Vague Pastors

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Last week, Carl Lentz, the pastor of Hillsong NYC made his rounds on CNN and Huffington Post. The interviews were fascinating to watch and see what God is doing through Lentz and Hillsong.

In those interviews, gay marriage came up as it always does if you are a pastor.

His answers were an attempt at a non-answer. He said in a sermon, “Some churches want us to give blanket answers on huge issues. Well, my Bible says, be attentive to individual needs. So I’m not gonna make polarizing political statements about certain things in our Christian community right now. No matter who says what, we won’t be pressured into giving blanket statements to individual needs. Never.”

He has also said he won’t “Preach on homosexuality.” But that is misleading.

When you don’t preach on something, you are preaching on that thing. You are just saying what you think won’t be as controversial or the thing that won’t lose you your following.

He says that “Hillsong has a stance on love, but has conversations on everything else.” On the surface, this sounds nice.

But he is falling into the trap so many pastors and leaders fall into: being vague.

The problem is this, homosexuality is talked about in the bible. Not as much as some Christians make it out to be. It is listed with other things for example in 1 Corinthians. The amount of sermons and blog posts on gay marriage dwarfs the amount of sermons and blog posts on adultery, stealing, greed (except at Christmas time), getting drunk, revilers, or swindlers.

Let’s take another example from 1 Corinthians 6. It talks about our bodies being the temple of the Holy Spirit and  yet, there are a lot of Christians who are unhealthy and destroying their bodies because of what they eat and drink. Every time there is a potluck at a church, there is a good chance we just sinned according to 1 Corinthians 6. Not always, but most of the time.

There is a clear problem when a pastor is vague and it is this: The problem with not preaching on things in the Bible is that Christians and non-Christians then don’t know what is in the Bible. They don’t know what they believe about something. They don’t know what God thinks about something. A Christian can’t have a conversation with a non-Christian about an issue if they aren’t taught. In the same way, a non-Christian can’t be confronted by truth if they don’t hear it.

This is one reason I think it is important to preach through books of the Bible. It keeps pastors from preaching on their soap box issues (and only talking about their soapbox issues), but it also allows pastors to not skip things. When you say, “I won’t preach on _____” you’ve just said I will skip passages in the Bible when I get to them because I don’t want to talk about them.

That is a low view of the Bible. God inspired those words for a reason.

What do you think? Should a pastor say they won’t speak on a certain topic? Is that ever an appropriate step?

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26 thoughts on “Vague Pastors

  1. I think you’re right on. Paul’s charge to Timothy to “preach the Word…in season and out of season; correct, rebuke, and encourage–with great patience and careful instruction,” and, “discharge all the duties of your ministry,” makes me think there is nothing we shouldn’t be ready to preach on and give biblical instruction and insight. To be vague, as Lentz was, expresses Paul’s warning to Timothy that “the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine.” Vagueness isn’t sound, and it is much easier for “men” to put up with that kind of answer than one that takes a more direct and biblical approach.

  2. It takes a low view of Scripture to dismiss anything in the word of God as “political.” To call anything in Scripture a “blanket statement,” as if that’s a bad thing, is challenging its absolute truth.

  3. Please forgive the lengthy response. You make some valid points, and I can’t say I wouldn’t write the exact same blog if I hadn’t 1) been a part of Hillsong NYC for the past year and a half, 2) heard Pastor Carl preach on a regular basis (note: FROM THE PULPIT, he has preached against ALL sex outside of Biblical marriage), and 3) seen Jesus change lives all around me. That said, I still agree with some of your points (especially about the importance of teaching through books of the Bible- I believe that is an important component of discipleship), but I also understand where Pastor Carl is coming from. If God has called him to NYC (and I believe the fruits are proving that He has), I think Pastor Carl’s ministry will almost certainly look different from a ministry in other parts of the country. When he is interviewed by the media, he actively avoids getting labelled with one tagline about society’s hot button issue du jour (gay marriage) because it might keep homosexuals from coming to church to hear about the love of Christ…and there are a lot of people struggling with homosexuality in this city. Unfortunately, in the secular world, it is automatically assumed that if you are against gay marriage in any way, you are against gay people…which is simply not the case. Society (the media as well as individuals) loves putting labels on people, and people tend to “major in the minors,” i.e. allow themselves to lose sight of the big picture by getting caught up in a tangential theological debates. All throughout the gospels, people CONSTANTLY tried to put labels on Jesus, they also tried trap Him on theological issues, and they tried sidetrack Him with “spiritual” tangents, but he always avoided the detours and simply pointed them back to the Truth. Religious people didn’t understand Jesus, and I don’t think religious people will understand Pastor Carl’s methods either. As he becomes more prominent, and more and more people keep coming to Hillsong NYC, the crowd of critics will almost certainly grow larger and more vocal (kind of reminds me of what happened to Jesus, John the Baptist, and all the other prophets). If you have no critics, you’re probably not making an impact.

    Is Pastor Carl perfect? No sir. Is ANY church perfect? No sir. But is Pastor Carl and Hillsong NYC lifting up the name of Jesus and allowing the Holy Spirit to change the hearts and minds of man? Yes. Are people being saved, and lives being changed? Yes.

    • Thanks Matt. I appreciate the insight and clarification. It is exciting to see what God is doing in NYC through Hillsong and around the world. I have a friend on staff in NYC in the kids ministry and love hearing updates from him.

    • “All throughout the gospels, people CONSTANTLY tried to put labels on Jesus, they also tried trap Him on theological issues, and they tried sidetrack Him with “spiritual” tangents, but he always avoided the detours and simply pointed them back to the Truth.”

      I can hear Jesus response when the question is asked, “Do you think homosexuality is wrong and shouldn’t I obey in faith the commandment Love thy neighbor as thyself?

      Jesus: Truly, Truly I tell you those who do not obey the will of thy father and obey my commandments will live in torment. It was said that a man shall leave his father and mother and cling to his wife. Loving your neighbor as yourself, if you take it in the context of what I spoke, is to deny yourself and be a servant to those who need help. If one is in rebellion and is committing homosexuality then you should preach the gospel. Truly, Truly I say, no one comes through the father except through me.

      …I don’t pretend to be God or act like I know what Jesus would would say. But I do understand enough of the scriptures and the wisdom God has given me to know the Godly obedience in certain situations.

  4. Well said! I appreciate my pastor because he is not afraid to talk about those hard topics.

  5. hmmm…. “The amount of sermons and blog posts on gay marriage dwarfs the amount of sermons and blog posts on adultery, stealing, greed (except at Christmas time), getting drunk, revilers, or swindlers.”

    – To be fair, the church isn’t being bullied into celebrating and embracing stealing, greed (even at Christmas), getting drunk, reviling, or swindling. I think the amount of sermons dealing with homosexuality right now is just about right (if anything, we need to step it up) – as THAT is the particular sin the world is trying to bully us into embracing.

    Lets keep our eye on the ball.

    Other than THAT point, I loved this article! Well done :)

  6. Really well stated! The key really is speaking the truth in love. This is something my pastor does SO well and why I respect him so much. He preaches through the Bible book by book and doesn’t dodge or duck the difficult issues. At the same time, he manages to uncompromisingly declare the truth of God’s Word without battering people with it. Kind of how Jesus did it. I think it’s fine for pastors not to get baited into discussing the political hot button issue of the day if the forum is not necessarily right for it. It is NOT fine however, to skip passages or the issues clearly addressed in those passages of Scripture, because its difficult or controversial.

  7. It is NEVER OK to skip passages, not preach on specific texts, or not take Gods word seriously when it comes to sin or obedience. The one who rejects the word of God is being disobedient. What did James say??? Be a doer of the Word, NOT a hearer only?

  8. I really appreciate these thoughts. Though I have been a part of a wonderful church for many years where expository preaching is prevalent, I finally began studying and reading about it for myself in recent months. The result is a more firm and personal conviction about the necessity of preaching through books of the Bible. Not that topical sermons are completely “outlawed,” but yes, for the exact reasons you stated here, particularly the part about avoiding soapbox issues. I think nothing drives people out of a church faster than when they sense a pastor getting on his hobby-horse and forgoing all other teaching. It can create a barrier to them hearing anything else he might have to say. I am so glad someone referred me to your blog, I look forward to reading more!

  9. Man! You really think believers who are not pastors are really stupid, don’t you? Blessings.

  10. It’s beautiful that we live in a free country where anyone can post their opinion in their own blog. Maybe we could remember that opinions are about all we are entitled to?
    Since we are finding fault with people’s opinion, the problem I see above is the mentality that people are ignorant lemmings who desperately need a pastor to tell them what to think on each issue. This is a sad notion. Are they not intelligent enough to read their own bibles and form their own opinions? The problem with many churches today is they are too worried about controlling people into telling them what to think instead of how to think. Then we have a generation of naive people who can’t function in the real world let alone lead people or disciple nations. The other ignorance displayed above is obviously someone who has dealt very little if at all with corporate media. The hillsong pastor knows quite well how the liberal media will take a grain of truth and twist it to throw someone to the wolves. Not to mention the militant LGBT agenda in the US that thrives on hypocrisy and hate for anyone in disagreement. They are fueled by the same religious spirit as any other group intolerant of any viewpoint outside their own. Lets not lower ourselves to those standards. Love is the answer. Not the warm-fuzzies- let’s all hug love. But powerful love that covers despite disagreement, and protects. If we focus on powerful biblical love, leading by example and stopped trying to control other people to our viewpoint, we would have less dysfunction in churches and families and this would lower the chances of people choosing same sex relationships or moving that way out of abuse along with a variety of other issues.

    • Thanks B Allen. My intention was not to say that someone needs a pastor to tell them what to believe, although I can see how you got that. Thanks for giving some good feedback on the topic.

  11. We have tight friendships with several very large churches and we have had these discussions repeatedly. One of the churches told us this; “We teach on what we are for not what we are against”. Although I see the positive in that, I see something lacking…The Word.

  12. As always there is a lot of insight in your thoughts and it brings up good questions and thoughts. I will say that I do not envy pastors as there are a lot of hard topics and questions out there. I think many people try and trap pastors and Christians alike into answering questions in a way that is bad. To avoid that as best you can I would say is a good thing, however to avoid preaching on certain topics from the bible I would say is not. It is a hard line to follow Jesus the right way. How do you preach to someone the truth while being loving and not judgmental. Jesus was obviously perfect at it, but we of course are not. So I think the question should be how would Jesus answer those types of questions? Should we avoid them? No, but we should take care to answer them in a way that best shows the light of Jesus to the world. No small task to be sure, so my prayers go out to all pastors as they deal these hard issues.

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