Every day, multiple times each day, we open our social media feeds or turn to TV news to find more issues reminding us that God has not yet fully redeemed creation. And much of this breaking news not only breaks our hearts but embeds perennial outrage into the public conscience.
Legendary news broadcaster Walter Cronkite signed off with the phrase, “And that’s the way it is.” But now commentators tell us, “This is the way you should think about the way it is.” We are instructed daily on how to view and respond to the cultural shifts in the public square.
And when we walk into church on Sundays our views on these issues walk into the sanctuary with us, shape how we relate to one another, and affect how we live out our faith in the community.
How then should breaking news influence the preaching ministry of the church? How and when should a pastor address hot topics that seem to be on the fronts of everyone’s minds?
Consider these three priorities for public-square preaching:
Build a biblical framework through text-driven preaching.
The work of the pastor seems to be growing more complicated and multifaceted. But perhaps the most significant work of leading, caring, and protecting the congregation happens through the ministry of the Word.
Pastors equip the congregation with a biblical framework for interpreting world events through ongoing, text-driven preaching. Every passage of Scripture speaks from a context of how God’s eternal work intersects in creation history.
Public square engagement begins with biblical hermeneutics.
When a historical, grammatical, and linguistic approach to interpreting the Bible informs our weekly preaching, we can introduce any topic of cultural interest with confidence that our congregation’s worldview originates from the pages of Scripture.
Create hopeful enthusiasm through kingdom-influenced preaching.
Jesus taught us to pray, “Your kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven” because we live in an “already, but not yet” season where Jesus now reigns as triumphant King, yet we wait for His final coronation and rule over an everlasting kingdom to come.
This means we grieve tragedy, but not without hope. We pursue justice for the vulnerable with a view toward a perfect justice to come. We honor and pray for those in authority because the “king’s heart is like channeled water in the Lord’s hand: He directs it wherever he chooses” (Proverbs 21:1 CSB).
With a kingdom perspective, pastors, then, respond to the winds of cultural change with sincere hope.
If the breaking news is a local issue, directly affecting members of the community, then we comfort and encourage. If the issue is a national tragedy that has a local impact, such as a pandemic or war, for example, a pastoral moment of prayer during the worship service is helpful.
Following the attacks on September 11, 2001, many pastors took the opportunity to preach on a “theology of war” that provided a biblical lens to reason through such weighty circumstances.
But if the issue relates to ongoing social and political debates, there is good reason to exercise caution in chasing every headline. Using current events to illustrate or apply eternal truth is always helpful, but allowing hot takes to lead the way in preaching undermines the authority of Scripture and the potency of the preaching ministry and falls short of equipping the saints for the work of ministry.
Weighty issues are often urgent ones. For example, racial injustice, the vulnerability of the unborn, or religious freedom continue to be important issues that require a clarion voice from the pulpit and courageous actions from congregations. Wise pastors will step into these conversations with hopeful intentionality, deep theological foundations, and action-oriented application.
So on these weighty issues, a sermon series allows us to develop the text, build a wider, kingdom context, and nurture our own soul as we shepherd the congregation.
Model an evangelistic motivation through gospel-centered preaching.
Jesus’ public ministry included hard conversations with religious leaders, yet He always invited those who were far away to come closer. For example, in His parables of the lost coin, lost sheep, and lost son, His enthusiasm for the hard to find, the wayward, and the rebellious is impossible to miss. Sometimes, in our preaching we get that backward.
We tend to view those who are wayward as enemies to expose rather than as future believers to love. As a result, breaking news confirms our biases about the perceived offenders, and, rather than running after the lost ones, we stand apart from them. Rather than viewing their acts of foolishness as longings of a desperate soul, we become offended that they have squandered our inheritance.
So, in the preaching ministry, it’s a good practice to speak with a tone of voice that assumes prodigals are in the room. We speak the truth, but with compassion, avoiding the condescension our moral sensibilities often produce. We use illustrations that draw in the very people we are trusting the gospel to transform.
Scandal, injustice, and crises are not good things, but remember, it was God’s lovingkindness toward the nakedness of Adam and Eve and their foolish attempt to cover it that led God to pursue them, sacrifice an innocent animal, and provide a covering for them. That picture of the gospel models how our preaching offers hope in a world gripped by sin and the brokenness it produces.
Breaking news does not distract us from our mission. It serves, instead, as pre-evangelism that compels us to respond with glad-hearted evangelistic fervor for the lost souls Jesus came to save.