What Should We Preach During a Crisis?

Regular exposition through books of the Bible addresses the full range of need and experience facing congregations. By plowing through Spirit-inspired books year by year, pastors address common and uncommon issues found among those sitting before them.

And sometimes the extraordinary happens. The Sunday after 9/11, while visiting my son at his college, we attended First Baptist Church in Durham, North Carolina. Pastor Andy Davis expounded Psalm 46. His sermon riveted our attention on God’s sovereign might and the eternal city that can never be destroyed. The following Sunday, Davis returned to his regular expositional series. The unusual nature of 9/11 called for a pivot to turn fearful hearts to the Lord.

Globally, something earth-shattering happens most every week. Nations wage civil war, tsunamis sweep away thousands, hurricanes level coastlines, tornadoes churn up destruction, floods wash away communities, terrorists bomb civilians, earthquakes collapse cities, riots erupt over injustice, and disease ravages countries. Should pastors address these issues when they disrupt the equilibrium of society?

It’s a timely question in light of this global pandemic.

Guiding Principles

A pastor’s goals in weekly preaching should inform those special occasions when it’s prudent to address a major cultural event. What goal should guide regular pulpit ministry? John Stott, for example, proposed: “The chief responsibility of the pastor who ‘tends’ his sheep is to ‘feed’ them.”

Here are three guiding principles for feeding from the pulpit in all seasons.

1. Preach the full range of biblical revelation.

Every necessary subject will be addressed as pastors work through Scripture’s genres over many years. This approach forces a pastor to address issues he might avoid if preaching topically.

Every necessary subject will be addressed as pastors work through Scripture’s genres over many years.

2. Consecutive exposition teaches congregations how to read and interpret Scripture.

Exposition models sound hermeneutics. Churches are laboratories for biblical interpretation as members follow along in their Bibles from one section to another.

3. Consecutive exposition builds a biblical theological framework so congregations learn to properly apply Scripture to all of life.

Tim Keller asserts, “The point of preaching is not just to expound doctrine, but to make the doctrine real to the heart and therefore permanently life-changing.”

This approach follows the biblical writers’ arguments, themes, peculiarities, and uniqueness, so congregations learn to distinguish Genesis from John, Romans from 1 Peter, 2 Samuel from Acts. They learn where to turn in their Bible when dealing with the gamut of issues endemic to life.

When Life Hits the Fan

Disruptions happen. A beloved church member dies tragically, a hurricane destroys the community, a crisis affects the national social fabric, a global pandemic strikes. These and other crises might be appropriate times to pause briefly from regular expositional series to speak God’s Word into that moment’s need. But before rushing to change the expositional series, ask the following:

  • Am I setting a precedent for interrupting a scheduled expositional series due to public reaction to a recent event? Pastors need to measure how often to digress from the regular study of Scripture to tackle a cultural or social event. Is the pastor prepared to address it, or is he simply following popular social-media talking points? In light of the 24-hour news cycle, will the congregation sense that the latest news rather than the storyline of Scripture controls the pulpit? Interruptions should be highly unusual, placing greater value on weekly exposition through the Word.
  • Am I spending more time researching the cultural event or phenomena than studying the biblical text? We live amid a glut of information—not all of it good or accurate. Sifting through mounds of material on any given event can consume a pastor’s preparation. Will he offer help from God’s Word or simply attach a few Bible verses and a couple theological quotes to endless discussion of the event du jour? The latter may impress social-media followers, but it won’t help the church.
  • Are transpiring events affecting the congregation to the degree that they’re struggling with perseverance, hope, and joy in their daily walk with Christ? On such occasions, the pastor may need to pause his series and preach one or two messages to turn the congregation toward the sufficiency of Scripture and faithfulness of God. For example, a sermon or two addressing how we’re not to live in fear during the COVID-19 pandemic might serve a congregation well. Such sermons will vary according to community and congregation, and the virus’s localized spread. A pastor in New Jersey might be more apt to address the issue than one in North Dakota. Within the framework of a regular expositional series, however, there might be ample opportunity to make application to the current crisis without leaving the series.

Digress, But Not for Long

Is it permissible for a pastor to leave his regular expositional work to address a crisis? Certainly, as he deems it helpful to encourage his congregation to trust the Lord. But he’ll stem fear, promote trust, and encourage hope by returning as soon as possible to regular biblical exposition. Weekly exposition supplies the nutrition that grows and matures the congregation in their faith.

Expositional continuity amid chaotic times promotes perseverance and stable faithfulness. As one elder told a pastor friend, “I’m glad you’re preaching through Mark again so we’re not reading the Bible in light of COVID-19, but interpreting our current circumstances in light of the Bible.”

Written by: PHIL A. NEWTON

First published 27.05.20: https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/preach-during-crisis/

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