors to choose silence over speaking out on issues. Usually for two reasons.

First, some pastors I've known (and do know) view the ministry as a "career," I never have. I believe it must be seen as a calling---not a career. And that's more than mere words.

I doubt that the Apostle Paul viewed his ministry as a career, and had he done so, he probably would have felt like it was a failed one. He spent a good deal of time in prison, being misunderstood by his colleagues and mistrusted because of his life and deeds prior to becoming a Christian.

In fact, he often incited riots where he preached. And that was not a result of an intimidated sermon about nothing much.

A career mentality always leads to choosing against taking risks, but honestly, can also provide benefits that provide a good amount of financial security, pleasure, travel, fun, and good retirement benefits.

And social acceptance in the community and culture.

While this view of the ministry does help inform and comfort some, it seldom expands the Lord's work on earth---in my opinion and observation.

Sometimes this view of the ministry maintains what was accomplished by others with a different view of ministry, but usually it fosters decline. This is why certain local churches and denominations are in decline.

Secondly, a "calling" ministry is highly focused on the power of the gospel to change things. The culture and the people within it.

The Pharisees taught the rules of religion---how to have a good day---how to be a good person, etc., but Jesus didn't. He spoke to the eternal issues defining sin and offering it's only redemption---the gift of eternal life which ultimately came through His death and Resurrection.

Peter took an unpopular stand on the Day of Pentecost, standing in the streets of Jerusalem telling the thousands that they had just crucified their long-awaited Messiah---But that He has come back to life to save them from their sin.

That message will not get you elected to high office, nor will it satisfy all the "congregation". But it did add thousands and thousands to the church.

Jesus told us the world will hate us because they first hated Him. Why do we strive to make everybody like us? Is it personal insecurity?

A complacent Christian church may not "hate" the pastor who speaks the Truth to the world and the congregants, but some will feel uncomfortable and object.

Christianity was birthed in conflict.

The early pastors and evangelists---from Peter and the Apostle Paul to Martin Luther to Calvin to Jonathan Edwards to Whitfield to Spurgeon to the Wesley brothers---all felt pressure from within their church and from the culture.

It's time for pastors to break their silence, reject the "pressure" from within and without and preach the gospel, explaining how that gospel changes lives and cultures.

If pastors and Christian preachers do not speak the Truth to the culture, who will? The religious Left, the atheists, the agnostics, world religions, public education, entertainment? They are all filling the Truth vacuum.

Our silence is sin.

And how will we explain that when He asks?

Be Bold. Be Vigilant. Be Fearless. Be Faithful. Be Prayerful.