What do you think when a preacher begins a sentence with the words:
“In my opinion?”
Some congregations might well breathe a sigh of relief that at last their preacher has jumped off the fence and brought some clarity to an issue. Some people don’t like their thinking to be bland, beige, and vague. Others will feel nervous about getting another tirade on this or that issue occupying the preacher at that moment.
There are some matters that Christians do not necessarily agree on, about which we might have strong opinions. How do preachers wisely navigate these issues?
There was a time when the Church of England used to be referred to as the “the Tory Party at prayer.” The author of a recent book on the history of the Alpha Course says that in the late 1990’s some began to talk, tongue in cheek, about Holy Trinity Brompton (the home Alpha) as the Labour Party at dinner!
There are obvious dangers in a preacher identifying too closely with a political party or cause.
Some people with different opinions might feel alienated or marginalised by such an approach.
There are a couple of issues occupying some preachers at present: Twitter and the football World Cup in Qatar, for example.
Lots of preachers have been talking about leaving the social media platform Twitter, because of the perceived change in tone in the past year, especially since its takeover by Tesla boss, Elon Musk. I can understand that this might be a personal decision that some might make, but it is not necessarily something that all Christians will feel they have to do.
Then there is the World Cup in Qatar, that has drawn much criticism because of the way the hosts were chosen, the odd switch from the traditional June dates to the middle of our domestic season, and for many most importantly the human rights record of Qatar.
Some people, including some Christian leaders, have decided not to watch any of the matches. As a football supporter who remembers the glory days of 1966, not watching England might spare me what seems to be inevitable, frustration, agony and disappointment. Yet suggesting to others that they should boycott the tournament does go beyond my brief as a preacher.
It is the role of the preacher to preach the word of God clearly, drawing out its practical implications and helping people grow in wisdom. Preachers are mistaken if they think that their role is to micro-manage the lives of their hearers. The wisdom of Scripture shapes the way that Christians think and behave. Wisdom makes informed choices about the way we live our lives.
Ultimately wisdom helps to ask the following question of the preacher: “is this merely their opinion or is it something that God wants me to take on board?”
Preachers need to try to shape wise disciples who know how to exercise the right of private judgement, rather than bind the consciences of those who feel intimidated by the loudest voice in the room.