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How to Preach on Controversial Topics

Many pastors and leaders avoid preaching on controversial topics like politics, church giving, culture and even certain doctrinal issues. It’s not difficult to understand why. The world, and even our churches, have become more polarized in recent decades and social media has turned civil debates into downright heated arguments.

These days everyone feels like they have an opinion that must be shared… even the news. 

So how do pastors preach through these landmines without dividing the church and instead build unity, maturity, and a deeper understanding of Jesus?

Here are seven key things we believe pastors should consider as they prepare to preach on controversial topics.

1. Be honest about your own bias and look through other lenses

We all have our own bias’ based on where we grew up, how we were raised, our own experiences in life, and so much more. This goes with politics, denominational issues, Biblical issues, etc. 

Great leaders do the hard work of stepping outside of themselves to understand the lens in which they view the world. 

When preaching on controversial issues it’s important to understand there may be many different worldviews held in your congregation. In order to impact everyone in your church you must work to overcome your own bias and speak to differing points of view.  It’s also important to recognize, in some issues, other points of view are not necessarily wrong (of course, there are lines in the sand in some Biblical instances).

It’s important to research all sides of the issue and be as informed as possible. That means you may need more prep time for this type of sermon than other sermons. You may want to interview others with differing points of view, read articles, gather information from sources you may not agree with, etc. 

Another great tip is to look outside of Christian scholars and use secular resources and experts. Remember, all truth belongs to God

2. Do not draw lines where the Bible does not draw lines

There are first-tier issues in Scripture and there are second and third-tier issues in Scripture. 

When preaching on controversial issues, we must be honest about where the Bible draws lines and where it does not.

We may have strong opinions about particular issues, but we must not make everything a salvific issue. There are particular things the Bible does not draw dogmatic conclusions on and there are things the Bible does not address at all. 

When preaching controversial issues, it’s important to remain true to our convictions while being honest about where the Bible draws the line. 

If we are dogmatic where the Bible is not, we run the risk of replacing grace by inscribing laws. 

3. Ask questions instead of making statements

“Could it be…?” Or “Perhaps…?” may be some of the most helpful phrases you can use when presenting controversial topics or ideas. 

When we ask questions, we soften the blow a little, allow people to lower their defenses, and possibly consider what we have to say. When we make shocking or hard-hitting statements, it’s human nature for us to put up our guard and defend our position.

If you phrase new or controversial thoughts as questions people may be more apt to consider things they had not been open to before:

“Could it be that Jesus meant __________ when he said __________?”

“Is it possible that Paul is calling us to _____________ in this passage?”

“Could it be that our opinions about ______________ have more to do with us than it does with Jesus?”

4. Present other viewpoints 

It’s important for leaders to present and address other points of view on issues. It’s also important, in many cases, to validate other arguments when necessary. 

In most cases, there are legitimate, biblical arguments on both sides. Allowing people to make informed decisions means presenting all the facts, information, and biblical arguments.

This also means presenting the holes not just on the opposing side, but on your side as well. 

When we’re open and honest about our position we build trust with people and are seen as an authority on the issue.

5. Before you preach, share your notes with others

Before you preach on a controversial issue, make sure you seek wisdom and counsel from others. It’s especially important to have discussions on the topic and get input from people who may disagree with your position. The point of this isn’t to convince them you’re right but rather get their perspective on what you say and how you deliver on the issue you are communicating. Do you come across humble, loving and kind, or dogmatic, arrogant, or rude?

At the Ministry Pass Network we are firm believers in preparing sermons with teams and even more so when preparing sermons on controversial cultural and Scriptural issues. 

6. Remain humble, respectful, and loving

If you decide to let your opinion be known (you don’t always have to), then this point is especially important. You may want to admit that your conclusion is not the ONLY biblical conclusion and there are very smart, committed Christians who may disagree with you (especially on non-first tier Biblical issues).

It’s important, as the leader, to give people permission to disagree with you. As parents we understand that truth must permeate our hearts. If we choose to believe something because someone told us to, then we are not truly committed to that truth. 

We must challenge our church to discover the truth in their hearts and come to the conclusion the Holy Spirit leads them to.

7. Maintain a Christ-centered, not issue-centered approach

Our sermons should always lead people back to Jesus, not the issue. 

Most likely there will be people in your church on several sides of any single issue. When preaching on a specific topic, we want to make sure we are staying grounded in what Christ has said and modeled and not on the issue. How would Jesus have responded to the specific issue? Does he specifically address the issue? How can the church’s response to the issue make her look more like Christ?

This can be difficult in many ways. 

  1. It may challenge your own beliefs or opinions on the issue. It’s important we as pastors wrestle with that before hand and take an honest assessment of our own bias to be sure they align with Christ. Repentance may be needed. This takes much prayer and humility.

  2. It may challenge the majority, if not all, of the opinions in your church. It’s important to approach the topic with humility and grace. No one wants to hear they are wrong. Staying humble and open about your own discrepancies in your past opinions may tear down some of the walls people may have.

Conclusion

We’ve preached through our share of controversial issues so we certainly empathize with you. You know it’s not going to be easy, but you also know you must be faithful to Scripture, your calling, and your church.

At Ministry Pass we’ve created a few Sermon Series to specifically help pastors preach through these controversial subjects like giving, culture, and politics. 

Take a look at some of them below and see if our sermon guides, media, and small group resources can assist you as you prepare.