The lowest common denominator


Our nation was on the precipice of war with Iraq. We attacked Afghanistan, and President Bush was getting everything in order for the shock and awe that was to come.

I was preaching and the lectionary passage was on “Love one another.” So, I stood in the pulpit of my church and explained how Augustine viewed the passage: Augustine wrote commentaries on First John that led to a “just war” theory. Although Christians can easily argue that no modern war is just, clearly the war in Iraq did not pass the theological litmus test.

When the service was over, the members streamed out, and greeted me with, “Well, that was a… courageous sermon.”

I took the comments as compliments, but it still made me wonder, “Why was that a courageous sermon? Is there something I should be afraid of?”

HeIsSailing, who normally writes for De-Conversion, made me think of this particular moment, when he came to visit this site. If you preach regularly, take a look at his comment, it’s very enlightening. He laments the preachers’ practice of serving the lowest common denominator, and tells how his church spent forty long weeks on The Purpose Driven Life.

Now, I’m not saying that HIS would agree with my just war sermon. I know that many people are not thrilled with politics in the pulpit. But, politics aside, are we engaging our congregations? Or, are we placing the bar too low?

There is obviously a place for the Saddlebacks in our society. But what about the rest of us who are not Rick Warren? Do we do enough to challenge the people in the pew?

One reason we don’t bring up important issues in the pulpit is because the most crucial things are often the most divisive. And we’re shepherds, for the most part. We don’t like seeing our flock in discord, and we hate to see people wander off.

I like the Old Testament model, where they have two positions, one for priest and one for prophet. The priest seems to take care of the daily business, the sacrifices and such. While the prophet is pulling his hair out, crying on the street corners, and seeing visions in every plumbline and fruit basket. The prophet’s telling us to care for the needy, widowed, orphaned and the oppressed.

The prophet seems to eat (when he’s not fasting), and no one’s putting him away, outside of the city walls. Instead, he has place in the society. People are listening to him, even writing down his words. He’s allowed to say things–things that make the crowds angry and the King furious.

Pastors, unfortunately, have to balance the two roles. We take care of the daily aspects of the church. Plus, we need to say things that challenge our congregations, that do not just appeal to the lowest common denominator.

And we always have the love of our members in mind. We hate to see them stray away.


2 thoughts on “The lowest common denominator

  1. Wanted to thank you for linking Sally Morgenthaler’s article last post, great stuff, and I would have missed it.

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