The Big Question: What do you preach when something major happens in the news?

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Welcome to “Big Questions,” a recurring feature on the Preaching Collective, where we will look at the big questions that preachers face on a weekly basis. We’ll ask a panel of our practitioners and invite you to respond as well. Have a question that you would like the Preaching Collective to answer? Send it to preachingcollective@seedbed.com.

Every week, there is a newsworthy event that could become a part of your sermon. Whether it is a natural disaster, a national tragedy, a political controversy, or even a community specific event, how do you decide whether or not to address that in your sermon? We asked a panel of pastors from among our Preaching Collective authors and here’s what they had to say:

I tend to listen to people during the week in order to see what they’re talking about, and if an event is newsworthy enough that it is capturing the attention of most of the people in my congregation I will address it in some way in the sermon (or immediately before or after the sermon). If it’s a tragedy that has struck our local community, I may shift the focus of the sermon to that event. Otherwise, I will make sure to take some time during the pastoral prayer for people to reflect on the event and where God is in the midst of it. – Bob Kaylor Lead Pastor at Tri-Lakes United Methodist Church in Monument, Colorado, and editor of the Preaching Collective.

In a world of genuine chaos, social media outrage, and media propaganda, pastors have a difficult time determining which issues deserve mentioning on Sunday mornings. Having to navigate this week to week has proven to be a stressful, indeed fearful, venture. But here are a few of my quick-hitters on how I do it:

1. Patience: In social media and in the news media it can often be weeks before all the facts come out. This doesn’t mean you need to wait for weeks to mention an issue, but you certainly need to exercise discernment in how you mention certain issues within the first few weeks.

2. Intentional, Confident Silence: Ask yourself, “Can my congregation learn something valuable from my silence?” That is, in a world of non-stop talking, in a world of deeply embedded fear, there may be something valuable about intentional, confident silence. Silence doesn’t have to be rooted in fear; it can be rooted in a determined resolve to not let other people’s fears dominate our church’s gathering.

3. Integrity: Here’s the crux of it for me. If I remain silent, can I maintain my integrity? Will I look back at the end of my life and see myself as having failed the cause of justice, common sense goodness, social holiness, or kingdom theology by my silence (or my speaking)? I’ve realized I don’t have to speak to or against this week’s Facebook mob justice or perpetual outrage. But those things that threaten my integrity, or especially the integrity of God’s just and good kingdom, I must speak to. – Tom Fuerst  Associate Teaching Pastor and Associate Director of Community Life at Christ United Methodist Church in Memphis, Tennessee.

I ask the question, “How does this impact the people who will be gathered for worship?” Some events are more newsworthy than others. If it’s a really big deal that may not affect us directly, but anxiety is created by it… a terrorist attack, a huge natural disaster… then I will address it. However, there is always news, but is it newsworthy for a mention either in the sermon or pastoral prayer?

When something significant happens, people of faith are wondering what does God have to say about this? That is a tremendous opportunity for us as preachers. It is also a tremendous danger because that puts us in reaction mode instead of calling us to be proactive with the Word of God. I do think the Pastoral Prayer is the first place that an issue could be addressed, and if there is something more significant to your community then it should be addressed in the sermon through scripture.

A few years ago, I was the Pastor in a smaller community where the school had removed the 10 Commandments that were hanging on the walls of the classroom. The whole town was buzzing was about this, and people were looking to the Pastors in the town with how to address this. Instead of immediately preaching on the issue, I addressed this in a local newspaper article, and about two months later, I preached on the Ten Commandments. Because I thoughtfully handled the situation, we had new people visit and join the church. My recommendation is to thoughtfully and prayerfully engage these issues, be open to how they can integrated seamlessly into a sermon or if needed it’s open sermon, and be ready to utilize other avenues in addition to the sermon to communicate God’s message.  – Aaron Tiger, Associate Pastor at First United Methodist Church in Tulsa, OK

I typically mention an event in prayer or as a community concern but seldom would I choose too actually preach on that topic, unless it is a huge impact like the explosion of the Space Shuttle or 9/11 or the fire the burned 365 homes in our neighborhood.  Otherwise, it may be a matter of prayer, like for a natural disaster. – Randy Jessen, Senior Pastor at Parker United Methodist Church in Parker, Colorado.

What do you say? Use the comment section below to add your answer to the Big Question!

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Aaron Tiger is an associate pastor at First United Methodist Church in Tulsa, OK, who loves the opportunity to preach every week. Aaron and his wife Heather are the parents of two young boys who make his life considerably more interesting. He is the lead contributor of the918.org. Follow him on Twitter: @aarontiger.

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