I am a pastor. I preach the word of God regularly to the congregation that I serve. And this morning I am thinking about and praying for other pastors across the country who will be ascending the sacred desk tomorrow morning to deliver a message to God’s people. Some of them are wondering what to say in the wake of a Supreme Court decision that seems designed to marginalize our ancient faith. I don’t know that I have anything particularly earth-shattering to offer here, but I would like to encourage you pastors in several specific ways as you prepare.
1. Be Biblical
“We do not preach ourselves But Christ Jesus as Lord” (2 Cor. 4:5). We are not the subject matter of our own sermons. Jesus is. And we do not know him by what we have conjured from our own imaginations. We know him as he has revealed himself to us in the scriptures. That is why if we want our people to know the man, we have to proclaim to them the book—because the book testifies about him (John 5:39).
Pastor, your job tomorrow is unchanged from last week. You must preach the word. That is your task. If you haven’t been doing that up until now, that needs to change. Right now. Make it your aim to preach verse by verse, passage by passage, through as many books as you can until they cart you off or lower you in the dirt. Teach them the whole counsel of God and don’t hold anything back (Acts 20:27). They need all of it, and your job is to give it to them.
You can’t deliver it all in one sermon, so don’t try. But you can start this work with one sermon. Let tomorrow be that day, and don’t ever look back. I promise that you won’t run out of material.
2. Be Courageous
The apostle Paul tells us to preach the word “in season and out of season” (2 Timothy 4:2). That means that you deliver the goods when it’s popular and when it’s not. It means that we preach Christ’s word when people congratulate us and when they actively oppose us. And as the Supreme Court and public opinion are going against us, there is no question that you will face opposition—maybe even from some in your own congregation. But don’t be cowed by that.
Right now, your people need you more than ever. They are facing difficulties at work because of their unpopular views on marriage. They are facing ostracism from certain circles that they have always run in. The social pressure to conform is ratcheting up on them. That’s what the folks in my church are facing. No doubt your people are facing the same. How will they stand if you don’t?
God’s people will rally to the truth. Take your stand. Wave the flag high so that the troops will know where to muster. Tribulation and opposition will arise, but that is no reason to back down. The sheep know the voice of their Shepherd. Be his mouthpiece, and they will come (John 10:27).
3. Be Practical
When Paul commands us to “preach the word,” he also says “reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction” (2 Timothy 4:2). This means that we preach in the imperative mood. We are not giving a theological lecture. We are in fact telling people in the name of Jesus what they ought to believe and to do. We are also telling them what they ought to disbelieve and repent of. That means that we know the challenges that they face and we speak directly to them.
We tell them to repent of sexual immorality and to put on Jesus Christ and to make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lust (Romans 13:14). We tell them that they should expect opposition if they follow Jesus (John 15:18) but that we will ultimately overcome (John 16:33). We tell them to love their gay neighbors in the name of Jesus, to reach out to them, and to practice hospitality to them. We tell them that love is not at odds with truth—even the truths that are unpopular. Truth and love are only in tension for those who are resisting them. Real love always rejoices with the truth (1 Corinthians 13:6).
In short, we do not trade in theological abstraction. If you preach the Bible, your stock-in-trade is the nitty gritty. So go there.
4. Be Holy
There is an old saying about pastors that is worth repeating here. “If your output exceeds your input, your upkeep will be your downfall.” If you are preaching a message that you yourself aren’t following, you are going to have to maintain an exterior appearance that is at odds with who you really are. And keeping that hypocrisy up can’t go on forever. Ultimately, you will be exposed and discredited.
And so a good servant of Christ Jesus isn’t just teaching the word. He’s living the word, constantly nourished himself by the words of the faith and of sound doctrine (1 Timothy 4:6). The apostle also commands us, “Pay close attention to yourself and to your teaching” (1 Timothy 4:16). That means it’s not just your teaching that has to be right. You have to be right. You have to have integrity.
Pastors, one of the greatest gifts you can give to your congregation is your personal holiness. Do not neglect this. John Calvin said it this way,
There are two things of which a good pastor should be careful; to be diligent in teaching, and to keep himself pure… Doctrine will be of little avail, if there be not a corresponding goodness and holiness of life [comments on 1 Tim. 4:16].
There is more that can and should be said, but these are the things I will be praying for you as you preach tomorrow.
UPDATE: I received a note from a dear friend and pastor saying that he intends to draw a line in the sand from the pulpit tomorrow. He plans to read the “An Evangelical Declaration on Marriage” to his congregation, though he says he is overwhelmed at the battle ahead. To him, I say this. We’ll be holding the ropes for you and all the others who will be doing something risky tomorrow. You are not alone, brother.