Tackle Touchy Topics — and Survive

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Istock _000020292891xsmallThe planned discussion on
same-sex marriage really riled him up. He feared the forum might
attract “seekers” and lead them astray.

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He contacted his pastor and asked, “Why are we exposing
unbelievers with no biblical backing to the worst of false
doctrine?”

Though this man never attended any of the discussions on
controversial topics, he left his church because he said dealing
with these issues was “nothing short of compromise.”

Dealing with controversial subjects at church is, well,
controversial. Many churches follow one of two approaches-neither
of which is healthy.

  • Some church leaders and teachers choose to simply avoid any
    touchy topics. They fear people will disagree and walk
    away mad.
  • Others attempt to shut down discussion (and thinking) about
    controversial issues with a monologue from the bully pulpit. They
    dispense the “right answers” and walk away.

Many reject the idea of hearing from those with differing views.
The man cited above said, “I just don’t see anything
beneficial in bringing obvious wolves in sheep’s clothing to
deceive the sheep, and then gobble up those who are already
lost.”

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I’m afraid this fellow would have been really peeved with Jesus,
who not only listened to those with differing views, but actually
employed one such “wolf” among his 12 associates. Throughout his
ministry, Jesus did not hide from touchy topics. He did not shun or
silence those who held opposing views. He knew his truth would
stand up well in the marketplace of ideas.

The church of today would do well to follow Jesus’ example. We
must demonstrate that our faith is relevant to all of life, no
matter how controversial or difficult the issues. And we must admit
that we cannot shield our people from touchy topics. If we don’t
deal with these issues within the church, our people will simply
talk about them outside the church, without the benefit of a
scriptural perspective. How could that be a better alternative?

NAVIGATING GNARLY STUFF

With Lifetree
Cafe
, a national network of conversation cafes, we often
tackle touchy subjects. After several years of creating content for
these weekly discussions, I’ve learned some things about navigating
controversial subjects in a Christian environment. Here are some of
the secrets:

1. Set a respectful tone. At the
beginning, acknowledge that the issue is a hot one. Mention that
people hold widely differing views on the topic. Do not disparage
or belittle those who think differently than you. Establish that
this will be a time for a respectful exploration of the issues.

2. Train your people how to differ. Express the
expectation that people may disagree, but will do so in a manner
that is friendly and loving. Ask everyone to listen to others,
without interrupting, or passing hasty judgment, or plotting
vengeful retorts. Encourage people to share their perspectives and
stories in positive ways. Incidentally, this training and
experience also prepares your people to interact and glow their
faith when they’re out in the world.

3. Allow give and take. Touchy topics-even
those you believe have only One True Side-need to be aired in an
environment of interaction. One loud voice at the microphone rarely
settles anything. Allow differing views. Encourage questions.
Engage people in conversation. This can even be done during sermon
times with large groups of people. Simply ask thought-provoking
questions and provide some time for people to talk in pairs or
threes or fours.

4. Let the scriptures speak. Inject
relevant scripture into the discussion-not as a proof text but as a
resource and light. Resist the temptation to contort the scripture
into saying something more than it actually says. Let your people
explore how the scripture may apply to touchy topics. And if
different passages provide different perspectives, encourage your
people to grapple with those contrasting perspectives.

5. Trust the Holy Spirit. Pray. Invite God
into the discussion. Incorporate God’s word. Air differing views.
Even allow Judas to speak. Then let the Holy Spirit do what the
Holy Spirit does best. Have confidence in the power of God’s truth
to prevail in the hearts of your people.

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About Author

Thom Schultz

Thom Schultz is an eclectic author and the founder of Group Publishing and Lifetree Café. Holy Soup offers innovative approaches to ministry, and challenges the status quo of today’s church.

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