April 24, 2024

How to Talk About Politics (with Andy Stanley) – Episode 345

how to talk about politics (with andy stanley) 345

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How to Talk About the Tough Stuff (Part 3)

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Many pastors feel the weight of other people’s expectations on certain cultural issues, and for some people, it can seem really important that pastors share their personal opinions from the platform on Sunday. But what if some topics aren’t exactly “platform” topics?

We’re in week three of our series on “How to Talk About the Tough Stuff,” and warning: today’s topic might be even more divisive than the first two. 🙂

For today’s conversation, I sat down with my pastor, Andy Stanley, to discuss how pastors can navigate controversial topics regarding politics, especially as we enter an election season in the US. (We actually did a webinar with Andy on “How to Lead a Divided Church” back in 2021… and wow, if the division felt strong then, I know it’s weighing even more heavily on a lot of us now!)


My responsibility as a pastor isn’t to convince you that my view on things is correct. My responsibility is to disciple you to be a better follower of Jesus.

If you’re familiar with Andy and North Point, you’ll know that they haven’t shied away from addressing tough topics in the past or in recent times. And they’ve certainly faced backlash and stirred up some controversy because of it.

For that reason, I think Andy has a lot of wisdom to offer in this area. I think this conversation will be practical, encouraging, and maybe even a little convicting for the church leaders who are listening—even those who disagree. We discuss:

  • Why the church feels more divided than ever
  • Why the threat to Christians isn’t “out there”
  • How to address tough topics from the pulpit (and when not to)
  • Encouragement for pastors in this season
"When Christians who disagree can still love each other unconditionally and do that publicly and in a big way, Jesus said, that is evidence that I came from the Father for the world." — @andystanley [episode 345] #unstuckchurch Click To Tweet "Our responsibility is not to address which side of the issue is the correct side, it’s to address: How do we be the church when we won't ever agree on the right approach to some of these issues?” — @andystanley [episode 345] #unstuckchurch Click To Tweet "If we don't adopt the posture, tone, and approach of Jesus, we get divided from other Christians on both sides of every issue.” — @andystanley [episode 345] #unstuckchurch Click To Tweet "My responsibility as a pastor isn't to convince you that my view on things is correct. My responsibility is to disciple you to be a better follower of Jesus.” — @andystanley [episode 345] #unstuckchurch Click To Tweet
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Sean (00:02):

Welcome to The Unstuck Church Podcast, where each week we are exploring what it means to be an unstuck church. Many pastors have felt the weight of other people’s expectations on certain cultural issues, and for some people, it can seem really important that pastors share their personal opinions from the platform on Sunday. But what if some topics aren’t actually platform topics? On this week’s podcast, Tony and Amy continue our series on How to Talk About the Tough Stuff in church with a conversation with Pastor Andy Stanley. Before we get into today’s episode, though, I want to tell you about an upcoming opportunity we have specifically for Executive Pastors. Our next XP cohort kicks off on June 25th, and registration for it closes on April 25th. During this year-long cohort, you’ll connect with Executive Pastors from eight to 12 other like-minded churches to explore the critical responsibilities that Executive Pastors own in larger growing churches and actively participate and learn from each other. To learn more and register, just go to theunstuckgroup.com/xp. Now, before this week’s conversation, here’s Tony.

Tony (01:15):

This episode is brought to you by Planning Center, an all-in-one software to help you organize your ministries and care for your church. With an easy-to-use platform of products, you can bring people together with event signups, room and resource reservations, automatic volunteer scheduling and much more. Start using Planning Center for free now at planningcenter.com.

Amy (01:43):

Hey, Tony, it’s good to see you. I, I bet you’ve been busy these last few weeks.

Tony (01:47):

I have been, yeah. Serving all kinds of great churches. And I know you’re just as busy as I am, but sounds like you have a fun story to share.

Amy (01:56):

Yeah, you know, I was every once in a while, the God just lays, God just lays one of the churches I’ve served on my heart. And I’ll just send out a quick note, and that happened Monday. But, you know, this has been a crazy week for us, and so I kind of let it lie. Well, he emailed me this morning, and this is a church we served down in Florida. So, not only did they go through Covid, but they also got hit by the hurricane back in, I think it was 2021, as well. So, they had a lot to dig out of. But I loved this team. I love the senior pastor, and he dropped me a note. It’s been two years, over two years, which I guess I also mentioned that to say when we serve a church, it’s not like: Month four, everything’s better. You know, there’s plans to work and things to work through. But man, in the last two years, they have renovated their worship center. They have a new leader in place who’s just thriving over their weekend experience. They’ve implemented a new database. They’ve fully integrated kind of their management system. We talk about project management tools for church, which is so, kind of new. It’s called monday.com. I hadn’t heard of it. But, now, they have visibility to how and when people are taking next steps along their discipleship pathway. He shared that they had their largest Easter ever, and they have a huge vision. They are on track to plant or replant 40 churches.

Tony (03:09):


Amy (03:09):

And see 40 people in long-term ministry by 2027. So, I mean, two years in the making, but I just kudos to that church for taking the time to make a plan and then working their plans. That’s my, that’s my payday, by the way. I know you pay me, but honestly, hearing stories like that is just what makes all of this so remarkable to be a part of.

Tony (03:31):

Yeah. And, Amy, you can probably appreciate this. I mean, on any, in any given year, we’re gonna be on the ground with more than a hundred different churches, but I probably only get to go to maybe 20, 25 of those churches.

Amy (03:43):


Tony (03:43):

But this is one example of a church I had nothing to do with, and that just, it speaks to the power of team, too. I mean, you and several other folks from from The Unstuck Group are just serving churches so well. So, thank you for what you do, and thanks for sharing that story.

Amy (04:01):

Well, I hope it offers some encouragement to pastors out there who are working their plans, and they’re waiting for results. They do come. They do come.

Tony (04:08):

That’s right.

Amy (04:08):

You just gotta work ’em. All right. Well, we’re in part three of our series on How to Talk About the Tough Stuff, and so far, we’ve discussed how we can address the topics of mental health and human sexuality in the church. But I think, Tony, today’s topic might be even more divisive than those two.

Tony (04:23):

You may be right. For today’s conversation, I actually sat down with my pastor, Andy Stanley, from North Point Ministries to discuss how pastors can navigate controversial topics regarding politics, especially as we enter another election season here in the U.S. And we actually did a webinar with Andy on How to Lead a Divided Church back in 2021. And wow. It’s a division. If the division felt strong then, I know it’s weighing even more heavily on a lot of us right now. And since that conversation, Andy has also released a book on that exact topic. The, the book is called Not in It to Win It: Why Choosing Sides Sidelines the Church. So, if you haven’t picked up that book, you’ll, you’ll wanna read it. But if you’re familiar with Andy and NorthPoint, you also know they haven’t shied away from addressing tough topics in the past or even in recent months. And they’ve certainly faced backlash and stirred up some controversy because of it. But, for that reason, I think Andy has a lot of wisdom to offer in this area, and I think this conversation will be practical, encouraging and maybe even a little convicting for the church leaders who are listening, even those who may disagree.

Tony (05:43):

Well, Andy, a few months ago, our team was planning this content series related to teaching on tough topics, and your name popped up for some reason.

Andy (05:50):


Tony (05:51):

I mean, yeah, apparently you’ve had some recent experiences teaching on tough, controversial topics in recent months, and so we wanted to reach out to you because you’ve become an expert apparently.

Andy (06:02):

Hmm. Yeah. Not, not by choice, but, but sometimes that’s how it is, right? You just have to do what you have to do. And you’re, you’re sitting there, Tony. You’ve got great context. I guess it’s okay for your audience to know that you attend our church, which is, it’s amazing to have you here.

Tony (06:19):


Andy (06:19):

And your, and I, I’ve mentioned this before on the podcast, just your feedback and just your in investment in our staff. It’s, it’s fantastic. So, thank you.

Tony (06:28):

Well, for those that aren’t familiar, a few months ago, North Point hosted, it is, it’s actually a part of North Point’s Ministry. Parent Connect is a ministry to parents with LGBTQ+ children and hosted an event.

Andy (06:45):


Tony (06:45):

And, Andy, just by the way, many of my friends in ministry have told me how thankful they are for you, for North Point, for modeling how to help parents.

Andy (06:56):

Oh, wow.

Tony (06:57):

And several have actually reached out to me because they wanted to share their appreciation and for me to relay that. But, also, because they’re just, they’re, they’re interested in knowing how the church is and how you’re doing since then. At my conversations with my friends at North Point, indicate, you know, attendance is up, givings hasn’t been impacted. If anything, it seems that, from my perspective, that the church is just experiencing health and growth in this season. And with that being the case, how do you explain that? Because I think from the outside world looking in, this might’ve been disruptive, but from within the church, it just feels like the church is healthy and thriving right now.

Andy (07:40):

Yeah, I, I’ve heard, I’ve heard all kind of rumors. Nobody attends North Point anymore. This is, North Point even round? I mean, those are, you know, people who are exaggerating their comments. So, yeah, I mean, things, things are good. We lost some families, which I hate. I met with literally dozens of families who had been very involved, and I told ’em, “Hey, I, I’m not gonna try to talk you into staying, but I just want you to leave with all the information or the correct information.” And I think some of those families will come back, but some just said, “Hey, we, we just, we just can’t go there.” And I get that and fully appreciate it. And I, the, the, I feel like I took their church away, not intentionally, but that was, that’s how they felt. And I hate that. I mean, ’cause I tell pastors all the time, never take somebody’s church away from them unintentionally if you’re trying to be out there just making a point or going off. But, but this was, as you know, I guess a lot of people know, this was a response to a lot of misinformation. A lot of just crazy, “look at me, look at me” people and organizations who just felt like, oh, here, you know, here’s our opportunity to elevate something outta context. So, I did have the opportunity to address it. But to the point of your question, without rambling on and on and on, here’s, here’s some specifics and this, this might be a fun podcast sometime. As you know, I think, you know, we’re in the second year of implementing these four disciplines of execution. It’s a, it’s a strategy that, that comes from a book that we read some years ago. So, this is our second year, and we set a pretty ambitious goal for this year, ending the ministry year, ending in May for the active adults in our church. And even with all the drama of this past fall, we’re, I think we’re gonna hit our number. The other thing that’s encouraging is you probably know we did a survey of all the congregants of all of our Atlanta area churches. And in January, and coming out of that, our net promoter score was 83%, which is really high. And the question

Tony (09:34):

It’s world-class, Andy.

Andy (09:35):


Tony (09:35):

I mean, for, for organizations.

Andy (09:37):


Tony (09:38):

‘Cause if you’re not familiar with net promoter score, that’s on a range from minus 100 to plus 100, and anything in that 80-some percent.

Andy (09:46):


Tony (09:47):

That is, that’s world-class. So that’s, that speaks volumes of how people appreciate their church.

Andy (09:53):

Well, and the question that we judged it on, typically you would say, you know, how, how likely are you to, to invite someone to this local church? But, our question was, how likely are you to invite an unchurched person to our church?

Tony (10:08):


Andy (10:11):

And our net promoter score was based on that question, which is even a narrower question. So, that was fantastic. And then, the other thing from the survey, across the board, 40% of people who have attended our church five times or less have not attended another church in the previous five years. And 40-something percent of the people who’ve attended our church five times or more also had not attended church in the previous five years before coming to our church. So, this whole idea of being an outward-facing church and really trying to engage unchurched people, that’s a really high percentage on from, you know, from on both sides of the equation because we did two different surveys for two different groups. So, to answer your question, it feels great. But beyond just feeling great, the, the actual things that we measure and that are important to us are things are, things are good, people are motivated.

Tony (11:02):


Andy (11:02):

So, you know, it’s on we go, right? So.

Tony (11:07):

Yeah, that’s right. Well, and, you know, and actually our podcast listeners have heard me share this, as well. My volunteer role at North Point is in the connections space on Sunday mornings. And I get to have these conversations with all these new people that are coming to North Point, very first time. And it’s just, it’s so encouraging for me. It actually helps fuel the mission of what I’m doing at The Unstuck Group because I can see now firsthand the impact that the church, the local church is having in people’s lives.

Andy (11:37):

Good. Yeah, yeah.

Tony (11:37):

And so, it’s just, it’s encouraging. Well, anyways, that controversial topic that you waded into several months ago, it’s actually a good lead in to today’s conversation. But, let me begin with this. Why do you think some topics become tough topics?

Andy (11:57):

Well, as you know, ’cause we’ve been doing this a long time. The, the, the tough topics or what’s a tough topic changes not just generation to generation but obviously within generations. And I think it really comes down to, because as so your audience knows, you sent me these questions ahead of time, which I appreciated. So, I could give them, you know, some thought. But I think it’s because people’s lived experience and the worldview they develop as a result, create their, you know, strong opinions on either side of any issue. And then, if we’re people of faith, of course we wrap our opinions with our faith, right? I mean, that’s just, how could we not? We’re, we’re, we’re Christians. We kind of take, we wrap our opinions with our faith paradigm. And our lived experience and the lived experience of other people, people we love, those things shape our opinion, I think, more than we realize. And I think they, if we’re honest, if I’m honest, those things shape our faith maybe more than we realize. And as evangelicals, of course, we dive into the New Testament or Old Testament and find a verse to support how we already feel anyway, a little bit. And I think we all have a tendency to proof-text our deeply held, long-term held opinions. The Bible says God would never, God would always, Jesus would never vote that way. You know, it’s a sin. It says right there, all those things. We all have a tendency to defend what’s comfortable. So, when a pastor touches on either intentionally or unintentionally, because we’ve all stepped into things unintentionally, you get all this email, you’re like, all I said was. And, but again, you you touched on something that was emotional for somebody. When we intentionally or unintentionally bump into a cultural issue or a deeply held conviction, it gets very emotional very quickly. And I’ve learned any, any pastor has experienced this. Once you touch off, once you touch that emotion or touch off that emotion, people don’t hear anything else you say for the rest of the message. They kind of just get stuck there and kind of stew there a little bit and sort of build up a, a head of steam around it. And, and no matter how we qualify it, no matter how we contextualize it, somebody gets offended or, or disgusted. And again, the tough topics change from time to time. As you know, women in ministry is back. I, I thought we had thought we covered that one. But, you know, that’s front and center. Again, divorce is not an issue anymore. Now, abortion isn’t just a moral issue. It’s, I I’m seeing this more and more. You can’t be a Democrat and be a Christian. You can’t be a Democrat and a Christian because of the abortion issue. So, that’s new language. And then, you know, this whole thing, if the world doesn’t hate us, we’re doing it wrong. Even though Jesus and Paul said, we’re to be winsome and da dah, dah, dah, dah. So.

Tony (14:35):


Andy (14:35):

It’s a, it’s a minefield. It’s a minefield. And it is worse than ever, I think. And yet, every Sunday we’re all supposed to get up and point people to Jesus and then, you know, answer email for the next six days or you know. And it’s not me. It’s not just me. It’s, it’s, again, the reason we’re talking about it, this is, this is so typical of, of what local church pastors are, are dealing with right now.

Tony (14:58):

That’s right.

Andy (14:59):

On, on both sides of every issue.

Tony (15:01):

Yes, that’s right. And that is, that is, that’s precisely why in this series on teaching, we wanted to focus on how pastors can and should engage these tough topics.

Andy (15:10):


Tony (15:10):

So, you know, whether it’s theology, politics or a variety of other cultural topics, it seems like our society, of course, is more divided than ever. It also feels like churches are more divided than ever.

Andy (15:24):


Tony (15:25):

So, the church is supposed to be united in might and purpose, of course. What’s fueling this division within the church? What’s kind an underlying issue that the church is dealing with here, Andy?

Andy (15:36):

I, again, all these are, these are all my opinions. I guess that’s, you’re okay with that. But it’s, it’s social media, and, and everything, again, is so polarized. There’s no middle. There, you can’t make any money in the middle. You can’t get a following in the middle. So, we’re all the, the voices are, you know, getting further and further, further extremes. And so, if you buy, you, you almost feel forced to buy into one side or the other and to buy into everything that side buys into, or you don’t get invited over for Christmas. You know, the, the whole idea of, “Well, I agree with this, but I disagree with that.” Nuance is gone. Hey, I, “We can agree to disagree” is gone. I agree with this part of the party’s platform, but not that part. You’re, you’re either all-in, you are for me, or you’re against me. And then, again, special interest groups around us are constantly attempting to use us. And they’ve conspired to convince us that the greatest threat to the church is outside of us. That’s, that’s what we’re supposed to believe, that the Democrats are coming to get us. The Republicans are coming to get us. And, again, my opinion, a Christian who’s convinced that an ideology or a political party is the primary threat to Christianity, I think those Christians become a threat to Christianity because they bought a lie that the primary threat to Christianity is something out there, because I think Jesus was clear: the primary threat to Christianity is not out there. It’s in here. And when we lose sight of that, we just start acting and talking like, you know, the people that are supposedly the, the enemies of the church and the enemies of the faith. And, it just, things just get spun up from there. So, part of our responsibility as, as local church pastors is to address not the different, well, I should say in many cases, it’s not to address which side of the issue is the correct issue. It’s to address how do we be the church when we’re not agreeing and won’t ever agree on the right approach to some of these issues because there is a way forward. And I think ultimately that’s where our messaging begins. And it’s not because we don’t have strongly held opinions. And it’s not because we’re not or can’t get emotional about these things. Of course we do. We’re human. But when I stand up with a microphone on, you know, with the scripture, my responsibility isn’t to convince people of my view of anything. It’s, it’s something entirely different.

Tony (17:53):

Yeah. So, Andy, you talk about Christians, we, I, the tendency, natural tendency is to be convinced, I think, that there’s a threat out there.

Andy (18:02):


Tony (18:02):

But what happens in Christians when they let that become the threat?

Andy (18:06):

Well, I think, well, again, personally, and I think in general, if, if the threat is out there, I quit paying attention to what’s in here, being like, what’s in my heart. And once I think the enemy is out there, again, I, the temptation or the tendency is to adopt the tone, posture and approach of the enemy out there because an enemy needs to be destroyed. You don’t, you don’t win an enemy. You destroy an enemy. But Jesus and Abraham Lincoln, interestingly enough, suggested that we make our enemies our friends or at least treat them as such. In other words, the idea isn’t to destroy an enemy, it’s to win one. So Jesus says, “Hey, if somebody considers you an enemy, you don’t have to return the favor.” And then, if we, if we don’t adopt the posture, tone and approach of Jesus, we get divided from other Christians on both sides of every issue. And again, it’s becomes more based on lived experience than what it means to follow Jesus. But to the point of this discussion, as a pastor who has stepped into the lived experience of so many people, like so many pastors have, I think we understand why people bring so much emotion to these issues because we have walked beside people who, again, are dealing, nobody is a blank slate. Nobody has a perfect experience or perfect upbringing. So, we all have biases. We all have leanings. So, as a pastor, as pastors, we should be so attuned to that because we have, again, walked through, walked with people through so many lived experiences. But the, it seems like the average person or even the average Christian, you know, their experience is, is they just can’t get beyond that being the epicenter of how everybody should see the world around them. So, again, that, that’s the challenge, and that, but that’s just ministry. And that, that part is certainly not new, but it certainly seems to be elevated. And the emotion certain, certainly seems to be elevated.

Tony (19:57):

So, if the threat’s not out there, what do you sense is the real threat to Christians in the church?

Andy (20:03):

Well, this is where I think all of us can be really, really clear. Because in John 17 when Jesus prayed for future church, his future ekklesia, he only had one prayer request. He said, “Father, I want them to be one, being one in purpose, as in the same way that you and I are one in purpose.” He said, “Father, just as you and I are one, and you sent me into the world so the world will know that you sent me. I want my followers to be one in purpose with me so that the world will know that you sent me and that I came into the world to represent you.” So, the idea of oneness, oneness, not being agree, agreeing on everything, but oneness in terms of, “Hey, we are here for the same purpose, so we gotta figure out our differences. Otherwise, our differences are gonna undermine the ultimate purpose of the church. And the ultimate purpose of, of, of ekklesia.” So, I just feel like, you know, when a, well, five or six Christians can sit down with that single idea, then, they can hammer out differences and walk away disagreeing and still loving unconditionally. People do it all the time, but then you add several rows and several rows in multiple churches, and it gets more complicated. But the message is the same—that we are to be one in purpose. And Jesus said, what’s at stake? This is, he says this twice in John 17, what’s at stake, what, if we don’t get this right, is that people won’t recognize that the son came from the Father for the world. He said, this is mission critical. This isn’t, let’s just all get along ’cause it’s better that way. It’s mission critical that we are one in purpose. And, Tony, as you and I have experienced through the years, when a diverse group of Christians come together, a group of people, a a group of Christians who have not had, experienced the world the same way, who don’t come together with the same opinions about cultural issues and yet they can worship together and rally around the great commission and rally around making disciples, it is a far more powerful, it, it’s a far more powerful representation of the kingdom of God. And it’s a far more powerful message because the rest of the world is so divided over these things. So, when Christians who disagree can still love each other unconditionally and do that publicly and in a big way, I mean, that is evidence. Jesus said, that is evidence that I came from the Father for the world. And so, we should be able to get this right. But, again, that the burden of that falls on the men and women that stand up, you know, every Sunday and open God’s word and say, okay, we’re, we’ve, we’re not gonna agree on all this stuff. And my responsibility as a pastor isn’t to convince you that my view on these things is correct. My responsibility is to disciple you to be a better follower of Jesus. And if you’re following Jesus, you’re gonna get along with people who don’t see the world the same way you do. And again, as we talk about all the time, when I and anybody listening, we’ve all had this experience. You meet somebody who doesn’t see the same, the world the same way you do, you hear their story, and then you go, “Oh, oh, I mean, I, I don’t, I still don’t, I still don’t hold your view, but I certainly have a better understanding of why you hold your view.” And in that moment, there’s, again, there’s common humanity, and, and we can move forward.

Tony (23:20):


Andy (23:21):

I think if I, I think that Jesus’ disciples, the original 12, they were a very diverse group from, you know, the zealot, a tax collector. You had blue collar workers. You had fishermen that came from the family business. I think The Chosen, you know, the, The Chosen program, I think they’ve done a great job in elevating those differences between those, not just personalities, but between the backgrounds of the men who Jesus chose intentionally to follow him. And again, different issues but certainly similar, certainly there were issues that divided them personally, and yet he brought them together and said, “Hey, I’m not gonna convince you about the right tax structure. We’re not gonna attack Rome. We’re not gonna try to undermine and, and address every cultural issue, but we are here to do something very specific. And the diversity of you men is part of the message and may be the strength of the message.” And that’s our responsibility in the local church today.

Tony (24:14):

So, what that, I think, leads us to is, you know, in the church it feels like, Andy, there’s just a lot of division around things that I would consider to be secondary issues.

Andy (24:25):


Tony (24:26):

And, as you’ve just hinted, it kind of moves us off our primary mission then whatever the primary issues should be for the church. But with that in mind, do you think pastors should avoid teaching on secondary issues? Or is there a place for that? And especially when they know if they, if they start to teach on secondary issues, the, there’s just the potential it’s gonna create even more division in the church.

Andy (24:54):


Tony (24:54):

So should we avoid those topics?

Andy (24:56):

Well, the somebody out there is, is wanting to join the conversation and say, “Well, what do you mean secondary issue?” Because see, right? Because my secondary, the things that are secondary to somebody else feels very primary to me. And what seems primary to me seems like, why are you even talking about that? That’s not a big deal. So, absolutely. So, the answer to the question is yes, there’s definitely a time to wade in on what we might consider a secondary issue. So, just for the sake of conversation, the primary issue, if, as Jesus followers, is making Jesus name known to the world, representing him well, adopting his tone and posture and approach, loving well, loving each other, the way that he loved us and loving our enemies and praying for our enemy. All, all those things, those are primary. We are Jesus followers. We are ambassadors for Christ. My primary responsibility is to represent Jesus well in the world. So, that’s primary, because that’s what we were commissioned to do, called to do. And that’s what Jesus prayed would happen. So, if you set that at the top, then everything else, which you know, may be very important, is secondary. So, you know, whether women can preach in a church: important, but secondary. Abortion extremely: important, or pro-choice / pro-life: very important, but secondary. I mean, all of these things are secondary. So, to answer your question, when a pastor feels like, okay, I need to wade into a cultural issue, I think ,definitely there are times to do that. But when we do it, we have to contextualize it as a secondary issue. Not to say it’s not important. These things are very important. I mean, in some cases, lives are at stake. I mean, of course these things are important.

Tony (26:41):


Andy (26:41):

But if we can come at them with the perspective of as Jesus followers, let me, let me just kind of play out a, a, a narrative as Jesus followers, here’s what we have in common. We all want to get this right. Right? Right. We, what matters, that what, what what is best for people, that’s what’s best because God loves all people. So, there is a context in which we can all agree. What we’re not gonna agree on is the specific application. But if we can all agree that what’s best for people is what’s best because God so loved the world, at least we have common ground. And then, the second thing I would say about that is, when I’ve waded into these issues, I have planned way ahead. And I always invite people who are closer to these issues than me to weigh in on my outlines. So, if it’s, years ago we waded into the race issue because of things that were happening in our city. And then, there was a shooting in Dallas, and suddenly, the whole country’s talking about it. So, we canceled our regularly scheduled program, preempted it because we need to talk about this, the whole, the country’s focused on it. We need to talk about it because that particular issue runs right through so much of what we believe and what we’re supposed to do as Christians. So, I made sure several African American staff members saw my outline. They said, “This isn’t good language.” So, those kinds of things. Even the October 1st message I did, goodness, I had so many people weigh in on that from both sides. And I thought, well, now that, now that I’ve offended everybody, I think I have it right. You know, now that you know that both sides are like, wait a minute, you didn’t, you know, you, you’re not a hundred percent my way. So, the answer is yes, you wade in; you gotta do your homework.

Tony (28:26):


Andy (28:26):

And, and again, the context, the context, the, the point of those messages isn’t: This is the way I see it. You need to see it the way I see it. The context is we don’t see it the same way, but we’re called to love each other unconditionally. So, let’s talk about this. And when we walk away, we’re not gonna necessarily agree, but certainly we can move forward as a local church. These things don’t need to divide us, especially if it’s something that has begun to create division in a local congregation. That’s when it gets, it, it doesn’t just get tricky. It really gets dangerous to a local church. And sometimes, we just have to preempt the conversation and put it out there and say, okay, let’s talk about it. You’re already talking about it. Let’s, let’s bring it into big church and create some context around it. So, yes.

Tony (29:10):

Yeah, Andy, part of, I think, part of pastoring people is understanding, especially as it relates to some of these tough topics, especially when, you know, this is really gonna impact how people are living out their life and living out their belief there. I would have to think there’s some instances when you wade into a tough topic from the pulpit, from the platform through a sermon. But I would, I would, as a pastor, sometimes, are there, are there instances where teaching on that topic from the platform is not going to be as helpful as engaging the one-on-one conversation with somebody through a mentoring or discipleship relationship?

Andy (29:54):


Tony (29:54):

And how do you know when this is a platform topic and when it’s a coffee table topic?

Andy (30:01):

I think this is ex, an extremely important question, Tony, and I haven’t heard your answer to this, but here’s my response to that. I, I think the question creates an important distinction, and I think it’s a distinction a lot of pastors don’t realize they have permission to make. And, and what I mean by that is like, oh, here’s an issue. I need to talk about it. Yes, you need to talk about it but not necessarily with a microphone on in front of rows of people. So, I do think there are topics that are not Sunday morning platform topics, and it’s not because we don’t have an opinion. And it’s not because we don’t have a conviction; it’s because of sensitivity to the audience. And I, and not just me, other pastors, too, but I’m often criticized by people who don’t understand that distinction. And they say, I mean, people in our church, “Andy, why don’t you ever talk about? Why don’t you take a stand on? Why don’t you ever address?” And they assume my Sunday morning silence is a lack of conviction or opinion. And abortion is one of those topics. And when, again, the people who want me to, you know, speak loud and proud about abortion are of course pro-life people. And I’m very pro-life. I marched in the very first pro-life parade the city of Atlanta had years ago. Louis Giglio and I were both a part of that because, and again, why my pro-life? Well, I was raised in conservative Christianity. Abortion was just a horrible thing that didn’t touch my life or intersect with anybody I knew. So, it was very easy and convenient to be, you know, pro-life. Well, as a pastor, having waded into, walked with families through, this is a multi-layered topic. And I’m not an activist. I’m a pastor. So, I have to approach that topic like every other pastor, topic as a pastor. And here’s the difference. Pastors begin with people’s lived experience. Pastors begin with stories, as did Jesus. This was the difference between Jesus and the Pharisees. They were the concordance believers. You know, they, the Bible says, the Bible says. Here’s what, here’s what Torah says. Here’s what Torah says. Torah says she has to be stoned because she committed adultery. Jesus who knew her story because we just assumed Jesus knew it. The text says Jesus knows the heart of every man and every woman. So I mean, the woman at the well, he’s like, “Hey, by the way, I know your story. You’ve been married five times, and the man you’re with now is not your husband. So, let’s just start there. Okay. I, I know your story. I’m, everything I’m about to say to you. I’m saying within the context I know your lived experience.” Well, as a pastor, we don’t know everybody’s lived experience, but we know enough about people’s lived experience to know we have to begin the conversations there. So, to stand up on a Sunday morning, and, and again, I’m sounding more critical than I mean to be, to rail against abortion as a topic, to me, that is not the place to talk about it. And I know many, many pastors would completely disagree, and I understand that. But I know in our church, in every church, there are very few women sitting there who are pregnant and who are trying to decide, “Hmm, should I have an abortion or not.” But there are many, many, many women sitting there who’ve had abortions or who’ve taken their daughters to get abortions, even though they were very pro-life themselves. And again, pastors who’ve been in that confusing world of people, real people with real decisions and real complex family dynamics. I’m, any, I mean, I’m so happy to share and talk about this in the circle or in the group without a microphone. But I think, for me, that’s one of those topics I’ve chosen not to make a Sunday morning topic. And I would just say to the pastors listening, you have permission. You, and again, not just on the abortion issue, you have permission to make that distinction about what do you talk about with a microphone on? And what do you talk about one-on-one or with a small group of people, or as I often do, when somebody’s critical or they have a question about something. I say, “Look, invite me to your small group.” ’cause they’ll say, “Well, you know, the people in my small group are so upset.” I’m like, “I would be happy to come to your small group. I’ll answer any question you have.” And then, in those environments, I say to the people in small group, “By the way, anything I’ve said to you, you can share with anybody you know. This is not a secret. These are not, these are not my secret beliefs. These are just things I’m not gonna say on a Sunday morning because of the diversity and the diverse life experience of people. And not to mention, it’s going all over the internet to who knows where.”

Tony (34:29):


Andy (34:29):

So, I think your question is so important because, and again, pastors need to have permission to make that distinction. It’s, it’s why Alistair Begg got into so much trouble. I mean, he had a one-on-one conversation with a grandmother.

Tony (34:46):


Andy (34:46):

And all the pharisaic-thinking people said, “Oh, we’re gonna take your advice, pull it out of context, you know, contrast it with, you know, our concordance Christianity, and you did a bad thing.” And he’s like, no, I wait, wait. You’ve just subtracted the lived experience of this grandmother from the equation and are holding statements I made accountable to versus you’ve interpreted without lived experience context. Jesus did not do that. And pastors don’t have the luxury of doing that. So, this is a really, really important distinction.

Tony (35:23):

All right, so, let’s try to get on the solution side of this for pastors that are listening. Again, they know they’re gonna be wading into tough topics, especially in the, in these coming months, Andy. So, what would your coaching be to pastors on these tough topics? How can they address these things while still galvanizing the church to accomplish its mission?

Andy (35:44):

Well, Tony, I think, as you know, well I didn’t this, I just did a series, a six-part series called Ekklesia on the church. And in the last message, I, I, I addressed this directly with our congregation in, in terms of, again, this was my approach to what you just asked about how pastors do this. And again, it begins with what I’ve already said. That, hey, what is primary? What is primary? And to remind our congregation to say, and I, and I said this in the message, Hey, your conviction around secondary issues, your convictions are informed by your faith. Right? Right? I mean, isn’t that right? The reason you feel so strongly the way you do about whatever the issue is, isn’t it? And, and everybody in the congregation, regardless of their view is like, well, yeah, absolutely. The reason I’m so passionate about this is because of my faith. I’m like, okay, there’s our common ground. Our common ground that you’ve just acknowledged that what’s primary is not these particular cultural issues. What’s primary is your faith and your faith framework because you are acknowledging that your faith framework is what is fueling your concern over these issues. Well, that’s huge common ground. So, I think that’s where the conversations start. And then, specifically, in this message, and these are things I’ve said before, I just bundled them all up as we wrapped up this series. I said three things that I suggested. I said, you need to make three decisions. Number one, you need to pledge loyalty to king over country. You pledge loyalty to king over country. In other words, Jesus is your king, and he was your king. And he’s been king long before there was a United States of America. Or, as Crawford Loritts said, I interviewed him some time ago, and he didn’t, I I, he had told me this in private. And I forced him to say it publicly to our whole church ’cause I thought it was so great. But he said in a sermon one time, he said, God does not stand for our national anthem. God does not stand. And he said a woman in his church was so mad, she met him at the door and said, he most certainly does. And he’s like, ma’am, he said, I looked at her. I said, “Ma’am, think about what you’re saying.” God does not stand for no, no, God isn’t. Because as, as Christians, we pledge loyalty to king over country. There’s where we find our common ground. And, and it’s what we celebrate at Christmas today. In the town of Bethlehem, a king is born unto you. The second, the second thing I said to them is, don’t, and we’ve talked about this, I said, don’t allow a secondary issue to become your primary issue. Don’t allow a secondary issue to become your primary issue. Hold to your secondary issues, but don’t allow it to become primary because we’re all called to evaluate our response to all things through the eyes and the teaching of our king. And that common calling is our common ground. And, you know, when Christians arrive at different conclusions, that’s fine. But our common ground is why we don’t have to be divided over anything. And and again, I try to remind our folks all the time, I think they get tired of me repeating myself, but I say, look, if, if you don’t understand how a Christian could possibly not hold your view, it’s because there’s something you don’t understand. So, you need to have conversations and not to change your mind, but to at least go, oh, okay, well, I don’t agree but that what makes a lot more sense than, you know, what I thought before. I just thought y’all are all demons and crazy and, and sellouts. But yeah, I guess if I’d experienced that or was raised that way, you know, I would, I would probably hold the same view that you do. And then, the third thing, and this is this, this, it’s a shame that I would even have to say this, that the third decision I asked them to make is refuse to demonize anyone for any reason. Refuse to brand people or groups of people as evil. Because when we do that, it says more about us than it says about them. It it, it says that basically no matter how I was raised and no matter what happened to me as a child or a young adult, or even recently, I would never hold the view that you hold. And we can’t say that. Again, when we hear people’s lived experience, there’s the, the temperature always comes down. In fact, the, to sort of tease this out to a theological context, the reason that God loves me in spite of me, is he knows my whole story. And the reason he loves you, Tony, just in case he needs some encouragement today, the reason he loves you in spite of you, is your sin sits within the context of your entire story. And what’s so hypocritical about all of us is I am quick to excuse my sin based on my experience, but I am hesitant to cut anybody else any slack for their sin because I don’t know their lived experience. And I’m not, you know, and I won’t slow down enough to say, wait a minute, wait a minute, Andy, you have no reason to judge them. You don’t, you don’t know their story. So, again, we should never demonize anyone for any reason. There’s cases in the New Testament where it looks like Jesus did, but hey, he’s Jesus. Again, he knew everybody’s story So, you know, that that’s, that’s kind of it. It’s the, those three things. And I, I just wish if, you know, if, if pastors found their own way to say, Hey, pledge loyalty to king over country. Don’t allow a secondary issue to become your primary issue, and refuse to demonize anyone for any reason. Again, now, we have common ground. We can agree to disagree and love each other unconditionally, which by the way, and I’m done, we are not. Jesus didn’t suggest that we love each other the way he loved us. He said, “I got one command. I’m just giving you one.” And that was it. I am to love my brothers and sisters in Christ the way that he loved me. It was a command. And then he said, “Oh, by the way, I want you to love your enemies as well.” So, I think when we get, when we rally around those things, the temperature comes down, and we can, we can move forward as a local church.

Tony (42:00):

Andy, this has been so good. And as we wrap up then today, any final encouragement for pastors, particularly as we enter into what is very obviously gonna be very contentious, very divisive election year.

Andy (42:13):


Tony (42:13):

So any encouragement for pastors listening today?

Andy (42:16):

Yes, I did. I, I, here’s what I wrote down, and I, it’s, there’s four sentences. I would say to them, and I would say to the men and women listening: You got this. Fear not, don’t. This is what Jesus said. Don’t fear the one who can destroy your body or your career or your reputation, but fear the one who controls your soul. We’ve all preached on Daniel in the lions’ den. We’ve all preached on Paul being thrown into prison in Philippi and in Rome. We’ve all preached on Jesus marching to Jerusalem. These are our moments. The good news is we’re not gonna shed blood. We’re just gonna shed tears. So press on. Be faithful. And if your spouse and kids love and respect you, that’s enough. You got this.

Amy (43:03):

Well, Tony, that was a great conversation. It is so clear that Andy doesn’t take these issues lightly, and I really appreciated his nuanced approach. What stood out to you?

Tony (43:14):

Well, a couple things that he shared. One, as an example, he shared my responsibility as a pastor isn’t to convince you that my view on these things is correct. My responsibility is to disciple you to be a better follower of Jesus. And I think, again, that kinda reframes some of, especially the culturally divisive issues. It’s not to have a right position; it’s actually to continue to encourage people to take their next steps towards Jesus.

Amy (43:43):


Tony (43:43):

And then he also said, “Some Christians have bought a lie that the primary threat to Christianity is something out there, outside of us.” But Jesus was was clear that the primary threat to Christianity is not out there, but it’s in here, talking about inside of each of us. And then, because of that, the unity within the body of Christ. So, practically speaking, I think a few things that we need to keep in mind as pastors when addressing these issues: We need to plan way ahead and invite people who are closer to these issues to weigh in before we’re preaching on Sunday morning.

Amy (44:22):


Tony (44:22):

And then, just to keep in mind, there are some topics that are not necessarily Sunday morning platform topics. Pastors can still pastor their congregations, but being intentional about what becomes a platform topic and what’s more of a one-on-one conversation or one within a small group conversation that needs to take place where you can really process together and talk about how we actually live this out. And then, finally, let me just share this. This is a great quote from Andy. He said, “When Jesus prayed for the future church, he only had one prayer request. He said, Father, I want them to be one being one in purpose in the same way that you and I are one in purpose. And Jesus said, what’s at stake if we don’t get this right, people won’t recognize that the son came from the Father for the world.” And he said, “This is mission critical. It’s mission critical that we are one in purpose.”

Amy (45:23):

Well, Tony, I really appreciate I think this whole series came out of what the Lord was kind of speaking to you. And I know my husband as a lead pastor is, is really enjoying this series. And, and today will be the same story. But, any final thoughts before we wrap up today’s conversation?

Tony (45:40):

Well, Amy, I think Andy said it best as we enter into another divisive political season, election season, we just need to remind Christ followers, number one, we need to pledge loyalty to our king over country. Secondly, we can’t allow a secondary issue to become more important than our primary issue, which is to carry out the, the mission that God’s given us, that God’s given the church. And number three, we need to refuse to demonize anyone for any reason. So, with that, I’m looking forward to next week’s conversation. We’re gonna wrap up this series on teaching on tough topics, so be sure to join us next week for the final episode of our series.

Sean (46:25):

Well, thanks for joining us on this week’s podcast. At The Unstuck Group, our goal is to help pastors grow healthy churches by guiding them to align vision, strategy, team and action. In everything we do, our priority is to help churches help people meet and follow Jesus. And if there’s a way that we can serve you and your church, reach out to us today at theunstuckgroup.com. Next week, we’re back with another brand-new episode. Until then, have a great week.

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.

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