Dealing with Controversial Topics Without Getting Fired


I have been spending a lot of time recently dealing with controversial topics in the church as part of a message series I am doing in one of our adult worship services.  Though it is possible to get a lot of people interested, it is equally possible to end up with a bunch of upset parents, kids, and pastors.  So, in order to help us all keep our jobs and not have to shy away from every controversial topics, here are some tips I have picked up along the way in dealing with controversial topics.

  1. Wait – Never, ever, ever even consider thinking about possibly attempting to engage a controversial topic without taking time to think about it, its implications, and develop a clear goal for your lesson.
  2. Use Your Longevity – By that I mean, if people have not known you very long as their pastor they are going to be reluctant to listen to your perspective.  Unless you have to address something, wait until you know the people you are serving, and they know you.
  3. Remember They are Controversial – Topics are controversial for a reason.  Usually, either people do not agree or there is some cultural taboo associated with it.  If it is because people do not agree, make sure you don’t act like it should be obvious that one side is true.  If it has a taboo associated with it, make sure you speak appropriately, and carefully.  Do not use slang, do not joke about the taboo.
  4. Give Parents a Heads Up – Make sure that parents know when you are addressing it, and the basics of what you are saying at least a week ahead of time (preferably 2-4).
  5. Make Them the Main Thing – If you are going to address them, do not do it off the cuff or as a sub-point to another topic.  Make sure you spend plenty of time addressing it completely.
  6. Stay Focused on the Spiritual – This is your place of authority as a minister.  When people listen to you, they are wanting to hear what it has to do with their spiritual life.  For example, if you spend all your time talking about STDs and no time talking about the image of God, you miss the boat.  Everything is spiritual, and it is your job to open their eyes to that reality so they grow closer to Jesus through these controversial topics.

From: Youthworker Movement

Catholics are Christians, but How do I Know?

The Council of Nicea in 325CE

The Council of Nicea in 325CE

In my sermon on the Apocrypha, Saints, and the Blessed Virgin (Catholics Have a Bigger Bible), I began by clarifying that Catholics are Christians.  Though it seems odd to even have to say it, it did need to be said.

But you might ask how it is that someone judges whether or not another denomination or church are Christian, and that is an important question.  It is important to take a moment to figure out what is the bottom-line list of non-negotiables that decides whether or not an organization is a Christian church or some sect or cult or other religion altogether.

I am far from the person to make that call, but luckily, I don't have to.  A long time ago (not in a galaxy far, far away) Christians had to face this question and come to a consensus.  Their consensus was the Nicene Creed, and has been the key standard for orthodoxy for centuries upon centuries.  Such an important document is worthy of being quoted in full:  

We believe in one God, 
the Father, the Almighty, 
maker of heaven and earth, 
of all that is, seen and unseen. 

We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, 
the only Son of God, 
eternally begotten of the Father, 
God from God, Light from Light, 
true God from true God, 
begotten, not made, 
of one Being with the Father. 
Through him all things were made. 
For us and for our salvation 
he came down from heaven: 
by the power of the Holy Spirit 
he became incarnate from the Virgin Mary, 
and was made man. 
For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate; 
he suffered death and was buried. 
On the third day he rose again 
in accordance with the Scriptures; 
he ascended into heaven 
and is seated at the right hand of the Father. 
He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, 
and his kingdom will have no end. 

We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, 
who proceeds from the Father and the Son. 
With the Father and the Son he is worshiped and glorified. 
He has spoken through the Prophets. 
We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church. 
We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins. 
We look for the resurrection of the dead, 
and the life of the world to come. Amen. 

Wow.  Simple, beautiful, profound.  This is so important that most Christian worship services recite it (or some version of it) every time they gather for worship.  If a group believes something in conflict with this, it is generally regarded as not Christian.  But what about the Saints, the Virgin Mary, and the extra books the Catholics have in their Bible? You can watch that video here.

The Forbidden Gospels (Not in the Bible)

Gospel of Thomas Fragment

Gospel of Thomas Fragment

When I spoke on this subject (you can find the video here), our main focus was on the content of the gospels that are not in the Bible and their reliability as scripture.  Though I believe it is clear that they cannot be relied upon in the same way as the Biblical gospels, the question remains, how should we use them?

I mentione that some are more like a novelization of scripture.  The passion of Peter is a particularly good example.  It takes the story of the passion from the Bible and adds all sorts of details that may or may not be true (and a little of outright contradiction).  Just as it would be fun to read a print novelization of the Bible (there is a great recent one here), it can be interesting to look at these to help bring the story to life in our imagination.

The main thing that is helpful about these texts is to reveal to scholars the theological development of the church.  By dating these ideas and looking at their prevalence, it can give insight into how different people in different parts of the world were discerning what was truly scripture.  

The average believer who reads them should be careful, but can benefit greatly.  By reading things you know are a bit off (or even way off), it forces you to clarify why.  When you read about Jesus zapping some kid down who bumped into him in the Infancy Gospel of Thomas, you know it's not right, but why?  Where in scripture do you find your support for that?  If you are willing to wrestle with those kinds of advanced research and discernment issues, you can purchase a copy of all the existing translations of all the existing and hypothetical gospels here.

Or, just watch the video.