It’s been less than two weeks since a new American president was inaugurated. The rapid pace of change – not just of policy, but also of a sitting president’s understanding of his authority – has resulted in whiplash for many. Ministry, never an easy calling to live into, has become even more fraught with tension for those who pastor politically diverse congregations or whose ideologies clash with their parishioners.’ What’s a clergyperson to do? Here are the best ideas I have to offer about how to minister in the current climate:
As a citizen, make phone calls, write letters, and sign petitions about issues of importance to you. There are plenty of websites, apps, and social media groups that provide action suggestions, scripts, and contact information for your leaders/representatives. You don’t have to give up your voice because of your vocation. (In fact, please don’t!)
Matters are more tricky for your public persona. Your church members don’t know when you call your senator’s office. They might take note – and possibly even offense – if they see you marching for a cause they oppose. When considering when to make your personal views known publicly, ask yourself these questions: How can I make the biggest impact for a position I believe to be biblically based? Would it be better in my context to march (for example), then share about my reasons and my experience and invite honest questions in response? This could provide an opening to important, if uncomfortable, conversation. It could also model healthy vulnerability and an openness to differing ideas. Or would it be better in my context to refrain from marching, knowing that I don’t yet have the trust level needed for my reasons and experience to be heard, and instead keep focused on what I have discerned scripture has to say about the issues at hand? You can still be plenty prophetic while continuing to build trust with your people.
[Regardless of your approach, familiarize yourself with the IRS Tax Guide for Churches & Religious Organizations, which lays out the boundaries for political speech and action for faith communities that want to maintain their tax-exempt status.]
In tough times, double down on the Bible and particularly the person of Jesus. Teach the gospels. Encourage people at every opportunity to put on their “Christ glasses”: knowing what we do about Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, what would he have to say about this people group or that issue? Ramp up missions, building off of the congregation’s energy. While you and your church might differ about whose needs are more urgent, together you will be bringing light and love to a corner of the world. Create more avenues within your congregation for storytelling and question-asking. Help them get to know the histories behind one another’s commitments. (Make sure you pull a seat up to this table too.) And check in with your leaders. What’s their take on what the church needs right now? Which members are really struggling with all the change and need some extra pastoral care?
Change came quickly, and more shifts are coming. Prepare yourself to minister over the long haul. Widen your circle of care and extend your networks of people who are passionate about the same things you are. Make a recurring appointment with your therapist or spiritual director. Tend daily to your soul and your connection with God. Get good rest. Create something beautiful. Make room for fun! And please, for the love, never read the comments on internet articles.
Thank you for your ministry, which becomes more vital by the day. I have hope because of the good work you are doing. Keep it up!