As a preacher you should never shy away from tough topics. If the Bible addresses an issue, you should too. You want to help your people have a holistic view of how biblical truth intersects with every aspect of their lives. But the more controversial the topic, the more important it is to handle it with care.
In the last couple years I have preached on topics ranging from what the Bible teaches about alcohol consumption, to sex and sexual issues, to marriage and financial giving. Along the way, I have learned a few things about how to approach these types of sermons, and I would like to share with you. Here are nine tips for preaching on controversial topics:
1. Avoid shock-jocking. Some preachers use sensitive topics as an opportunity to use crass language and coarse humor. Their intent is to capture attention and foster interest in the topic, but this is unnecessary. If you are covering a sensitive topic, it probably engenders enough interest in itself.
Depending on your listeners, you risk alienating people who may be offended and decide not to listen to you. My suggestion is to avoid being offensive for the purpose of shocking people. If you take a biblical approach to a sensitive cultural issue, it will be offensive on its own. Tell the truth, use humor to relieve the tension, but don’t seek to capitalize on the opportunity for a moment of attention-getting.
Your objective is to inform, inspire, motivate and change the way people think about an important life issue. You don’t want anything to compromise your effectiveness.
2. Demonstrate that you are being thoroughly biblical. If you are giving your opinion because the Bible doesn’t explicitly address something, then say that’s what you’re doing. Otherwise, point to Scripture and not your own ideas about the topic. This helps remove you from the equation and puts the focus on the text itself. When people take exception with your arguments, you should always be able to point to Scripture as your source. If they disagree with you, then you need to be able to show them that their disagreement is with the text.
3. Understand the religious objections from within your church. Some topics have the potential of offending church people more than non-church people. I gave a sermon on what the Bible teaches about alcohol. I knew there were a lot of people in my church who held views about alcohol that were based in tradition and preference, but not actually in what the Scriptures teach about the subject. I addressed these biases up front and challenged them to be biblical, even if it confronts their traditions and preferences.
4. Share your material with others while you prepare. Before you preach on a controversial issue, make sure you seek counsel from others. I am a firm believer in preparing sermons in teams, and I believe it is even more important when the subject matter is controversial. I wrote about the importance of gathering input before you preach in this series of posts on preaching teams.
5. Be well-informed from a cultural perspective. The more hot the topic, the more your listeners will have a vast understanding of it. You need to be on top of where the issue stands at that moment. If your data and conclusions are five years behind (or even two years behind), it will make you look uninformed and harm your credibility as a speaker. If your goal is to get your listeners to view the issue from a biblical perspective, you need to demonstrate that you understand it from a cultural perspective. Speak into the culture with an understanding of the world in which your listeners live.