to pastors and church leaders: don’t swing at every pitch.
I recently concluded a preaching series on Daniel called Exile. One of the things that most fascinated me in my fresh reading of the Daniel court stories (the first 6 chapters) was that Daniel and his friends did not resist when they were assigned new Babylonian names. I can’t think of a more sinister attempt to erase a person’s history and culture than to re-name them. It was a flagrant effort to try to re-program these young Hebrew men, erasing their faith and their heritage and embedding them with the king’s propaganda. On the other hand, when the edict is given for everybody to bow before the golden statue, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego famously resist—and God shows up to their rescue. What gives?
The simple take-away from this contrasting narrative is this: you can’t swing at every pitch. There will be times and places where God’s people have to take a hard, unpopular stand, one that will cost a friendship, a job, money, or even our very lives. But they don’t come along every day. We have to have the wisdom and discernment to know when to put up a fight, and when to walk away.
The principle is generally true for anybody who follows Jesus, but it is especially crucial for pastors and ministry leaders. Because we are used to speaking into people’s lives with a certain mantle of authority, an occupational hazard of pastoral work is that we become very opinionated about most everything. And having opinions is not inherently a bad thing. Sharing them in a cavalier manner, on the other hand, is an absolute no-no.
Here’s the thing: I am less concerned than ever in my life about what people outside my wife, my family and a handful of wise leaders and friends think about me. I will not be controlled by a fear of rejection. If I have the opportunity to speak into something controversial or difficult, I will not shy away if I feel like God has given me something to say. But I also have a greater sense of the weight of my calling and my words than ever before, so I’m very measured about when and how I address them.
I don’t want to go to into great detail about those issues here, because that might detract from the larger point. But in summary, within my context I have been and continue to be very outspoken about the role of women in ministry. As a church, we are very passionate about the injustices that are endured by many Palestinian people, especially those of the household of Christian faith. I am willing to take calculated risks and not only speak out on these matters, but to speak boldly. If I lose some friendships, some “political capital,” or some influences in some sectors of the Church or the world, so be it. I’ve already counted that cost.
But the fact that I have strong convictions about these issues doesn’t mean that is wise or necessary for me to speak everything I feel about every issue, just because I have a platform. I often find that young leaders end up getting written off because they don’t understand this. If you swing at every pitch, you aren’t going to have credibility to be taken seriously about the things you really do feel called to address.
I see it like this—my personal calling to advocate for women who are fellow laborers in the gospel and marginalized brothers and sisters on the west bank means I have officially forfeited my right to speak to a lot of things I have opinions about. We’ve had heated debate about the financial structure of our denomination in recent years. I have never even been tempted to speak to that. I don’t need to give my opinion about the morality or lack thereof churches having an event on Halloween (actual debate in my part of the world recently). I don’t need to give my opinion about most American political matters or elections. The very worse thing I could do is prowl around on online forums or social media outlets (or offline forums, for that matter), and go around weighing on every issue I’ve ever thought about in the shower. I am neither a pope nor a president. I bear witness to the gospel in the world, and I bear witness to a handful of convictions that are critical to me within the Church.
Now I know this runs contrary to the instincts of many of my brethren, because after all you have so much insight to share about SO MANY THINGS. Without intending harm, let me suggest that none of us are so enlightened that the world or the Church can’t live without us having to stake out a position on everything and everybody.
If we are to be taken seriously, we’ve got to be willing to be quiet sometimes. I know it seems unfair. We see people in our congregations who share everything they think about every issue on twitter or on a blog. And I’ll be the first to admit, there are times I wish I could be that guy, going around saying whatever I think and letting the chips fall where they may. But part of the price of my calling as an ambassador of the gospel is that I MUST choose my battles wisely. What God has given me to say and do is far too important for my witness to be compromised by sharing too much too often.
You can make a totally credible argument that it would have been as important for the Hebrew boys to protest their new names as it was to refuse bowing down to the statue. But they didn’t. If they would have been big-mouthed critics who needed to be heard every time they felt the weight of Babylon bearing down on them, they would have only been historical footnote. But because they didn’t swing at every pitch, they were able to take a big stand in a defining moment—and the rest is history. If you know when to pull your punches, you are exponentially more likely to find the weight of heaven with you when you have to throw them.