As you start reading this, you may think this is a political blog. Wait until the end. I have a point, and it’s not political. Well, maybe it is, but I want to address the politics of church using a recent segment I saw on Sunday’s “This Week” on ABC.
During the program, the panel was discussing President Obama’s recent pitch in Denmark to get the Olympics in Chicago in 2016. Apparently Oprah and Obama don’t have the clout they think they have. The Olympic Committee apparently didn’t hear a word the President said. We weren’t a close second. We were fourth. We didn’t even make it through the first round.
It seems the city of Chicago itself was split as to whether they even wanted the Olympics. Meanwhile, the President and First Lady and others did all they could to try to sell Chicago. Maybe they should have sent Bloggo, the former Governor. He seems to be able to cut deals. My thought is this: Do we really want to host the world in a city that is racked with crime, extortion, the Mafia, and, even by the liberal media’s analysis, one of the most crooked political systems in America? The words “Chicago” and “ethics” have rarely been used in the same sentence. I’ve been to Chicago, and it was cold.
Several years ago, I began to ask myself, “How do I stay ‘fresh’ in a long term pastorate? How do I stay fresh in my preaching and not fall for the old ‘I’ll brush off this old message and re-preach it’ syndrome? How do I have influence as a leader?” In talking to some seasoned ministers, I discovered one overriding principle. They told me, “Don’t speak on every issue. Don’t be the default answer man. Don’t feel like you have to be at every meeting. Don’t fall into the trap of speaking with the same passion on secondary issues as you do on the essentials. As much as you can, save what you say for the pulpit and preaching.”
While I’ve not always followed that advice, there is much merit in it. Read what the wisest man who ever lived said in the book of Proverbs.
“The tongue of the righteous is as choice silver,” (10:20)
“The lips of the righteous feed many,” (10:21)
“There is one who speaks rashly like the thrusts of a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.” (12:18)
“The tongue of the wise makes knowledge acceptable, but the mouth of fools spouts folly.” (15:2)
“Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruit.” (18:21)
“He who guards his mouth and his tongue, guards his soul from troubles.” (21:23)
As a student of history, I’ve watched certain trends with Presidents. When they choose to speak and not to speak is one I’ve observed. Some, like John Kennedy, used the press conference to their advantage. Others, like Bill Clinton, would ramble on and on, thinking that talking longer made them more convincing.
Some, like Harry Truman and Richard Nixon, cared little for the press or the camera. Others, like George Bush, granted rare interviews and seemed to focus more on the job than the polls. Sometimes we need to hear from the President. Sometimes we need the President to sit in his seat in the Oval Office and do the job we elected him to do.
Like a pastor who spends all his time hanging out with the coffee cup crowd at the local Waffle House, he may be the life of the party, but it’s the death of the prophet. The preacher must be cautious about over-familiarity with his people. It’s one thing to be a shepherd; it’s another thing to be a good old boy. If I were a church member, I would rather have a pastor who sat in his study and prepared the Word of God for the people of God than to have a pastor who hung out at the coffee shop and the golf course every day and then served up some stale, old sermon or internet sermon he stole from someone else. Lack of discipline in the pulpit is unacceptable for a man called of God. Lack of preparation is inexcusable. Lack of diligence should be unimaginable.
If loose lips sink ships, then smooth tongues can sink a politician. Casual and carnal conversations can cost the pastor respect. My concern for this president, or any president or leader, is that he appears to love the sound of his own voice. Most presidents throughout our history have disliked the press conference and microphone except when making a speech. This president seems to look for one even when he doesn’t need to.
When a president lowers himself and his office to speak on every issue, he has no clout to speak on any issue. In this day of the 24/7 news cycle, the drone of the same voice is tuned out or, even worse, is ignored and irritating. Either way, it’s deadly to the one who thinks he’s gaining the ability to influence.
This president has, I believe to his own demise at some point, weighed in on too many matters. Thus we have him speaking on a confrontation between a police officer and a professor, ending in Beer Fest, an expensive gathering at the White House with the President and Vice President and the two offended parties. Is this really the role of the leader of the free world? Do I really care what the leader of the free world thinks about Kanye West and Taylor Swift? Is there nothing else he can concentrate on, like maybe a legit health care policy and a winnable solution in the Middle East?
Will we next find our national leaders climbing ladders to get cats out of trees and storm drains? The office is diluted when there is no discernment. Just because someone has the ability (and the president does) to speak persuasively doesn’t mean he should.
On “This Week” George Will went through the list of people who have basically said, “Thanks, but no thanks” to the president. When trying to use the power and influence of his office to sway something, the response in an overwhelming number of situations has been, “Thanks, but no thanks.” In other words, you worry about your business, and we’ll take care of our own business. Here are a few examples (and George Will’s list was arm’s length):
• When the president asked the Governor of New York not to run for office, the Governor said, “No thanks.”
• When he asked Israel not to settle on the West Bank, they said, “No thanks.”
• When he asked the Palestinians to talk to Israel, they said, “No thanks.”
• When he has asked Congress to see things his way, even members of his own party have said, “No thanks.”
• When he asked the Olympic Committee to let the U. S. have the 2016 games, they said, “No thanks.”
• When he tried to negotiate with Iran over nukes, they said, “No thanks.”
• When he asked the Russians and Chinese to help with Iran and North Korea, they said, “No thanks.”
Then George Will may have made the defining statement of the first ten months of this administration. “He is the most adored and ignored man in the world. They world loves him, but they aren’t going to do what he says.”
In a recent column, Will points out, “Presidents often come to be characterized by particular adjectives: ‘honest’ Abe Lincoln, ‘Grover the Good’ Cleveland, ‘energetic’ Theodore Roosevelt, ‘idealistic’ Woodrow Wilson, ‘Silent Cal’ Coolidge, ‘confident’ FDR, ‘likable’ Ike Eisenhower. Less happily, there were ‘Tricky Dick’ Nixon and ‘Slick Willie’ Clinton. Unhappy will be a president whose defining adjective is ‘vain.’”
I’ve taken a wide road to get to where I want to go with this, but here it is. When a pastor or church leader is a good old boy; when he is known for glad-handing more than the gospel, for his coffee summits at the corner coffee shop, for his smiling more than his tears, for his love for his Alma Mater more than his Lord, for his golf game more than his leadership in the church, for his landscaping more than his plowing into the Word of God, the he should not be surprised when his congregation says, “No thanks” when he tries to speak on sin, self-centeredness, materialism, and the pride of life. Such ministers are adored, but when they speak of spiritual matters, they are ignored.
After all, “We know him…He’s one of us…He wasn’t talking about me…I’m sure glad he pointed out their sin, but he wasn’t talking to me…I’m his golfing partner.” The preacher who jests and jokes all week will not be able to jab the Sword of the Spirit into the souls of men on Sunday. If you want to be the life of the party, be a politician. If you want to be adored, say what people want to hear. If you want to be true to your calling, get alone, stop showing up at every social event, and start praying and preparing to be the man of God. Politics is for glad-handers. The pulpit is for those who have pledged their heads and hearts to heaven for the gospel. The pulpit is for those who care little whether people leave sad, mad, or glad. The preacher has one goal: “Thus says the Lord.”