Will you step up for the glory of God and the good of God’s people? They need you, pastor.
I am a firm believer that pastors are biblically called to address the issue of the sanctity of life and abortion from the pulpit in our current culture. As we prepare for Sanctity of Human Life Sunday, I know there will be many pastors who will take up the mantle and preach on this vitally important issue. In our preparation, we need to recognize that how we preach on this topic is as important as what we preach and that we preach.
Statistically speaking, there are women in your congregation that have had an abortion, have helped a friend get an abortion, or men who have encouraged and/or paid for an abortion. I have yet to preach in a church or campus ministry about this issue, and not have several women come forward thanking me for preaching the truth, but doing so with radical compassion and grace.
As I’ve travelled throughout the country, I’ve heard a similar story over and over again. A pastor will feel the conviction to preach on the issue of life, but then preach in such a way that fails to balance out the truth with grace, leaving those with abortion in their past feeling alone - out in the cold while others enjoy the warmth of God's favor. To proclaim a gospel devoid of hope is simply not the gospel. Leaving someone feeling alientated and ashamed is certainly to misapply the Scriptures from the sacred ground of the pulpit.
Here are a four suggestions for pastors preparing to preach on this controversial, challenging, and sensitive topic:
I would encourage any pastor who is preparing to preach on the issue of the sanctity of life and abortion, to start his sermon with a clear explanation of the gospel message. Offer the hope and forgiveness of Jesus for everyone, before addressing the specific sin of abortion.
Emphasize that the ground is level at the foot of the cross. In other words, no one in the room is better than anyone else, we are all sinners in need of a Savior. Take time to acknowledge that no matter what sin is in someone’s past, the grace of Jesus is bigger.
Plead with your audience not to lose sight of the gospel throughout today’s message, because it will get heavy. Encourage those with the sin of abortion in their past to cling to Christ when shame arises. The grace of God is the salve that heals our wounds. If you lead in with the gospel in a clear and compassionate way, it can alleviate much of the shame and wounding a sermon done incorrectly brings.
It’s cliche, but true, “people don’t care what you know, until they know how much you care.” Take time in the beginning of your message to acknowledge the gravity of the subject, the hurt that some in the room are experiencing, and let people know you care. Convince them that you aren’t addressing this topic in a cavalier way. An authentically humble spirit goes a long way when preaching on the sanctity of life.
How can you go about developing an authentically humble spirit?
Praying for your congregation and those affected by abortion will help if you are struggling to connect emotionally with the issue.
Talk to women who have abortion in their past. Men who paid for an abortion and moved on from a relationship. At the time, they may have thought abortion was a do-over. Wiser now, they wish they could make a different choice. Listen to their stories and their regret. Weep with those who weep. It’s hard to listen and not be moved.
Consider going to the closest abortion clinic and simply watch and pray as women and men arrive. I’m not saying to go and protest, but go and prayerfully observe. Nothing will awaken your own heart to the gravity of abortion than seeing actual individuals that are presently being affected.
Connecting with your audience and expressing genuine compassion has the ability to tear down walls that finely tuned ethical arguments alone cannot. So do not get into the pulpit until you have done the hard work of heart work. When preaching effectively about life, abortion, and the gospel, this isn’t a suggestion, it’s a necessity.
3. Balance the Tension Between Grace and TruthIn any sermon, one of the challenges is choosing what points to emphasize, what points to emphasize less, and what to leave out altogether. This should be a prayerful process of study, guided by the Holy Spirit.
The stories I’ve heard where sisters in our churches feel demoralized occurred because the pastor came down hard on the sin of abortion but offered very little in the way of compassion, grace, and hope. Jesus never backed down from calling sin what it is, but he never left those individuals without the hope of forgiveness and redemption.
When it comes to the issue of abortion, it is especially important to ensure that you do not let the truth of the sinfulness of abortion overshadow the grace of Jesus to forgive the sin. Pay attention to overall tenor of your message and make sure to go out of your way to emphasize the grace of God.
Yes, abortion is sin, and we need to clearly describe the evil that is taking place in our communities, but it is not the unpardonable sin. Jesus bore our shame, so that women and men can be freed from the shame that accompanies abortion. Jesus declares, “Peace be with you,” to his disciples that abandoned him at His darkest hour, and now He declares that same peace to anyone who would receive it today.
4. Offer Next Steps.One thing I can guarantee: if you preach on the sanctity of life and abortion, you will strike a nerve, for better or worse. If it is for the better, your congregation will be compelled to action in various ways. Yet sometimes as pastors, we can be so wrapped up in the biblical theology of a subject, we can fail to give application. We need to offer concrete next steps to our brothers and sisters.
Take time in your preparation to explore what is available in your community for post-abortion recovery. Go to your local pregnancy center and meet with the executive director and begin a partnership so you can point people to a place to actively serve. Look into launching a pro-life ministry in your own church using Care Net’s new curriculum Making Life Disciples. There are specific ways to care for those who have been affected by abortion. There are also many ways people can volunteer and positive, pro-abundant life difference. Take the time to offer your congregation a path forward: gospel healing and gospel impact on the issue of life.
There is a reason so many pastors avoid addressing the topic of the sanctity of life and abortion from the pulpit. It is a challenge, and with such volatile subject matter, the chances of blowing it and wounding congregants are magnified. Reality check: it is easier to abandon the people of God and leave the narrative to be written by other voices in our culture.
But we are not alone in our callings. Will you rely on the Holy Spirit and address the most difficult of topics - with wisdom and courage - bringing gospel hope to hurt and wounded people? Will you step up for the glory of God and the good of God’s people? Pastor, they need you.
Mark serves as the Pastoral Consultant for Making Life Disciples. In 2014, he founded the Vox Project. Mark was a church planter in the Washington DC area, and served as a pastor in various roles for over ten years, before moving to Louisville, KY. Mark and his wife Jaime are members of Sojourn Community Church. http://www.voxproject.