Andy Stanley on How to Lead a Divided Church – Episode 219 | The Unstuck Church Podcast

andy stanley divided church interview

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We know the Church is called to unity, but it feels like we’re more divided than ever.

Church leaders are caught in the middle as political and cultural issues fracture congregations, families, and relationships. Some are even considering leaving ministry altogether.

I recently sat down with Andy Stanley, Lead Pastor of North Point Community Church and host of the Andy Stanley Leadership Podcast, for a candid and open conversation on how to lead a divided church.

HOW TO LEAD A DIVIDED CHURCH

In this conversation, Andy and I discuss the unique challenges churches are facing today and how we as church leaders can begin to bridge the gap of disunity. I pray that it will be practical and helpful, but above all, I pray that it will be encouraging to you as you lead through this unique time. Listen in as we address:

  • What is unique about this cultural moment
  • How churches can reach and minister to diverse mission fields
  • When our people choose politics over the mission
  • How we can experience unity when there’s so much division in our world
  • How pastors can shift their teaching to encourage unity
  • How churches can begin to break through the noise of social media and news
Let’s not make it difficult for people who are turning to God. And the way you don’t make it difficult is you remove every unnecessary obstacle—and constantly identify new obstacles we need to be sensitive to. [episode 219]… Click To Tweet In times of division, the way that you address division is not telling people “don't be divided,” it's by drawing them back to what's essential. [episode 219] #unstuckchurch Click To Tweet The enemy of the local church is division—period. Anything that facilitates division is the enemy. Anything that facilitates unity is our friend. [episode 219] #unstuckchurch Click To Tweet Jesus didn’t give us solutions or suggestions for things in society, but instead, constantly addressed issues of the heart and met immediate needs. That was Jesus’ pattern and that should be the pattern of the church. [episode 219]… Click To Tweet The enemy of the local church is division. Anything that facilitates division is the enemy. Anything that facilitates unity is our friend. [episode 219] #unstuckchurch Click To Tweet If the church will speak to issues and matters of the heart and create a safe place for people from all political persuasions to come together, it could be the opportunity of a lifetime. [episode 219] #unstuckchurch Click To Tweet

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Transcript 

Sean (00:02):

Welcome to The Unstuck Church Podcast, where each week we’re exploring what it means to be an unstuck church. More than ever, pastors and church leaders are caught in the middle as political and cultural issues fracture congregations. We know that we’re called to unity in the church, but the tension has some considering leaving ministry altogether. So how can we lead boldly from a place of unity and peace? Recently, Tony was joined by Andy Stanley, lead pastor of North Point Community Church, for a conversation on how to lead in a divided church. And in this week’s episode, we’re sharing that conversation with our podcast listeners. Before you listen today, though, make sure you stop and subscribe to get the show notes in your email. When you do, you’ll get resources that go along with each week’s content, including our leader conversation guide, access to our podcast resource archive and bonus resources that you won’t find anywhere else. Just go to theunstuckgroup.com/podcast and subscribe. Now, let’s join Tony and Andy Stanley for their conversation on how to lead a divided church.

Tony (01:04):

Well, Andy, first of all, thanks for meeting with us today. And I picked a tough topic. I hope you’re up for this, and it’s coming out of what I’ve experienced. I think you’ve been in ministry a little longer than I have, but the season that we’ve been through, it just feels like there’s more division in the church than I’ve ever experienced in my lifetime. So what’s your perspective?

Andy (01:25):

Yeah, I agree. And you and I are old enough to remember when the modern church movement started. So there was division between churches like, “oh, we liked this style.” You know, so that was one thing. But the division we’re experiencing now is within local churches. It’s not churches divided from churches; it’s people within the church being divided from each other. And no, I’ve never seen anything like this. I, you know, in the past, people have left because they didn’t like sermons. They didn’t like worship style.

Tony (01:55):

That happens to you, too?

Andy (01:57):

Right? It’s too loud. It’s too soft. There’s a cooler church in town. I mean, those kinds of things, you know, they’re not fun, but you just go, oh, well, you know, and you know, our church is 26 years old. And from time to time, a family would leave. I’m talking about before this current stuff going on, and I’d say, “Hey, you know, I’ve been preaching to you and your family for 15 years or 10 years. You need another voice. I get it.” But that’s not division; those are people, you know, coming and going, or people have different preferences or styles. Or they’re teenagers get connected to another church, and I say, “Yeah, you got to go to church with your teenagers.” But the division within local churches, I’ve never seen anything like it. And obviously, it’s the combination of several things. COVID. Racial tension—especially me because we’re in the city of Atlanta and our campuses are throughout the city of Atlanta. And then, of course, all the political things that are going on. And I’m hearing it from pastors all the time, and we’re all kind of looking for a solution. But unfortunately, it’s probably a tension that we manage rather than a problem to be solved. So, yeah.

Tony (02:59):

So, I mean, certainly all three of those issues that you mentioned coming together in one season is unique, but we’ve dealt with social unrest. We’ve dealt with political disruptions. We’ve dealt with these things in the past. Is there anything else that might be distinctive about today?

Andy (03:16):

Yeah, social media, right? I mean, you know, for a generation, it seems like it’s been here forever. For us, it is still considered a relatively new thing in terms of not just the existence of social media, but the impact of social media on culture and on relationships. I remember when, you know, Carlos Whitaker introduced me to Twitter, and I’m like, “Wow, I can send out these positive messages to, you know, hundreds or thousands of people, you know, all at the same time, what a great idea.” And then people, you know, kind of treated it like Instagram. And now, it’s just, I can’t even say, you know, on your podcast, what it is; it’s just become a mess. But again, social media, not just Twitter, Facebook, etc. Instagram still feels positive and happy for the most part until you read the comments. But yeah, now everybody has a microphone. Everybody has an opinion, and everybody has misinformation. And everybody’s a victim of, you know, every cognitive bias, you know, confirmation bias, you know, all those things. So yeah, that has increased the volume, and it’s decreased, it seems, the I.Q. of the conversations. I feel like.

Tony (04:23):

So, I don’t know if people realize, but the communities where North Point is located, eight different locations now, have become very diverse through the years. And I have to think it’s become challenging to try to engage those diverse communities with the mission that the church is on. How has that dynamic shifted through the years?

Andy (04:44):

Well, the good news is most of all of our campuses have become more diverse in terms of attenders. That’s a good thing. And that’s never really been a problem, honestly. And we’ve not chased diversity. I mean, I love being involved in this conversation, but at the end of the day, people go to a local church because it’s a local church. And they go to the church that’s local. So churches eventually look like their community in terms of aging, in terms of, again, racial diversity, I mean, everything. That just happens. And you know, people want to see themselves, so who we put at the door, who we put on the stages—all that’s super important. But the difference now, back kind of to the first question, is in Atlanta, there’s actually a city, the city of Decatur, that has traditionally leaned very far Left politically. We have a church in Forsyth County that has a very, very difficult racial history. And it’s about 85% Republican. So once upon a time, none of that really mattered. I mean, Jesus is Jesus. And the Bible is the Bible, and we’re Christians. And we have so much in common that those, you know, the differences they didn’t divide. But with all the division within culture, and specifically even in our city or any really Metro area, you know, people come to church with, you know, their guard up. Or people come to church with their new informed opinion, and people come to church with their politics on the front burner. We’ll talk about that, I hope, a little bit later, and suddenly, those filters, whether it’s COVID, you know, it’s the vaccine filter, the COVID filter, the political filter, the racial, all of these filters now are sitting right in front of people. And all my messages, not just mine, but you know, we’re talking about our churches, my sermons are being filtered through multiple filters. “And are you saying that? And I think he’s saying that, and I heard him say.” And it just becomes so complicated almost to the point of being discouraging. I’m not discouraged, but again, my assistant, Diane, you know, she jokes because we get attacked from both sides. And she’s like, if we could get both sides in the room together, they would be like, “wait, I thought he was on your side.” “And well, I thought he was on your side.” You know? Because we’re not trying to take sides, but of course, people in all three of those arenas want us to be more avert and more outspoken and take a stand and be on their side. And for the pastors that you and I talked to who are trying to get this right, they know better than to take sides. But if you don’t take a side of it, you know, the givers and the influencers in the church, they feel like you’ve taken a side against them. So it is, it has become very challenging. I’ve never experienced anything like it.

Tony (07:31):

And I was going to ask, because of the diversity in the different communities where North Point’s located, does that make it harder or easier for you to accomplish your mission as a church?

Andy (07:43):

It makes me, and this is probably a good thing, I am more sensitized to what I don’t want to accidentally say, or I don’t want to accidentally say it in a way that’s accidentally offensive. So, I do more of bringing people in. If I think a message is going to be somewhat controversial or could be taken the wrong way, I’ll bring, you know, people from our staff that I think are part of the demographic that would, could take it the wrong way and say, “Hey, here’s the outline. Let’s talk about it. I want to get this right.” In terms of our mission to attract unchurched people or to engage unchurched people with the gospel, I don’t know if it’s more difficult or not. What makes it more difficult for some is the preexisting bias against church in general, and especially against large churches in general; that that’s always been there. And perhaps the division in culture has made that more of an obstacle; I don’t know. But, you know, if kind of our line is we want to create churches unchurched people love to attend, and we want to engage unchurched people with the gospel. And so that means, you know, when our verses from Acts 15, that let’s not make it difficult for people who are turning to God. Well, the way you don’t make it difficult is you remove every unnecessary obstacle. And I think there are new obstacles that partly because of my generation and partly because of my habit in the rhythm of our church, I think we’re constantly identifying perhaps new obstacles that we need to be sensitive to if we’re really committed to being the kind of church we say we are. So, you know, in an environment like this, you learn a lot. You make a lot of mistakes. And you know, we just try to keep your, I would say, keep your eye on the ball. I guess we’re supposed to fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, and keep moving forward. And then, every once in a while, to stop and think back about where we’ve come from and then just the history of the church in general, and realize, “Oh, no, we still have it easy. We don’t have any real problems.” Or we just look at the persecuted church around the world today and realize, “Okay, this is a tension. This is a challenge. But, hey, you know, we still got a lot of running room, and we don’t really have any reason to complain.”

Tony (10:00):

Absolutely. Well, you kind of alluded to this, but around COVID guidelines, around politics, it sounds like over the last number of months, you’ve been kind of receiving thoughts and challenges from both sides. And I get it. I mean, even in my family, I have people in my family watching two different news channels. And so I’m getting it from both sides, but I can’t imagine as a pastor of a church like North Point. So how are you receiving this and how are you responding?

Andy (10:32):

Well, I take it personally, and I think I take it appropriately personally because, honestly, I don’t want anyone to leave our church, especially, you know, during this season. And again, this is the new part; when people would leave because of, you know, any of a variety of reasons, there are a variety of people leaving for a variety of reasons. But this is the first time a lot of people have chosen to leave for the same reason. And the disturbing thing is it has nothing to do with theology. It has nothing to do with the mission of the church or the style of worship, or again, any of the environments, any of the things you would normally complain about. For us, especially when we decided not to meet early on in the pandemic. And then, once again, kind of kept kicking the can around to basically our Sunday morning worship services—we didn’t do those for almost a year. During that time, people read into that a political narrative. And so I got voicemails, direct messages, calls, people came to the office to tell me they were leaving. And I appreciated them letting me know, and I called all of them that I could find a phone number for. And my assistant Diane knew, “Don’t even tell Andy until I’ve already tracked down the number.” And the reason I called is because these were people involved in our church for 5, 10, 15 years. And when I would call, first, I had to convince them it was really me, and that was fun. And then they would tell me how much they love the church. I mean, they just, you know, the trigger response was, “We’ve loved the church. First time I could get my husband to come; the kids love it.” And then they remembered, “Oh yeah, we’re leaving. Okay.” And then we would settle in, and it would become political 100% of the time. It wasn’t, “We miss church.” It was, “We don’t trust why you have decided to close Sunday morning worship services.” And it became political. And that was that was discouraging. And I made sure these conversations always ended on a positive note. And some families have come back. A couple of folks have written to apologize. Others just found other churches. And, you know, because I would end friendly, on two or three occasions, I said, “Okay, so let me get this straight. So you are going to go to a different church now. Are you going to make an appointment with the pastor ahead of time and ask him or her what his or her political persuasion is? I mean, this now is the new litmus test. You’re not leaving because of theology or teaching or preaching or the Bible. You’re leaving because, you know, you don’t feel like I’ll take a political stand. So that means that’s top of mind; that’s the number one filter for you.” So, and I would kidding, “So you’re going to make them?” And they would laugh. I’m like, well, it sounds to me like, you need to know where those churches are politically If you’re going to put your family there. And again, it would, you know, appropriately awkward and we end on friendly terms. But I would get off those calls or walk out of sometimes those long meetings and just think, “Wow, here’s a family that has invested in our church, has benefited from our church, has served in our church and given to the church. And because of,” you know, stop me if I’m going too long, “not because of something I said in a sermon, but something they wanted to hear me say that I wouldn’t say.” And I would say, “Hey, what,” and I told you this earlier, I would say, “what is it you wish, I would say in a sermon that would make you feel like you could stay?” And no one can ever answer that question. And I would say, “What have you heard me say that makes you think that I’ve bought into some, you know, party, you know, platform and that their church is moving in a different direction?” Because that’s what they would say, “We felt like the church is moving in a different direction.” I’d say, “Help me understand why.” And the closest thing I got was after George Floyd’s death, I like, anybody paying attention, you respond to something like that. So I, you know, hit pause on a series and developed a whole sermon around that event and our response and what it should be. And two or three, you know, folks in our church felt like I called them a racist during that message because in the message, I said something along the lines that there’s probably a little racism in all of us. And as Jesus followers, you know, we need to surface that, acknowledge that. But they were so offended that I would insinuate that there might be racism in there. Well, this is just discipleship, right? Isn’t this, you know, look in the mirror, cleanse your heart, you know? But they just, they were out. So that’s new and that’s challenging. And, you know, that’s the world we live in.

Tony (15:10):

Yeah. So I think what I hear you saying then is North Point is still a church that unchurched people love to attend.

Andy (15:15):

I hope so.

Tony (15:16):

But maybe not some churched people?

Andy (15:19):

Well, that’s a good point. And actually, you know, full disclosure, you attend here. So, and you were talking earlier, you are actually working in our guest services area, and you commented on how many new families.

Tony (15:32):

It’s really amazing how many new families I’m seeing walk in the door every Sunday. And many times, it’s people moving from different areas or experiencing something in their life, a crisis of some sort where they just recognize, “I need church.” And they’re coming to the doors of North Point.

Andy (15:49):

And bringing their kids, yeah.

Tony (15:50):

And it’s just been phenomenal. I’ve really been surprised. I thought on this side of COVID, what we would experience is church people coming back. Right. But what I’m seeing is just brand new people.

Andy (16:00):

And we’re seeing that at all of our Atlanta area campuses. So, you know, this is a little bit different topic. So we, you know, pull me back in, but essentially it appears to me. And I think this is true of a lot of larger churches, not just us; there’s a group of people who were marginally active that have disappeared because they weren’t engaged. There’s a group of people who, in culture, who are asking deeper questions and they’re dealing with things they’ve never dealt with before because of a variety of reasons. And they’re looking up, I mean, that was what Jesus said. He said, “Let your light shine in such a way that people see your good deeds and then look up and glorify your father in heaven.” And so, fortunately, when they think about church, whatever our reputation is in our communities, it’s good enough to where they’re like, “Well, let’s try that one.” Well, that’s a win for us. I mean, and refusing to be political keeps the doors open to people of all political persuasions. And this is one of the things that honestly just drove me nuts during the last presidential political cycle was watching pastors essentially say to half the population in the country, “You’re not welcome here,” because they were so politically aligned. So I think that’s, you know, not a good stewardship of influence. So we’ve tried to stay, you know, down the middle. And what’s funny, and you’ll get this, when I, because I talked to our congregation about standing in the middle, I say, “In the middle is where problems are solved. In the middle is where life experiences are shared. In the middle is where you go, ‘oh, I always thought or I assumed,’ but in the middle…” And so, you know, people on the far Right, you know, Christians, to your point of some Christians don’t love our church. They, whenever I say middle, they hear compromise. “Oh, you’re lukewarm.” I’m like, “That’s not what we’re talking about.” I actually took, you know, this bit of a paradigm from, I think it was letters from a Birmingham jail that Dr. King wrote; I’ve read so many things. But I think it was in that letter that he talked about if you stand in the middle, you get shot at from both sides. And he talked about, in his case, there was a group of black activists that said, “We need to protest at night, and we need to bring violence to violence.” And then, of course, there were Southern white people who were like, “You need to go back to Boston where you came from; you have no business here. It’s not your issue.” And he’s like, “I’m not leaving, and we’re not going to be violent.” And so, he was criticized from both sides. And I remember reading that, thinking, “That is somewhat of a litmus test in terms of, are you where you need to be in culture.” But not only that, Tony, when you read the gospels, Jesus, everybody was trying to bait Jesus into their side of every debate. Right? And we, you know, should we pay taxes? Shouldn’t we? You know, it was constant. And Jesus, this is so powerful, and I think this is so instructive for the local church. Jesus never, in fact, Jesus didn’t even give us any suggestions or solutions for anything in society. Not one. He never even addressed society’s problems. 100% of the time, he did two things. 100% of the time: he addressed issues of the heart, and he met immediate needs. This was his pattern. That’s the pattern of the church. And the moment the church gets out of the heart business, into the legislation business, the election business, we have lost our mandate. I mean, think about this, and then we can go to the next question. Jesus had personal interaction with two tax collectors and never addressed the unjust tax system. And at the end of the day, one of them changed the way he collected taxes and the other one changed careers and joined Jesus. So because his issue was the heart of Zacchaeus and the heart of Matthew and there are so many examples of this. In fact, if you read the gospels through that lens, he skips over the political, social issues of the day and just addresses the heart of the people right in front of him. Then he turns right around and meets the immediate need of people who had been unjustly treated by the system. And yet, he never addresses the system. I think that’s the model for the church, which means we can’t allow ourselves to be dragged into political debate. When we do, we step down from what we’ve been called to do, and we get in this murky middle, where there’s just never going to be 100% agreement. And honestly, we don’t really know what we’re talking about half the time because of, you know, the way we’ve been educated and you know, the cultural implications of some of those political decisions or even decisions as it relates to law. So, I think the model is there within the gospels, but staying true to that has never been more difficult.

Tony (20:55):

Of course, the irony of all this is when you choose a political side, whichever side it is, you think the other side needs more Jesus in their lives.

Andy (21:04):

Exactly.

Tony (21:04):

And you’re actually pushing people further away from that.

Andy (21:07):

Well, since you brought that up, you know, I know some of the men, they were all men, who aligned publicly with Donald Trump; pastors, I’m talking about and church leaders and Christian organizational leaders. And I got invited so many times to have pictures and go to Trump Tower and all that. And I resisted. I’m very conservative politically, very. But I thought, wait a minute, you are essentially saying to half the country, “You’re not welcome at my church. You’re not welcome in my organization.” I just couldn’t understand it. And again, to the point you just made, if I can just, you know, argue the Republican side of this just a minute, you know. Republicans, in general, think most Democrats are lost, immoral socialists. I mean, that’s the group that needs Jesus. So we’re going to align politically with the Right and essentially uninvite them to our churches. But they’re the group that we feel like is the mission field. I mean, am I missing something? So even, and I don’t agree with this, even if the characterization of Democrats is what so many Republicans made it, if that’s true (it’s not true), all the more reason not to align your church politically with the Right. And the same goes for the Left. If you feel like the Republicans are heartless, Christless, godless, you know, they don’t care about people, all the more reason not to so align your church with the Left that no one from the Right is willing to show up. I’m a simple person. I just don’t understand that way of thinking, but I don’t think it’s a way of thinking. I think it was a reaction to what was happening in culture. And they got baited into a debate that Jesus would have stayed out of that we have unfortunately stepped into.

Tony (23:03):

So, Andy, I’ve talked with so many pastors over these last number of months, and it’s really been discouraging because I’m hearing so many stories of pastors that are losing good friends, good friendships, close friendships because those close friends have now left the church and left the friendship, too. And so it’s just discouraging for me to see so many people now choosing church based on political leanings. And I have to think the long-term ramifications of this just can’t be good. But I mean, well, what do we tell pastors when they’re facing this and they’re losing these friendships?

Andy (23:41):

Well, I’ve had these conversations like you have, and I’ve just told them, “You’re doing the right thing. This is not a problem you can solve. This is a tension you’re going to have to manage, and you are going to have to stay right in the middle. And the moment you decide, ‘I’m going to relieve some pressure and speak more Left or speak more Right, or lead more Left or lead more Right.’ There will be an initial pressure that comes off of you, but there’s going to be a brand new pressure because there are people in your church,” and I’m learning this, “There are people in your church who are so grateful that you’ve not done that. And the moment you do, you’re going to hear from them. And you’re going to think, ‘oh no, these, you know, these are the more perhaps thoughtful people. These are the people who come to church for the sake of the gospel and want a church that’s easier to invite their friends to Left or Right.'” So, oftentimes, our fans or our friends are silent because they don’t know the pressure we’re under. And it’s the, you know, it’s sometimes the noisy minority or the people who have direct access to us that we hear from. So I just saying to pastors, “Hey, you’re doing this right if you’re being criticized from both sides for not taking a stand.” Jonathan Reckford, who is CEO of habitat for humanity, is a friend, and they’re located here in Atlanta. Years ago, the first time I met him, I think he told me this. He said, “Andy, when people tell you they want you to take a stand, what they’re really saying is they want you to take their stand. If you’re not going to take their stand, they don’t want you to take a stand.” So, when I addressed this specific issue this past summer to all of our churches, I said, “For those of you who want us to take a stand, here it is. This is our stand; we’re standing right in the middle. That is our stand. So if that’s okay, great. If you’re not comfortable with that.” And the context was Philippians chapter two, that, you know, Jesus came to be a servant. Jesus gave his life. He never powered up. He never played the God card. He did not come into this world to win. He came into this world to lose. And the moment the church begins to play to win, we have already lost. because the only way to win in this world is to adapt the instruments or the methods of the kingdoms of this world. And this is why all these crazy lawsuits and churches are going to war with, you know, their cities and their city councils. I just sat back and thought, “What are you doing? You have just stepped in it. And you are leveraging the tools and the weapons of the kingdoms of this world to further the cause of Christ. Jesus didn’t do it.” I mean, imagine this: Jesus was a victim of an unjust legal system that had been unduly influenced by lobbyists from the temple. And he still didn’t complain about the system. In fact, he’s in front of Pilate, and this is his big opportunity. You know, “Are you a king?” And you know, Jesus’ response to Pilate is, “Pilate, you are not as in charge as you think you are. I am only here because one above you has given you permission for this.” And again, he doesn’t address the system. He addresses Pilate. Well, that’s the model. And again, Jesus even gave us the theology for this. He said, “For out of the heart comes,” and then he makes a list: slander and sexual immorality and all these things. Look at the list. Every single, in fact, I’m soon gonna say this to one of our churches, that every single thing you don’t like about the United States of America, every single thing you don’t like about culture is on that list. And Jesus says it comes from the heart. So why in the world would we drop below the line we’ve been called to to address anything but the heart if all of these things ultimately issue from the heart? And that’s the call of the local church; it’s to address the heart of men and women rather than drop down into a realm where we’re just going to be used, where we are going to become a voting block. We’re going to become a constituency. We’re going to be wined and dined and bribed. And for the body of Christ to allow itself to be used by either side politically, again, we’ve lost our voice, and ultimately we’ve lost our opportunity to become the conscience of the nation. Because for us to be the conscience of the nation, we have to stand above politics and speak to the heart of people on both sides. And I just feel like what we’ve just come through, we’ve lost some of that opportunity.

Tony (28:27):

Well, let’s continue to get on the solution side of this if we can. And I want to go to, I mean, Paul was dealing with a very divided church in Corinth, and he challenged us. We need to agree with one another. We need to see no division in the church. We need to be perfectly united in mind and thought. Help us, as pastors and church leaders, consider how do we get on the solution side of this so that we’re seeing unity within the church again.

Andy (28:56):

Great question. Step number one: we have to help the people in our church identify the enemy. The enemy of the local church is division. Period. That’s the enemy. Anything that facilitates division is the enemy. Anything that facilitates unity is our friend. And the reason I say that, and this is amazing, in John 17, the high priestly prayer, Jesus prays for his disciples. And he prays that they would be one, Father, even as we are one. And he’s not talking about some intangible, ethereal thing; he’s talking about one in purpose. Read it in context. He’s like, “Father, you sent me to do your will. I’m sending them out to do my will. I pray that they would be one, even as we are one, one in purpose.” And then he says, “And I not only pray for them, but I pray for those who will believe in the future because of their testimony.” And then twice in that prayer, he says, “And here’s why I’m praying for oneness: so that the world will know that you have sent me.” To be right on the money, in terms of people understanding that God sent Jesus, is not our perfect theology or a worship style. To be right on the nose to help the world understand that God sent Jesus is our unity. Period. Jesus could have prayed for anything else for future generations of his followers. He prayed for unity. So when a local church understands, you know what, enemy number one: disunity. They will be unified; they’ll have a voice. And they will be able to make a difference in the culture and in their communities. But where there is division, it is game over. And the fact that we’ve allowed politicians and politics, nobody’s going to die and go to Washington D.C.. Fortunately, right? And you know what else? All these people that have politicized their churches, when one of their children is sick, suddenly, God’s back on the throne. Jesus is back on the throne. So, you know, we have the opportunity of a lifetime, and I feel like 2020, this is just my opinion I don’t have anything to back this up but my opinion, I feel like 2020 was the opportunity of a generation for the church. And we missed it because we were afraid of losing. We’re afraid of losing our religious liberty. We’re afraid of losing power. We’re afraid, afraid, afraid. And it’s like, what was Jesus’ primary command in the gospels? Fear not, fear not. And they actually had something to fear. Our fear caused us to leave our mandate, to drop below that line, to get involved in things we should not be involved in. And we lost our opportunity to speak into those things. And, we’ll recover, but you know, it’s going to take a while. So to the point of your question for the pastor out there, help your churches identify the enemy. It is not the Democrats. It is not the Republicans. It is not state and local government. The enemy is division. That’s what Jesus prayed that we would never give into. Because he knew at the end of the day, if we’re divided, the world will not have a clear picture of who he is and who sent him.

Tony (32:07):

So with that in mind, let’s talk specifically about the teaching that pastors are doing on Sundays. Does anything need to shift related to that in order to continue to produce the unity that we’re pursuing?

Andy (32:19):

Again, you’re asking me; this is my opinion. It is so clear. When Jesus met with his apostles right before he’s going to be arrested for that final Passover, two very, very, very significant things happen. Number one, he said, “I’m giving you a new command.” They didn’t need any new commands, but this wasn’t to add to existing commands. This was the new command that was to be the marching orders for the church. “You are to love one another, not as you love your neighbor; we’re done with that. This is this whole new thing. You are to love one another the way that I have loved you. You are to take your cue from me personally in terms of how you treat other people, period.” And then he says, “And by this, people will know that you’re my disciples.” It is so simple. It is so clear. The second thing that happened that same night, and I don’t even know the emotion to wrap around this because it’s so cultural. In ancient times, you know, wealthy people or even moderately wealthy people had house servants or slaves. And the low slave on the totem pole was the slave that did foot care. They would call it foot care for their master, which means you bring the sandals, you lace the sandals and you wash the feet. In first-century times, a rabbi who had disciples like Jesus would expect his disciples to serve him, but disciples never did foot care. This was for the lowliest of low. So they’re having the Passover meal when Jesus stands up, takes off that rabbinic robe, wraps that towel around his waist and begins washing their feet. This was more disturbing than we even have words for. He wasn’t just serving them. He was doing what they would not do for each other and that they would not even do for him. He went as low as he could possibly go. And I think you could have heard a pin drop, and it takes a long time to wash 12 pairs of feet. And to the point of this question, he washed Judas’ feet, knowing that night what was about to happen. And then he gets up, unwraps that towel, puts his rabbinic robe back on, sits down in the seat of honor and he says, “As I’ve washed your feet, look around this table. You are to wash one another’s feet. Otherwise, you will declare yourself greater than me, and I am your master.” He says, “I am your Lord. And I am your teacher. And as I have washed your feet, you wash one another’s feet.” In other words, you go as low as you can go for the people around you. That’s the model. So here’s the command: you love as I’ve loved you. How have I loved you? Watch this. And if you think that’s love, wait till tomorrow. I’m going to put on a demonstration of love. It’ll take your breath away, take my life away and take your son away. So in terms of our preaching and teaching, and this is why, you attend our church, it’s why I’m sure you think, “Andy, why does every sermon go back to the new command?” Because it is central. And in times of division, the way that you address division is not telling people don’t be divided; it’s by drawing them back to what’s essential. And what’s central. And Jesus made it clear, “by this all men will know that you’re my disciple.” How? The way you treat one another, not the way you believe about me.

Tony (35:51):

Yeah. So let’s talk about that. I think it’s a challenge for us in the church because we have big media. We have social media, and the more and more we learn, they’re just trying to create passionate division on both sides. Because when they do that, it grows their audience.

Andy (36:07):

Right.

Tony (36:07):

And they make more money.

Andy (36:08):

Right.

Tony (36:09):

But for the church, it’s just seems it’s so hard to break through that noise. So how do we do that? How do we break through the noise when we’re up against that?

Andy (36:18):

Well, what you just said is the beginning, and I don’t know why maybe just because we’ve lived longer than some people. I don’t know. Why people can’t see that media outlets exist to make money. They do not exist to make America great. They exist to make money, and that’s okay. It’s free enterprise, you know, capitalism all for it. Make all the money you can. But the average American, by now, should be like, “pfft, talking points.” There is profit in division. And there is great profit in fear. I mean, you leverage fear, and you can raise a lot of money. And so the cycle, it’s so predictable; why can’t we see through it? And it goes like this. You have an enemy. I’m going to protect you from that enemy. Give me some money. You have an enemy. I do? Yes. You didn’t even know you had an enemy. Let me tell you what this enemy is going to do to you and your family. Now, I’m scared. Fear not. I’m here for you for $25 or $50 or $100. It’s like, why can we not see through that? And again, step back into our New Testament ethic that begins with, not it begins with, but includes fear not. So, I think in terms of preaching, teaching and messaging, people need to at least, we should take the opportunity to say what people kind of already know. That they’re leveraging your fear and confusion for their benefit. It’s not benefiting you or me. I mean, how many presidents have we had? I mean, we’ve been through this so many times. So, I think sometimes just exposing the reality of it helps people keep it in context. But until we do, you know, we’re victims of our own fear, and we’re, we play right into their hands. And I’m all for supporting candidates. Donate to candidates. Vote. Vote your Christ, inform your law of Christ, informed conscience. We should be politically active, but when it comes to where the church stands, again, we’re supposed to be the conscience of the nation. So.

Tony (38:20):

Alright. So, my kids, I don’t know where they got this, and frankly, Andy, I don’t think I want to know where they got this. But periodically, they’ll say to each other, “that’s your opinion, and that’s fine. But you’re wrong. And I hate you.” Now, I don’t think they actually hate each other. I think they’re just trying to be funny, and they still love each other. But this is a very real thing in our world. I mean, people disagreeing with each other, not just disagreeing, but then it goes to hatred, and then that person becomes my enemy. And I think this is especially challenging for us in the church world, because we actually do believe in a truth. That there is right and wrong in this world. So what do we do with all of that?

Andy (39:02):

Well, again, Jesus was so clear. He said, “Alright, there’s problems. So how are we going to solve this problem? Step number one, look in the mirror.” When there’s something about you that bothers me, I’m supposed to look in the mirror, not at you. And I look in the mirror, and I realized, “oh, I got some of that in me.” So I’m going to take the log out of my eye. And I love what Jesus said. Of course, it’s so brilliant. He said, “When you take the log out of your eye, you will see more clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.” So when we’re disturbed by behavior outside the church, inside the church, unchurched people, churched people or whatever it might be, Jesus has said, “Step number one, you look in the mirror, and you ask, ‘Is there any of that in me? And God help me take the log out of my eye. Not so that I’ll be a better person than you, so that I will,'” I love it, “‘see clearly.'” We need to see clearly. And we see clearly when we look in the mirror, ask God to examine our heart and get in a place where we can have a sane conversation with the people that we’re not trying to convince people. We’re trying to help. Again, this is where you follow Jesus through the gospels. The woman at the well is a perfect example. He shows up. He’s Jewish; she’s Samaritan. You know, we all know the story, and she tries to get into a theological worship war, you know, debate with him about how the Jews worshiped. And we know the Jews; you Jews do this. Samaritans do that. I mean, dah, dah, dah, dah. And Jesus, it’s so horrible, insensitive and brilliant, Jesus responds, “Go get your husband.” “Do what?” “Go get your husband.” And he goes right to her heart, he touches the shame and then he’s not done. She says, “Well, I don’t have a husband.” He says, “I know. You’ve had five.” And suddenly, we’re not talking about the Jews and the Samaritans and where do we worship? And how do we worship? Suddenly, he just goes right to her heart because that’s why he came. And that is our role, not to shame people, but people can’t deal with their shame until they face their shame. And Jesus, you know, I wouldn’t try it. Jesus, he just drags it all out, not to shame her, but to diminish her shame. And, of course, she becomes the evangelist in her city. So, there is a way forward. And again, Jesus models this for us over and over. And then the apostle Paul comes along and, you know, states it and kind of teases it out in terms of specific behaviors and specific responses. So, the way forward is there. And as preachers and teachers and church leaders, we’ve just got to help people fix their eyes on that, wrap their emotions around it and respond accordingly.

Tony (41:55):

Andy, I tend to be more of a realist than an optimist, which, if you think about it, is an optimistic way of calling me a pessimist, but I’m not sure how that works. But anyways, over this last year and a half, I can’t explain it, but I thought, “This could be a real moment for the church.” I think our message could be disruptive in a good way. Do you think I have reason to have hope?

Andy (42:18):

Yeah, because nobody likes the division except the people who profit from it. Right? But the people who profit from it have the mailing list and the microphones. But there are multiple, you know, people in culture who are saying this, let’s move toward the middle. Because, again, the middle is where problems are solved. The middle is where life experiences are shared. The middle is where we go, “Oh, I didn’t know.” So yeah, there’s hope. And if the church will step back into its role, as people who serve immediate needs immediately, because people appreciate that as well, and speak to issues and matters of the heart and create a safe place for people from all political persuasions to come together, it’s the opportunity of a lifetime. In fact, it may be our greatest opportunity. Again, because where else will people from different sides of the political aisle be able to come together and do anything together and have conversations? I mean, entertainment you’re with your friends, and you come and you go with your friends. But in the church, again, that’s the format, that’s the opportunity. And again, so many pastors are getting this right, and they’re getting beat up for it. But they’re just locked in. I’m just not moving to the Left or the Right. And they all have political opinions. They all vote one way or the other, which, again, we should all do. But in terms of the atmosphere and the tone of the church, it needs to be politic-free so that, again, we can address the issues through the filter of scripture. And kind of one last thing on this, Tony, one of the things that makes it so hard for all of us, for you, for me, for any of us who have an opinion about anything, and we all pretty much have an opinion about everything. I do, Sandra says. The thing that makes it difficult is it’s very difficult as an American, especially in a political cycle, to keep my faith filter ahead of my political filter. And every single person watching or listening or who hears me say that, I know what they think. They think, “Well, I do have my faith filter ahead of my political filter. It’s why I’m Republican. I do have my faith filter ahead of my political filter. It’s why I’m a Democrat. So this is very difficult for us to get right. But when we step back into the new covenant command of Jesus, that goes so far as to say you are to love your enemy. When I can’t love my enemy, when I can’t speak well of my enemy, when I’m unwilling to find common ground with an enemy or a political opponent or somebody who doesn’t see the world the way I do, clearly my faith filter is not my first filter. So again, when we hold our behavior up beside Jesus’ new covenant command, when we hold our behavior up against what happened when he washed their feet, when we hold our behavior up against, “Hey, look in the mirror before you look at your friend’s problem,” then we discover whose we really are and what’s actually most important.

Tony (45:18):

Andy, a final question today. I know I’ve had conversations with a lot of pastors that are discouraged. Many, in fact, just kind of questioning, “This isn’t the ministry I signed up for. Do I still want to do this?”

Andy (45:32):

Yeah. It’s not fun anymore.

Tony (45:35):

Yeah, what encouragement would you give pastors that are wrestling with that call to ministry again because of the season that we’ve been through?

Andy (45:41):

Well, the pastors who feel that are probably exactly where they ought to be. Because, dirty little secret, during the last political cycle in particular presidential, you know, voting for president last cycle, the pastors, and again, I’m so oriented to the Right that’s who I pay the most attention to, the pastors who leverage their church for the sake of being able to make big, broad political statements. They loved it. They loved it right up until the point that Donald Trump lost. And then they did not know what to do with it. The rest of us who refused to go there felt the tension. So I would say to the pastors, “If you’re feeling that tension, you are probably right where you need to be and stay there.” This is a, “For such a time as this moment.” And ultimately, more Americans want the tension to go away and want the division to go away. And we are called to stay firm. And I think ultimately, you know, I hate to say, it’ll pay off. I don’t know what the payoff is, but ultimately, that’s what faithfulness and faithful ministry looks like right now. And so that’s what we’re called to do. And I do think, in the end, it sets us up to have more influence. But even if it doesn’t, even if nothing positive comes from that, again, follow Jesus through the gospels. He’s going to Jerusalem to die, and they’re like, “Nah, you’re not going to die.” He’s like, “No, we’re going there to do this on purpose. I’m turning myself in. I’m going to lose on purpose. So the world can win.” Well, there are times in the life of pastors and Christians where you walk toward Jerusalem because it’s the thing to do. And you just trust God that on the other side, something good will come about either in your lifetime or maybe in the future. But faithfulness in this, for pastors right now, I believe, is staying the course, fixing our eyes on Jesus, trying to help the people in our church regardless of their political suasion to fix their eyes on Jesus and to allow him to shape our behavior and shape our responses to the world around us. And then if Jesus is correct, and I always believe Jesus is correct, we will let our light shine in such a way that people will see our good deeds and ultimately look up and glorify our father.

Sean (48:13):

Thanks for joining us on this week’s podcast. Don’t forget to visit theunstuckgroup.com/podcast for more resources to go along with this week’s episode. And if you’re sensing you could use help with clarity of direction and vision for your church, we’d love to talk. Start a conversation by visiting us at theunstuckgroup.com.

Tony Morgan

Tony is the Founder and Lead Strategist of The Unstuck Group. Started in 2009, The Unstuck Group has served 500 churches throughout the United States and several countries around the world. Previously, Tony served on the senior leadership teams of three rapidly growing churches including NewSpring Church in South Carolina. He has five published books including, The Unstuck Church, and, with Amy Anderson, he hosts The Unstuck Church Podcast which has thousands of listeners each month.

One Comment

  • I’m not speechless, but i’m speechless. I stumbled on this by accident. (yah right, by accident) there are no accidents. God will give you what you need at the right time, on HIS time. Wonderful Podcast, what I needed to hear at 6:30 am on a rainy Friday morning. Andy, a final question today. I know I’ve had conversations with a lot of pastors that are discouraged. Many, in fact, just kind of questioning, “This isn’t the ministry I signed up for. Do I still want to do this?” The last question hit me right in the “middle” of my heart. I can’t gather all I would like to say about this conversation. I will start and end with this, THANK YOU.

    Reply

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