When big news happens—civil unrest, natural disasters, terrorist attacks—pastors usually start an internal dialogue about the coming Sunday’s message.
Do I preach the message I’d planned on preaching? The one I had announced and slotted perfectly into our current series? The one I’ve already spent a couple of early mornings and late nights working on?
Or do I preach a message that addresses this current cultural crisis?
The question isn’t as simple as you might think—or as some leaders make it out to be in social media posts.
Does every significant cultural moment require us to abandon the preplanned message in favor of a “hot topic” message? Not necessarily. It all depends.
Here are a few questions that guide me when I’m deciding whether or not to address a particularly prominent news story.
1. Does this crisis affect my congregation more than the topic I’d planned on talking about?
If I happen to be preaching on the topic of marriages in trouble or how to recover from financial failure, should I switch to a topic that might actually be less deep for my congregation? Could the conversation about what’s in the news actually just be a distraction from what people are really struggling with?
2. Does this crisis signal a larger trend that ought to be addressed by the church?
In the last century of Western culture, it has been entirely necessary for preachers to take to the pulpit to address issues like civil rights, anti-Semitism, the threat of communism and theological liberalism. Sometimes, the story the world is watching is really a gateway to share vital, timeless truth.
3. Could I be guilty of feeding fear and overcapitalizing on emotionalism?
Not to sound too dramatic, but do I run the risk of sounding too dramatic? I don’t mean that a crisis isn’t heavy. What I mean is that a watching world might perceive the church as using a story as emotional leverage to grab attention when the story might not really warrant it.
To put it another way, using the “shock value” of a headline might actually hurt our credibility if people perceive us to be exploiting a situation to draw a crowd.
4. Do the people in my congregation need comfort in the moment?
Pastoral preaching, week in and week out, must shepherd a congregation through moments of pain and confusion. When terrorists attack or mass casualties are reported in a natural disaster, it’s often true that our congregation is hurting and confused, even when the event took place somewhere else.
In this case, it’s powerful to demonstrate the healing and comforting power of God’s Word.
5. Am I faithfully presenting the gospel and the whole counsel of God every Sunday?
Whether you preach through books of the Bible, through topics and themes, or choose to address in-the-moment stories from culture, the gospel should always be absolutely clear.
When community life is rolling along just fine, people tend to forget how much they need the truth and grace of God in their lives. And when tragedies and crises occur, people need the reminder that the only source of real, lasting peace and hope is in the cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
In other words, it is always appropriate to preach the simple message of the good news about Jesus. And it is always inappropriate to leave it out of the sermon.
So … what are you preaching this Sunday?
Brandon Cox is the lead pastor of Grace Hills Church in Rogers, Arkansas, the editor and online community facilitator of Pastors.com, and a coach to leaders, pastors and church planters. This post was originally published on Pastors.com.