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 their 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.

Jeremy Steele has been working in youth ministry for the past fifteen years and now serves as the Next Generation Minister at Christ United Methodist Church in Mobile, AL. He writes for Group Magazine, RETHINK Church and various publications and organizations. You can find a link to all the places he contributes on his website at JeremyWords.com.


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