Pastors avoid ‘controversy’ to keep tithes up, author says
Few pastors preach about today’s most challenging political and social issues because they worry about losing members of their flocks and the money they donate, according to a researcher who focuses on issues of Christianity.
“Controversy keeps people from being in the seats. Controversy keeps people from giving money, from attending programs,” California-based researcher George Barna said this month in an American Family Radio interview.
Barna, who has written more than 50 books about matters of faith and culture, said his research shows that fewer than 10 percent of pastors talk about political and social issues from the pulpit — even though 90 percent think the Bible speaks to every one of the contemporary problems.
Barna’s research “is certainly not consistent with my experience,” said the Rev. Angela Dienhart Hancock, an assistant professor at the Pittsburgh Theological Seminary in East Liberty.
“There are lots of preachers in America today who regularly bring together a deep reading of Scripture and attention to a wide range of social, political and cultural issues. I’ve heard a number of them myself, even preached a few,” Dienhart Hancock said.
Even if few pastors are tackling tough issues in their sermons, Dienhart Hancock said, “That doesn’t necessarily mean it is simply because they are cowards, afraid of losing money and members … a 20- to 30-minute monologue is not the best way to foster rich, gracious conversation in congregations.”
The Very Rev. Justyn Terry, dean and president of Trinity School for Ministry in Ambridge, said such conversation is ideally suited for adult forums or ministry groups.
“Sermons don’t give you enough time to properly address the controversial issues of the day, and there is no dialogue,” Terry said.
Ron Moore, senior pastor at The Bible Chapel in Peters, wasn’t surprised by Barna’s findings.
“I think a lot of churches are not hitting the topics that Scripture puts forth very clearly, because a lot of the topics are controversial,” Moore said, noting his church tries to tackle them head-on.
Last year, one of the church’s sermon series was called “Family Under Attack.” It discussed topics that included homosexuality, divorce and couples living together out of wedlock. Moore recalled one churchgoer being disappointed with the series.
“She told me, ‘I was just looking for a happy Bible lesson,’ ” Moore said.
Such response shouldn’t deter pastors, said former state legislator Sam Rohrer, who heads the Chester County-based American Pastors Network.
“The fact that so many pastors are more concerned with the size of their buildings and church bank accounts than with the condition of the souls they shepherd is without excuse,” Rohr said. “If the primary goal is to see people leave on Sunday morning feeling good about themselves and feeling comfortable rather than seeing the holiness of God and the ugly reality of sin, then a pastor will answer to God.”
Tom Fontaine is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7847 or [email protected].