Many who are in vocational ministry are beginning to accept the uneasy reality that for the remainder of their career they will have to deal with an increasing divide over an array of social, political and theological issues. Though there are always two extremes that demand the spotlight, the truth is there is an entire spectrum of positions and most of these issues are much more nuanced than they appear. Yet, the vocational minister of today and tomorrow will have to learn to navigate these differences.
What To Expect
Another concerning reality is that there will be increasingly new, varied, and unanticipated social, political and theological issues that surface. And, in many denominations these will become the new “litmus tests” for conservativism both politically and religiously.
Because of the nature of the media today you can expect that the church members will be more informed on these differences and disagreements than ever before. Being more informed though will not necessarily mean well informed. Again, due to the nature of the media and the religious culture, most members will only be well informed on one side of the argument. Pastors in particular will have to determine if it is their responsibility to inform their congregations on the various positions or just speak to one side of the issue. Regardless, pastors can increasingly expect that the church membership will demand that church leadership articulate a position. This will require pastors and lay leaders to maybe for the first time determine who is responsible for making those decisions and if it isn’t an individual then what is the process that will be followed. And, just as important, how will these positions be communicated.
Because of these realities it will be important that clergy are well read and informed on each issue, preferably from a variety of perspectives. And, it will mean this will most likely have to be increasingly factored into conversations and meetings with church staff and lay leaders.
Further, it means that it will be unrealistic to expect that everyone will see eye to eye with the pastor or church leadership on each issue. Subsequently, it will be important for churches to learn how to manage these differences or the church will implode. The options for approaching these differences are becoming clearer as more and more churches and denominations encounter differences of opinion on social, political and theological issues. Let’s look at seven approaches that I see emerging.
Seven Approaches For Addressing Social, Political and Theological Differences
- Redirect/Refocus – Try to stop discussing and focusing on the issue and redirect and refocus attention on the mission of the church. This has been a preferred approach by several mainline denominations with varying degrees of success.
- Study It – Kick the can down the road and delegate responsibility for a decision by appointing a committee to study it and come back with a recommendation to be voted on. Another popular approach used by denominations that can work in the local church as well.
- Go Along, Get Along – Follow the predominate beliefs of the denomination, the church, the pastor or the congregation for the sake of unity or at least harmony. Don’t say anything else-it’s not a hill to die on, or it’s not that important in the grand scheme of things, and/or accept that you’re not going to change others opinions and any further challenges will only produce negative feelings and actions.
- Compromise/Middle Ground/Third Alternative – These types of responses aren’t always possible, especially with theological differences, but third alternative solutions often lead to a more creative and agreeable solution.
- Agree to Disagree – Realize there will never be total agreement around the issue, but again for the sake of harmony, for the sake of personal relationships, and for the sake of the gospel we will agree to disagree and not break fellowship over it.
- Win/Lose – One side wins or backs down leaving hurt feelings and feelings of disenfranchisement.
- Leave – A last resort option that only occurs after praying, studying, sitting with and discussing the issue thoroughly in a variety of forums. Some underlying feelings that might lead you to this decision: You can’t sleep at night/it feels dishonest/it violates a core belief or doctrine/it feels unethical/it is causing discord.
These approaches also apply if there are philosophical or methodological differences, which are also on the rise. So, if you find your convictions are misaligned with those you lead or with those who you follow, then maybe you will find clarity through one of these approaches. And, hopefully, additional and more effective approaches will emerge as we strive to navigate “in love” the issues that divide us.
Posted on November 2, 2021