We may be through the worst of the economic downturn, but economic issues are still at the forefront. How can pastoral leaders address these issues from the pulpit on an ongoing basis?
People get economic news every day, via newspaper, radio, TV and online. It's vital to present an alternative view of economic reality, one founded in Scripture and the values of our faith. We'll never make a 20-minute sermon equal the news barrage, but the relationship preachers have with their people can help increase the impact. And you can't affect how people apply their faith to economic realities if you never preach or teach about them.
Here are some tips for preaching about economic matters:
• Be curious yourself about the economy. Don't get too anxious about what you see and hear in the media. That will infect your preaching
• Stand with the congregation as one who needs to hear the message of hope and challenge from the Scriptures, rather than over against them as one who is telling them what they ought to do.
• Do it more often. The Bible is full of texts which address economic matters. If you use the lectionary, pay attention to these texts as they come along. If you don't, simply try a brief series using some of Jesus' teaching about money.
• Ask some thoughtful, mature members for input - before and/or after the sermon.
• Remember that you don't have to be a financial expert (or even have your own financial house entirely in order) to reflect on these matters. You can be honest and say, I don't completely understand these questions, but I'm working to get clearer. I do believe the Bible offers wisdom that can help us navigate these choppy economic waters.
Matthew Tennant offers an assessment of the issues at hand in his book, Preaching in Plenty and in Want (Judson, 2011), and he suggests four areas for the message of preaching:
1. The fallacy of prosperity: "The challenge to ministers is to slowly and gently help people read their Bibles outside of the paradigm of the American dream."
2. Current events: "When ministers hear a news story and truly absorb the current event and understand its implications; they can be in a better position to form a response shaped in faith..."
3. Simple living: "the sermon can function as an alternative voice to the constant clatter of calls for increased spending."
4. Preaching as a source of hope. "Hope is central to all preaching, regardless of the economy, but hope is especially important when relating God to the economy."
Preaching from this list of four could be a fine preaching series. Preaching, among other things, is an ongoing experiment in self-definition. What do you think about faith and the economy, and how might you say that from pulpit?
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