The author gives five concrete messages for preachers to consider when preaching in times of crisis.
1. The primary word from the pulpit during any time of crisis is a word of comfort and promise.
2. At the same time, the preacher must be aware that many hearers are, indeed, disoriented, searching, and re-evaluating priorities in light of the current crisis.
3. There is also need and opportunity to turn our attention to the good of our neighbor.
4. The primary task of preaching is to call people to faith by announcing to them the steadfast promise of the God we see most clearly in Christ.
5. Perhaps the single most important thing any of us preachers can do to increase the effectiveness of our preaching is to get out of the church and visit our people where they spend their time -- in their homes, the places they volunteer and recreate, and where they go to school and work.
Preaching in Times of Economic Crisis
By David Lose
January 13, 2009
The current economic recession, greater by far than any since the Great Depression, has raised significant challenges for pastors.
Faced with their own diminishing pensions, a decrease in giving because of income loss in the congregation, additional strain on the social outreach ministry, and increased requests for counseling from parishioners, they also are expected to address the economic crisis from the pulpit in ways that are both meaningful and faithful. Little wonder numerous preachers have indicated of late a desire for help in preaching during this time of economic crisis. In this article, I want also to offer five concrete suggestions for preachers to consider.
Comfort, O Comfort my people, says our Lord
1) The primary word from the pulpit during any time of crisis is a word of comfort and promise. There is no better example of this than the prophets. No matter how strident their condemnation of Israel's practices or dire their warnings of impending judgment, when calamity struck, their tune immediately changed to offer words of consolation. Even when they attributed that judgment to God, once the judgment had been leveled, their message changed from warning to encouragement. There is little if any hint of an "I told you so," or "You're getting what you deserved." Rather, in the wake of tragedy, the message is consolation and promise. This is striking because if any were sorely tempted to gloat over Israel's miseries, it was most surely those prophets who were so beleaguered and belittled by their countrymen in response to their calls for repentance. Yet their message in the face of tragedy and crisis is reliably tender, compassionate, and hopeful as they promise that God has not deserted the people but indeed will accompany them through this crisis.
Ultimate and Penultimate Concerns
2) At the same time, the preacher must be aware that many hearers are, indeed, disoriented, searching, and re-evaluating priorities in light of the current crisis. Christianity is, among other things, a comprehensive narrative that provides ultimate meaning, and a primary task of the preacher is to tell that narrative clearly, creatively, and well. In doing so, we should be aware that our main competitor for the attention of our hearers is not some other religion but more often than not a consumer-consumption culture that intimates:
- our identity is linked to our possessions
- the chief goal and only security in life is accumulation
- ultimate meaning is found in what we own
This economic meltdown of recent months has left this narrative in tatters. Amid this crisis, there is an opportunity to gain a new hearing for a story that seeks meaning and identity through relationship with God in Christ and through Christ with each other and creation. The task, however, is not to lift up consumption, capitalism, or wealth as the whipping boy of the hour -- indeed, all these things have been, and are still capable of being, instruments of great good -- rather, the task is to ask whether these penultimate goods can bear the weight of ultimate meaning and, in light of their failure to do that, point to a story that does offer ultimate meaning. (This is, perhaps, the difference between seizing upon the opportunity the present crisis offers and being opportunistic).
Blessed to be a Blessing
3) There is also need and opportunity to turn our attention to the good of our neighbor. The Scriptures are clear that whenever God blesses -- whether an individual, a community, or an entire nation -- God does so in order to distribute that blessing more widely. While crisis can throw us more deeply into preoccupation with our own troubles and concerns, it also reminds us that we are part of a larger community and our fortunes are inextricably bound to those around us. According to Scripture, that is, preachers should not be encouraging parishioners to seek "your best life now" but "your neighbor's best life now," trusting that our neighbor is doing the same for us. Toward this end, preachers can remind us that by looking to help those in need, we may not only put our own problems in perspective but also discover freedom over our own plight as we refuse to be defined by what we do not have or cannot do but rather by what we can do for each other and together. "Neighbor," here, has both an individual and corporate sense, as we are called both to care for those individuals with concrete physical and financial needs as well as advocate for a more reliable, regulated, and just system of commerce that benefits all.
Crises Deserve Some, Not All, of our Attention
4) In noting the increased attendance at churches since the onset of the economic crisis, many pastors as well as commentators have noted the similarity to the days just following September 11, 2001. There is undoubtedly significant similarity in the disorientation, fear, and confusion these crises occasion. But a potentially significant difference is the duration for which these crises grip our nation. That is, while we continue to make sense of a "Post-9/11 World," most people beyond the borders of New York and Washington cities got on with their lives with little disruption a few weeks or months after the catastrophe of that day. Most experts believe, however, that we could be dealing with this recession for the next year or more and recovering from its effects for far longer.
Two words of advice, therefore: first, be prepared to have concerns about job security, economic uncertainty, employment loss, and the need to help others become a regular part of your preaching. It is simply a part of the "now" to which preachers are called to address God's Word. Second, at the same time, these are not the only issues that face our people. Day in and day out, people wrestle with the challenge of being a good parent or child, a faithful spouse or friend. They seek meaning and purpose in life and are concerned about the future of our environment. The gospel has something to say to people who are in a severe economic recession, but it has much to say to all the other matters of our day, and we are called to give attention to, but not be overwhelmed by, any single challenge. The primary task of preaching is to call people to faith by announcing to them the steadfast promise of the God we see most clearly in Christ. This was true before the recession, remains true now, and will continue to be true when these troubles are a dim memory.
Meet Your People Where They Are
5) Perhaps the single most important thing any of us preachers can do to increase the effectiveness of our preaching is to get out of the church and visit our people where they spend their time -- in their homes, the places they volunteer and recreate, and where they go to school and work. When a pastor calls on a parishioner outside the church or hospital, there is a tacit acknowledgment that what goes on in this place is deserving of the church's -- and God's -- attention. By meeting people where they are, we affirm their calling (vocation) to be God's people in the world while simultaneously learning a tremendous amount about the particular challenges, concerns, opportunities, and hopes our people have. Attentive listening leads to far more concrete and relevant preaching, while also building our credibility that we care enough to learn, even though we don't fully know the different vocational worlds of our people.
This isn't all one can or should say about preaching at this time of economic crisis, but it's a start. If you have thoughts or insights that might help other preachers, please leave a comment on this page or contact us at Center for Biblical Preaching We hope to accompany and assist you during this time, and we believe we have a lot to learn from each other as we seek to proclaim the timeless gospel in a timely way.
David J. Lose holds The Marbury E. Anderson Chair in Biblical Preaching at Luther Seminary and serves as the Director of the Center for Biblical Preaching.