Some churches seek to exploit political controversy for self-serving ends. But many more churches instinctively avoid controversy, and steer away from topics that may reveal differences. In this episode, Curtis is joined by Chuck Mingo to explore a different route: treating this upcoming election season as an opportunity for spiritual growth. They make the case that the same spiritual muscles that get built in politics apply also to marriages, parenting, employment and other areas of discipleship. Curtis and Chuck also talk about the practicalities involved: what should happen on Sunday morning (and what shouldn’t); the top rookie mistakes made when first trying to engage in politics; how the posture of the “wounded healer” is necessary for pastors; and much more.
This excerpt has been edited for length and clarity.
CURTIS CHANG: What are some common rookie mistakes pastors make when engaging in conversations about politics with their congregants?
CHUCK MINGO: I might have a little bit of fun with this. Some of these come with nicknames. The first one is the One And Done: “I posted the thing, I preached the one sermon, I preached my life’s message on race. I did it 10 years ago, I’m not doing it again, right?”
The One And Done is a common rookie mistake, and it’s a mistake because we need to offer congregants spiritual nourishment. How does good spiritual food get into the fiber and the culture of your church and your people? It can’t be a one-time thing.
Another mistake could be called the Surrogate: “I know what I’m going to do. I’m going to get Chuck Mingo to come to my church and preach about race. I’m going to get Curtis Chang to come to my church and talk about anxiety and politics. That’s how we’ll solve this.”
But I think, again, there’s a need for pastors to shepherd their people through these things. It doesn’t mean you don’t bring in a Curtis or a Chuck, or the million other people we could name. It does mean that they can’t be the only voices the church hears on this. They need to hear the voice of their shepherd on this.
CURTIS CHANG: Yes, let’s pause on this for a second because I think there are helpful, thoughtful, smart ways to do this. It doesn’t mean you have to do this on Sunday morning from a pulpit, right? Here the value of outside resources becomes clear.
You can bring outside resources into the small group context. This is the design of UNDIVIDED, design of Alpha, design of The After Party. We all design it this way because small groups can grapple with controversial topics without putting put all of the pressure on the pastors to preach on Sunday mornings with big bullseyes on their heads about areas outside their expertise.
But I think the point you’re making with the Surrogate rookie mistake is that pastors can’t offload the responsibility and walk away. They have to lend something of their social capital and moral authority so that people will trust this particular resource. They can’t exempt themselves and say, “If you want to, there’s this thing out there for you to do.” It’s got to be, “I really recommend this.”
And they could do it with plausible deniability. They can say things like, “I don’t agree with everything that Chuck says, but I think he’s got some really helpful things.”
CHUCK MINGO: That’s it, you totally can.
I’ll share one other mistake: Believing you’re alone, and believing that the loudest voices in the room are the only voices in your church.
You know, one of the things that we talk about in UNDIVIDED is how to find the willing people who are thoughtful around this, and who want to see a faithful path forward. How do you empower them in leadership? When we do UNDIVIDED, we say, “Those are the people you want in your first cohort.” These people can ultimately facilitate this in your context because, while we can teach them the UNDIVIDED content, we can’t teach them the inner workings of your church.
So pastors, leaders, you’ve got people in your organization who are primed for this, for whom this may be a calling, a part of something that God has laid on their heart. And how do you find those people and empower them to lead with you?
CURTIS CHANG: I think that’s great advice. If you are a pastor and want to help your church approach race or politics, I’d recommend not doing this in one big, immediate campaign. Especially if you’ve done nothing on this topic before. It feels like whiplash and people get suspicious. But a really smart strategy is to find the people who you think are going to be your champions. The people who think are going to be most open to your leadership on race, on politics, and so forth. And then actually gather them together in a small group. And then take them through the course. At the end then you’ve got some common language, common concepts, common vision, and some trust in this material that you’ve built together. Then use them as your champions to invite other small groups to do this.
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