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Politics from the Pulpit: How to Preach Through An Election Season

The thought of preaching through an election season is enough to make most pastors break out into a cold sweat. 

In our culture, belief in God and the centrality of God has declined, and with that, people inevitably look for replacement gods and idolatry. It seems as if politics is increasingly filling that gap. The political temperature is hotter than it has ever been. Instead of breathing between election seasons, it feels as if we are always in one.

Well, there is good news and bad news.

First, the good news. 

The scenario you find yourself in is not unique. Jesus found Himself in similar scenarios where opposing forces were trying to find the truth. When He encountered the woman in adultery, He said, whoever is without sin cast the first stone. Jesus preached grace and truth, go and sin no more. He found himself in these opposed scenarios and threaded the needle perfectly.

Now, the bad news. 

Jesus is God, and we are not (that’s still good news). The art of preaching through an election season full of adversity, disagreement, and disharmony will require a lot of preparation (that’s the bad news, but depending on how you look at it, it might not be all that bad).

Be Proactive Instead of Reactive

There are things we need to think through in advance to be able to pastor through an election season. As pastors, we are not political pundits but shepherds. We are shepherding our flock to be a different type of people as the church and as followers of Jesus.

You can make a point, or you can make a difference.

Andy Stanley

If the election is in November, we need to be talking about it in January or February. Otherwise, we will find ourselves responding to the cultural energy. Before anyone really thinks about it, talk about how you will approach the election as a church.

If you wait until all of the angry ads and social media posts are out, then it looks like you are just another person getting caught in the waves, and your voice will be drowned out by louder voices people hear seven days a week, not just on Sundays.

Politics and Partisanship

Partisanship has become idolatrous. Make no mistake, Jesus was political, saying things like,  “the kingdom of God is at hand.” The kingdom was political. That’s what got him killed. The Jews incited Romans, which led to His crucifixion. Jesus was political, but he wasn’t partisan. 

We can become as idolatrous as the world around us and need to avoid getting caught up in the fervor. This fervor comes from people with no hope outside of the world; they don’t have God or the kingdom of God or Christ. Of course, they will place their hope in the world right now. That is all they can do. If we mimic that, we are saying that we don’t really have a better story with a better ending.

Don’t Be an Echo Chamber

When preaching through an election season, be careful your church doesn’t become an echo chamber. If you lead a church where the majority leans to one side, it would be easy to make many digs against the other side that most people would love.

But what if they are inviting their friends to church?

Think of the atheist that is politically liberal that finally comes to church for the first time and hears the pastor making digs against their views. That atheist is never coming back, and a chance to show them the hope of Christ is lost.

Remember the Mission

Our mission isn’t a political victory for whichever side we like. Our mission is the kingdom of God coming into people’s lives. A watching world is trying to discern if we really have a better story. When we get caught up in political rants, they quickly get disinterested because they see we have nothing different to offer.

The end goal is not how you persuade people to vote in an election. The goal is for as many as possible to know and fall in love with Jesus.

It’s hard for Christians because we believe our faith shapes how we vote. We want all of this to lead our nation and us to be more like Christ. But the anger and angst don’t feel like Jesus.

Preparing to Lead Through An Election Season

When preparing election season sermons, remember you aren’t just preaching to the people who are there now; you are preaching to those that aren’t there yet. Everyone is considering if it is safe to offer an invitation to a church service. If your church is geared too much toward insiders, your congregation is less likely to invite a neighbor or friend who’s just exploring who Jesus is and if the church is a safe place for them.

In your church, there are probably some very political people, but also many who don’t follow politics and don’t care. We can become so convinced that the way we see it is the way everyone sees it. We are highly invested in the election’s outcome, so everyone else must be too. But the truth is that not everyone cares on the same level, and some don’t care at all. If you try to act like everyone else, you will come off like a political hack instead of a leader or shepherd of the entire church family.

The Responsibility of a Pastor Leading Up to An Election

As written in Colossians 1:28-29, the role of the pastor is to proclaim Jesus, warning and teaching, with wisdom so that you can present people mature in Christ. The goal is not to get your congregation to vote a certain way but to help them become mature followers of Christ.

What does it mean for a follower to be mature? The definition in scripture is love, loving our neighbor as ourselves, as seen in the Greatest CommandmentColossians 3:14 and 1 Timothy 1.

We see Christians tearing each other apart over politics; why? Our allegiance is to Jesus; that’s the team we’re on. 

How can we help the church community to love one another through an election season and show the world around us and the next generation what we really care about is not politics but loving one another? By continually reminding our congregation our allegiance is to Jesus.

How will we love each other, stay unified, and avoid sword thrusts of mean words? As instructed in Phillippians, we aren’t trying to make everyone think the same thing but have the same mindset of Christ, which doesn’t think about itself; it thinks about humbling itself for the good of the people.

People remember what you as the pastor get excited about and what you repeat over and over. If you preach partisan jabs over and over, that is what they will remember. If you preach over and over that we are on the same team, it may not be as pervasive as you would like, but it does have an impact.

Five Markers of Love

When preaching through an election season, pointing your church toward these five markers of love can help to reorient their mindset, focusing on how to love each other even when we disagree.

  1. We will put people ahead of partisanship. Love realizes that relationships are more important than being right.
  2. We are marked by composure, curiosity, and passion. In a world that falls short in those traits, as Christians, we live by James 1:19 -20, quick to listen and slow to speak and become angry.
  3. We will recognize that voting decisions are complicated. Everyone has different life experiences that color and inform their opinions. We must approach our opinions understanding that people who disagree with us may have genuine and valid reasons to do so.
  4. We all have our single issues (abortion, immigration, healthcare, education, etc.). If that is all we focus on, it seems simple, but other people have their own single issues based on their own experiences, and that complicates it. Or, they don’t have a single issue, but are influenced by a myriad of concerns.
  5. We need to assume that there are Christians we want to love and non-Christians we want to reach that could be hurt by us. There are people we want to love well and show that our biggest allegiance is to the kingdom of God.

Prioritize Our Influence Over Our Opinions

You can air your opinion, or you can have influence over somebody’s life. You can make a point or make a difference. You may find that you’re doing a good job of making a point only to realize that it isn’t making much of a difference.

Christians miscalculate the value of this dichotomy, and so many of us have lost relational influence because of how we have aired our opinions. People who may have approached us because they are having a hard time in their marriage or a loved one is ill aren’t because we’ve already alienated them by how we have articulated our opinions.

We need to see politics as a potential false god and resist that with everything we have.

The reality is partisanship has replaced worship of the Lord, and it can do that even in the heart of God’s people.

Call to action

At a very specific level, the call to action we should give our congregations is to pause. Everything about the election season is quick, big, loud, and fast and doesn’t serve anyone. Jesus said, out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks. Today He might say, out of the overflow of the heart, the fingers type, and the thumbs tweet.

Reframing How We See Ourselves

Ask your church, at a vision level, how do you see yourself? More specifically, what animal do you see yourself as? 

If they are a strong Republican, they may see themselves as an elephant, and anyone who looks at them will say, “I see that elephant,” “I see a Republican,” and that’s who they are. 

Maybe as a die-hard Democrat, they see themselves as a donkey.

Or, maybe they see an ostrich with its head buried in the sand. It’s the best way they know to stay out of the fray and insanity. But if this is important to your neighbors, one way to love them is to get your head out of the sand and engage a bit. 

Then there is the giraffe, and their head is above it all. The giraffe is similar to the ostrich but with more arrogance. The giraffe says, “I’ve been like you, but now I’m above it all.”

As Christians, we should be pushing for the biblical image of the lamb. Jesus was the Lamb of God that took away the sins of the world. The lamb sacrifices its desires for the sake of others. Before its shearers, the lamb was silent and didn’t open its mouth. As lambs, we sacrifice making our political preferences known because what we want to be known for is not our connection to a political party but our connection to Jesus. 

Seeing ourselves as lambs will have the most influence and make the most significant difference. Not just for the next few years or this election cycle, but for eternity. 

Cast a vision for the idea of being a lamb, and then pray like crazy that your church would put aside this idolatry and cling to Christ.

Pastors Aren’t Superman 

As a pastor who wants to thrive in ministry, it is critical to have people around you willing to tell you the truth when something you said is out of line or divisive or when you are trying to carry more than you were meant to.

Realize you can’t expect yourself to be superman.

The pressure on pastors is always to try to know everything, do everything, and be everywhere.

Zach Eswine, The Imperfect Pastor

Knowing everything is being omniscient.

Doing everything is being omnipotent.

Being everywhere is being omnipresent.

Only God is that. The problem is not that we aren’t those things. The problem is that we try to be. It’s not that we aren’t superman; it’s that we try to be superman. 

Permit yourself to recognize that you aren’t perfect, you aren’t superman, and you need supportive help with rules and boundaries in place. If we aren’t careful, our hearts will get swept up in all the blaze of cultural idolatry. We have to try and fight it.

This matters because it impacts God’s people, and God’s people and people matter to God. 

Steward of the gospel message with intentionality, communicating truth through love with grace while still calling sin, sin. Remember that there is a lot of complexity in our opinions and decisions. Our unique pasts, relationships, and life encounters all contribute to where we are at and what we are doing.

Preaching through an election season is not easy. If you have additional questions, please email us at [email protected].

Sermon Series that Touch On Politics, Culture, and Elections

If you want to be intentional about getting out ahead of an election season, we have several sermon series that provide direction and insights into the process.

Church & Culture

Church Culture

As God’s people, we are an integral part of this world. Instead of being scared of culture, we should seek to understand and communicate it through the lens of our Christian worldview.

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The Church And Politics

The Church and Politics Sermon Series Graphic

This four-week series explores the church’s relationship with politics. It begins by distinguishing between Jesus’s kingdom and the kingdoms of this world. While we should not be politically disengaged, we should also avoid centering our lives on the pursuit of power and influence. Jesus’s words help guide our political participation by kingdom ideals instead of party platforms, since God’s kingdom supersedes every political party. The Bible guides us in how to live out our faith in the public square, even with people we disagree with politically—including our government leaders and other brothers and sisters in Christ.

View This Sermon Series

The Liturgy of Politics

The Liturgy of Politics Sermon Series Graphic

This four-week series, based on The Liturgy of Politics by Kaitlyn Schiess, explores the way Christian worship shapes the holistic lives of the people of God. While we are all shaped by the political forces in our lives, we are also powerfully shaped by the habits and practices of the church. The church has powerful resources—corporate worship, Scripture, personal spiritual disciplines, and historic practices—for addressing the power of political idolatry. The way forward may not require an entirely new strategy but a return to the historic practices of the global church.

Based on Liturgy of Politics by Kaitlyn Schiess. Copyright (c) 2020 by Kaitlyn Schiess. Used by permission of InterVarsity Press. Cover artwork is limited to use with the sermon series The Liturgy of Politics and may not be edited without the expressed written permission of InterVarsity Press. (https://www.ivpress.com/the-liturgy-of-politics).

View This Sermon Series

Idols: Identifying Idols

Idols: Identifying Idols Sermon Series Graphic

This four-week series investigates our potential, still today in the twenty-first century, to commit idolatry. Idols are not just statues but are strongholds in our lives that are pulling us away from God.

View This Sermon Series

Culture Wars

Culture Wars Church and Politics Sermon Series Graphic

This four-week series explores the church’s relationship with politics. It begins by distinguishing between Jesus’s kingdom and the kingdoms of this world. While we should not be politically disengaged, we should also avoid centering our lives on the pursuit of power and influence. Jesus’s words help guide our political participation by kingdom ideals instead of party platforms, since God’s kingdom supersedes every political party. The Bible guides us in how to live out our faith in the public square, even with people we disagree with politically—including our government leaders and other brothers and sisters in Christ.

View This Sermon Series

The Red and the Blue

Product Spotlight: The Red And The Blue

Politics divide like no other. This 3-week series wrestles with what it means to be politically active, and yet still charitable toward those who disagree with us. With Christ as our ultimate authority, we will have the desire to do what is right and live peacefully among our brothers and sisters. Instead of being a slave to politics, we should live as servants to the one true King.

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Preaching Through Podcast: Preaching Through An Election Season

In this episode of Preaching Through, Luke Simmons and Dave Shrein discuss how to preach through an election season. 

You want your church to remember that we are all on the same team, and that is the team of JESUS! 

So, where do you start? 

How early is too early to start talking about it?

Is it okay to just ignore it and not talk about it at all?

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