Episode 14: Church Health & Political Complexity

It’s not news to anyone that the last several years have been incredibly tense and complex when it comes to the political scene in America. No one has felt this tension more than pastors, yet so many have had to forge their own paths forward without much help or support.

In today’s episode, we offer some much-needed encouragement and advice for church leaders as they shepherd their congregations through these tumultuous times.

This episode’s special guests

Today on the podcast, we have the privilege of welcoming Dr. Matt Loverin and pastor Cameron Townley.

We called on Dr. Matt’s expertise again because of his many years serving the church. Matt is a professor at Grace Christian University and a chair on the board of his church.

Pastor Cam is the lead pastor of Rush Creek Bible Church and serves on the board at Grace Christian University.

Today’s topic: church health & political complexity

In this episode, we’ll be talking about how pastors and church leaders can navigate politically tumultuous times.

In the midst of our politically charged culture, church leaders need to know how to speak about it from the pulpit and how to direct our church members to be more sensitive to those around us.

There’s no denying the heavy undertone within the church these days, even when it’s not necessarily spoken from the pulpit. Our churches are having a hard time addressing the current political complexity.

“What trends have we seen in the last five years in terms of how we talk about political topics from the pulpit?”

Things have seemed to be at peak intensity the past few years. Many pastors haven’t known how to handle politically charged topics, and balance that with faithfully preaching the Word of God.

The pulpit is the one place where the whole community is gathered. With that in mind, knowing how to deal with the intensity of the political division is very difficult.

Lost relational capital

Pastor Cam says that a lot of pastor friends of his began to feel like all the relational capital they had built with members of their congregations came crashing down based on their political views. He says, “No matter what you say as a pastor in this season, somebody’s going to disagree with you – maybe even really dislike you or hate you for what you just said.” If you even hint at your political leanings and someone in the congregation disagrees, suddenly the years you’ve spent pouring into them and into the church don’t hold much weight anymore.

How can church leaders get through it? Find unity among your leadership, and then stand up boldly and say what the leadership has decided.

The primary thing to remember is our need, more than ever before, to show grace to one another. Cameron says he often asked his congregation, “How can you be more gracious toward those you disagree with?”

Unity vs. uniformity

Unity is not everyone having the exact same opinion, that’s uniformity. Unity comes during times of great division, when we all cultivate a unified heart for Christ.

Unfortunately, there’s been a lot of church hopping going on during this time. People who liked the way a church did things stayed, and people who didn’t like it left. This naturally created a more homogeneous group than there was before.

Matt says that the thing that they kept coming back to at Grace Bible Fellowship is this question: “What can we do for greater church unity?”

Ultimately, if you have people who are unwilling to be gracious and seek the unity of the church, it’s ok if they go elsewhere.
Dr. Matt: “To an extent, we kind of welcome that process.”

How can board members help their pastor during politically charged times?

We as church leaders are shepherding together. The pastor isn’t alone in this. If you’re an elder, this is your shared responsibility. You want to have elders who are pastors at heart, gifted and called to oversee the spiritual life of the congregation.

That being the case, there needs to be a mutual give-and-take of spiritual encouragement between the pastor and elders. Allow your pastor to minister to you as you minister to him. This co-shepherding model is the key to navigating rough waters as a church.

Christianity ≠ nationalism

It seems that a significant part of the congregation conflates nationalism with Christianity. If that’s true, to what extent does that make it more difficult to shepherd a congregation that might hold those two things in parallel?

Cameron: “In most of evangelicalism in our country, we’ve conflated who we are as Christians with who we are as Americans.”

We need to recognize that we are Christians first and foremost, while still being thankful for the many blessings of being placed in America. We don’t necessarily need to think less of America, but rather, we need to think more highly of Christ. Where in your church life is your devotion to America overshadowing the fact that Jesus is Lord over all nations?

How does a pastor prepare his church to withstand difficult times?

The first step is for the congregants to accept that the people sitting next to them at church might already disagree with them on a lot of issues. This will help people be more careful with their words. The way you say things can sometimes be just as important as what you say, and we’d all be a lot more cautious if we didn’t assume others were already on the same page.

Generational differences

There’s a cultural drift that happens with the younger generations, and we have to be thinking about how to help our kids and their peers want to come to church when they get older.

Different generations have different ideologies, and the older generations tend to conflate conservative political values with Biblical values. However, these are not always the same. In fact, there are real dangers of ideology on the conservative side as well as the liberal side.

Being faithful to Scripture might mean that I take alternative political views that don’t align well with either Republican or Democrat views.

How can pastors love their congregants who think differently from them?

Pastor Cam: “Any time you use an ‘us vs. them’ mentality, you start to see people as problems to be solved rather than people to be loved. Jesus was the perfect personification of truth and grace, which is the essence of what we’re trying to figure out with politics in the church.”

We need to combine the truth of Scripture with the grace we have for those who disagree with us.

How to handle divisiveness in the church

Dr. Matt: “Be able to listen, and, as graciously as possible, allow the divisive person to express themselves fully. Then, communicate as fully as possible that you hear them and you appreciate them sharing with you.”

This gives you credibility as a leader, especially when you do need to come down hard with the truth. It doesn’t mean people won’t still leave your church, but it should help you avoid explosive or toxic situations with members. Be slow to speak and quick to hear (James 1:19).

Be slow to speak

Taking time to formulate a thoughtful and biblical answer to tough questions is counter-cultural. Especially when you’re in church leadership, everyone looks to you to give an immediate response to each new political happening or cultural upset. But your job is to resist this pressure to answer immediately, and instead be slow to speak.

Often, when you give a quick answer off the top of your head, it is not informed by Scripture or by the wisdom of many counselors. Some issues are just too important to give a careless answer to! Take the time to really think these things through and consult the Scriptures for wisdom before giving your answer.

3 things church leaders need to navigate these issues

Church leaders need to get on the same page when it comes to navigating political turmoil and cultural upheaval.

Matt lists 3 things that the church leadership needs in order to do this right:

1. Unity
No matter what the issue is, the need for unity (not necessarily uniformity) among the church leadership is a given.

2. Collaboration and a spirit of grace
These are non-negotiable qualities that the church leadership needs if they’re going to navigate rough waters.

3. To proactively figure out what you believe
In Matt’s case, his elders created statements for these various issues so the whole church knows where they stand.

Conclusion: What does thriving church leadership look like in this political season?

First, thriving looks like allowing individual congregants to sort out non-essential issues in their own conscience. The church leadership doesn’t have to tell everyone what to think about every single small issue.

Second, we need to prioritize faithfulness to Christ and the scriptures as best we can. That’s when we will thrive. Be gracious and don’t cause others to stumble. And lead by example!

Need help?

Grace Gospel Fellowship would love to partner with your church leadership as you grow together. We offer many different resources to help you thrive in your calling to shepherd the church. Reach out to us at info@ggfusa.org to get started!

In this episode:

00:00 – Introduction

01:20 – Today’s guests: Dr. Matt Loverin and Pastor Cameron Townley

2:30 – Today’s topic: church health & political complexity

5:10 – Trends in how we talk about political topics from the pulpit

10:00 – Lost relational capital

12:35 – Unity vs. uniformity

17:55 – How can board members help the pastor during politically charged times?

23:30 – Christianity ≠ nationalism

27:58 – How does a pastor prepare his church to withstand difficult times?

30:26 – Generational differences

35:50 – How can pastors love congregants who think differently from them?

38:29 – How to handle divisiveness in the church

41:35 – Be slow to speak

48:12 – 3 Things church leaders need to navigate these issues

50:39 – Conclusion: what does thriving church leadership look like in this season?

55:40 – Dr. Bryan Walker wraps up the conversation

Resources Mentioned:

We offer many different resources to help you thrive in your calling to shepherd the church. Reach out to us at info@ggfusa.org to get started!

More Resources

Check out these transcribed summaries of each Thriving Church Leadership episode

In Grace Mini-Series: Emphasis in Grace

In this episode we welcome back Pastor John Lowder, the lead pastor of Frontline Bible Church in Byron Center, MI, and the Director of Pastoral Care at the Grace Gospel Fellowship, to help us interview today’s guest, Pastor Dave Cannon. Pastor Dave Cannon has spent...

In Grace Mini-Series: Answers in Grace

In this episode, Brett and Bryan welcome two guests to the podcast: Pastor John Lowder and Pastor Rick Owlsley. Pastor John is the lead pastor of Frontline Bible Church in Byron Center, MI, and the Director of Pastoral Care at the Grace Gospel Fellowship. Pastor John...