November 8, 2016, brought an end to perhaps the ugliest, most unethical, and most divisive presidential election ever. In fact, I purposely chose to write this article before the election even took place, because I wanted to be clear that no matter the results, the opening statement here still applies. The 2016 election made one thing quite clear: there is way more than only one loser this time around. And you as a pastor, no matter who you voted for, no matter if you took the high ground on social media, whether you left politics off the pulpit entirely or if you did incredibly responsible research on the candidates and reported according to your Holy Spirit–led conscience . . . you have some work to do to help mend a broken church body made up of people who wore their politics on their sleeves and couldn’t help but make a few new enemies out of the people next to them in the pews. (Well, they’re probably a few pews behind them now.)
Yes, there is more than one loser this election cycle—all of God’s bickering little children. What can you as their pastor do in 2017 to help repair relationships and bring about reconciliation among the body?
1) Stay away from the political jabs, no matter who is president. Rest assured, come inauguration time there will be an unlimited supply of jokes, jabs, and criticisms. But leave that for the late-night talk shows and Saturday Night Live. You as a leader in your church have a responsibility to “not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen” (Ephesians 4:29). Making an e-mail joke about Hillary or a character remark on Trump, whether true or not, will not be “helpful for building others up” in your congregation who are still healing from the wounds of the election season. And this doesn’t only apply to when you’re preaching. You are their pastor when you’re in church, when you’re out at a restaurant with them, and when you’re on Facebook at home. Leave the jokes and jabs to the comedians and political commentators . . .
2) . . . And you take the initiative to instead pray for the president and other leaders. Of course this applies to your personal prayer life as well, but you should also be leading your church in prayer for the president and his or her decisions and duties that come with the office. It’s not enough to simply be silent on the criticisms of the president and government. Those in your congregation who have made some political enemies in the body of Christ may notice that and respect your abstaining, but they have a long road of reconciliation ahead of them, and they need your help in praying for those elected officials that they grew to truly despise during the election. When Jesus said to “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44), I believe we can clearly infer that he also means for us to pray for our elected leaders, together as a body of believers, even those we do not like and did not vote for.
3) Consider if now is a good time for a sermon series on unity in the body of Christ. Passages like 1 Corinthians 12 and Ephesians 4 are some of the more common, easier-to-preach passages about the body of Christ. Obviously, there is nothing wrong with those, but the wounds in your church post-election are deeper than those caused by differing opinions on Lifeway material and sermon lengths. It may be time to make them face 1 Corinthians 1:10: “I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment.” Break down for them what “brotherly affection” and “outdoing one another” mean in Romans 12:10. And perhaps the most powerful and convicting sermon could stem from Matthew 5:23-25: “So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. Come to terms quickly with your accuser.” What might your church attendance look like this week if these words of Jesus were truly adhered to? This could be a fun (and scary) passage to dive into for your divisive congregation.
I’ve heard it said that 2016 might have been the ugliest, most divisive year for our country. Maybe that’s hyperbole, maybe not. But no one can argue that it was one of the greatest years ever for Americans. But it’s a new year now. Reconciliation can be made among all, specifically your church body. Don’t minimize the importance of your responsibility in the matter as their pastor.
Kevin Harvey is the author of two books, which can both be found here at Amazon. You can also read about his family’s ongoing journey of adoption through foster care at www.OrphanToOrphan.com. Find him on Twitter at @PopCultureKevin.