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Don’t Be a Preacher Running a 1994 Play in a 2024 World…

January 22, 2024

Dear Renew.org Network,

The subtitle of this post could be: Don’t require teenagers in your church to have more courage than their preacher . . . .

Josh Howerton is the young lead pastor of Lakepointe Church, a multisite (and multilingual) church with 6 campuses in Dallas, TX. He published a post on X several weeks ago that I cannot personally get out of my mind, and I think it will be helpful for those who follow RENEW.org.

Before I share the content of his post (which I am reproducing below with his permission), I want to draw everyone’s attention to an important framework that may reveal that a preacher is stuck in a 1994 world when we must guide people in the way of Jesus in 2024 ….

Since the 90’s, many preachers have strategically avoided publicly teaching culturally controversial issues, saying things like . . .

  • “We draw circles, not lines.”
  • “We wanna be known for what we’re FOR, not what we’re against.”
  • “We handle those issues privately in groups, not publicly in services.”
  • “We don’t take positions, we have conversations.”

These lines can sound right . . . but they are no longer helpful guides.


“Don’t require teenagers in your church to have more courage than their preacher.”


Aaron Renn articulated a framework in First Things two years ago that has impacted both Josh and myself. Renn described the three phases of secularism at work in our North American culture:

  • Positive World (Pre-1994): “Society at large retains a mostly positive view of Christianity. To be known as a good, churchgoing man remains part of being an upstanding citizen. Publicly being a Christian is a status-enhancer. Christian moral norms are the basic moral norms of society and violating them can bring negative consequences.”
  • Neutral World (1994–2014): “Society takes a neutral stance toward Christianity. Christianity no longer has privileged status but is not disfavored. Being publicly known as a Christian has neither a positive nor a negative impact on one’s social status. Christianity is a valid option within a pluralistic public square. Christian moral norms retain some residual effect.”
  • Negative World (2014–Present): “Society has come to have a negative view of Christianity. Being known as a Christian is a social negative, particularly in the elite domains of ­society. Christian morality is expressly repudiated and seen as a threat to the public good and the new public moral order. Subscribing to Christian moral views or violating the secular moral order brings negative consequences.”

Both Josh and I agree with Renn’s cultural analysis, and we commend it to you. Change has caught too many preachers and church leaders unaware, confused, and unprepared to properly lead in our current “Negative World” (2014-Present).


“Change has caught too many preachers and church leaders unaware, confused, and unprepared to properly lead in our current ‘Negative World.'”


Josh wanted to publicly note—and I do too—that we feel empathy and have grace for ministers/pastors wrestling with this stuff. The 1994-2014 framework was often our default-mode (in certain ways) until a few years ago, and what Josh and I express below follows out of critical self-examination.

This cultural moment is difficult. But as Josh pointed out, if a Christian gets discipled by our culture, then that person’s emotions calibrate to the culture’s ethics. Then, only moral actions and statements that align with the world’s ideologies feel right. In that mode, biblical teachings on hell, sexual immorality, etc. don’t sound right. They seem unloving; they don’t feel like “the Way of Jesus.”

It is easy to absorb our beliefs about what is true and right from cultural signposts—movies, songs, feel-good stories, etc.—that come from the dominant culture around us. In a culture that is increasingly negative toward many Christian convictions, preachers and leaders in 2024 must be diligent to disciple the minds of the people that God has entrusted to their care. Let’s train people with clear, biblical thinking so they can think, feel, and act in the way of Jesus. In short, we must disciple them into counter-cultural thinking and living, with an emphasis on Jesus-style love.


“Let’s train people with clear, biblical thinking so they can think, feel, and act in the way of Jesus.”


Because I found his post so helpful, with his permission, I have included Josh’s original post in full.

8 Results When Pastors Avoid Controversial Topics in the Pulpit…

By Josh Howerton

When pastors avoid controversial topics in the pulpit…

1. The sheep are left to the wolves.

Satan is “the father of lies”, so the primary way his wolves devour the sheep is through false ideas. Our people are being indoctrinated with lies 24/7 via the media, social media, higher education, entertainment, etc. If the church won’t disciple people, the world will.

2. You are accidentally facilitating a future church split.

One pastor of a large church told me recently after avoiding teaching on sexuality for many years that he feared 30% of his staff was not aligned and that teaching on it could produce a staff exodus. Clarity produces unity. And over time, churches do not move at the speed of talent or execution, they move at the speed of unity.


“Over time, churches do not move at the speed of talent or execution, they move at the speed of unity.”


3. The feelings of the “evil” are prioritized over the needs of the “wise.”

Proverbs describes 3 categories of people:

  • Wise: have godly beliefs
  • Simple: adopt godly beliefs when corrected
  • Evil: hostile to godly beliefs

When (out of a good desire to reach the lost!) pastors avoid issues because they may offend the Evil, the Wise and Simple families in their churches don’t get what they need to grow. They are accidentally prioritizing the FEELINGS of the evil over the NEEDS of the wise.

4. You’re not convincing opponents, you’re creating them.

Corollary to the previous 3 categories, the marketing industry has identified 3 similar categories:

  1. Brand advocates (for you)
  2. Brand apathetic (neutral)
  3. Brand opponent (against you)

Research shows the NET effect is whichever category you tailor communication TO, you get more OF. So, if a pastor obsesses over what a hostile opponent might think and tailors communication to them, he’s not CONVINCING them, he’s CREATING them.


“If a pastor obsesses over what a hostile opponent might think and tailors communication to them, he’s not CONVINCING them, he’s CREATING them.”


5. Society dies of AIDS.

No one has ever died of AIDS. AIDS takes out the immune system of the body, and when the immune system is down the body can die of anything. The church is the “immune system” of the culture. If the church goes silent in the face of error and evil, the immune system is down and society can die of anything. “If salt loses its saltiness…it is no longer good for anything.” – Matt 5v13

6. Evangelism is harmed.

30 years ago, it was a popular strategy to avoid preaching controversial issues because it repels unbelievers. Now, the opposite is often true because in the words of Ray Ortlund, “The devil overplayed his hand.” The woke sexual revolution has devolved into absurdity, and many lost people are looking at churches with interest and thinking, “Who else is gonna tell my daughter not to become a dude and help us have a stable family?” Cultural insanity has created a unique evangelistic opportunity.

7. You’re not “loving your neighbor” like you might think.

Some pastors avoid teaching controversial issues out of fear of hurting people. “If I teach on sexuality, it may hurt the person struggling with sexual confusion.” But pastors have 2 commands, not just 1.

  1. Love your neighbor (Mark 12:31)
  2. Destroy arguments (2 Cor 10:5)

To love people, you have to destroy the arguments that enslave them. Some, out of a good desire to love people, are too cowardly to destroy arguments. Others, out of a good desire to destroy arguments, are too callous and hurt people.


“To love people, you have to destroy the arguments that enslave them.”


8. Don’t require teenagers in your church to have more courage than their pastor.

When Roe was overturned, I did a post dispelling common myths about abortion. I confess, I took it down because of the hostility it attracted, and my thinking was, “I don’t have the margin to deal w this today.” 10 mins later a girl in our student ministry DM’d asking for the post because, “I know what I believe as a Christian, but my friends are yelling at me and I don’t know how to respond.” In that moment I repented and decided, “I’ll never ask students in my church to have more courage than their pastor again.”

Thanks, Josh Howerton. Your words are very helpful.

—————

We gave our 2024 National Gathering the title “Courageous Renewal” because we want to equip church leaders for the cultural environment described above. We will have main stage presentations and over 40 breakout classes, including Clayton Hentzel’s. I mention Clayton’s in this context because he will describe how he recently led over 10,000 people at The Crossing (multi-campus church in Illinois) as lead pastor through biblical teaching on controversial topics like LGTBQ issues and abortion. Together, we need to help each other toward courageous renewal, and I encourage you to join us on April 29-30 for our National Gathering in Indianapolis.

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