Dear purple church pastor,
These are hard, strange times for pastors who serve churches with members on the political left and right. Oh sure, I know it’s not supposed to be so challenging. After all, “just preach the gospel and all shall be well, right?” Well, yes and no. The gospel mandates to care for the poor, serve the least of these and work for the common good are biblical. But these callings are not apolitical. And though we don’t preach or teach in order to keep people comfortable, you and I both know there are practical realities to bear in mind as we lead. (No, not just keeping our jobs. But maintaining or striving for health in the congregation. Guiding people to have thoughtful, loving disagreements. Ensuring that we live out God’s call to our church for this time and place.)
Maybe you have been feeling the way I have been feeling? Trying to say enough without saying too much. Trying to preach the gospel without making it sound like it’s simply a response to the political scene of the week. Which, let’s be honest, sometimes the Scriptures and the week’s events are just eerily (providentially?) in line. There are days when I feel like it would be so much easier to be in an all-blue or all-red church. At least I could better anticipate the way my words would be heard.
But I have been trying to remember that these purple churches of ours are a gift. I honestly can’t think of many other places that are left in our world where people who disagree (or who totally and completely disagree) about politics choose to spend time together every single week. Voluntarily, they come together. They sit next to each other in the pews. They hold hands during prayers. They discuss the Bible in Sunday school. They believe there is a cord of unity that holds us all together in the body of Christ. When, out in public, people say those who disagree with them are “un-American,” it’s a big deal that we maintain this purple space where we love and interact with those of different opinions.
Serving purple churches doesn’t mean we pastors stay silent, though. Or ignore the issues so that everyone supposedly feels welcome. Our calling is to put the gospel in conversation with our world. So even when you can’t say everything, I hope you say something. Speak with gentleness. Speak in love. Speak with compassion for those who might disagree. Purple churches call us to be creative in our bold witness. Remember that your goal is not to move the needle toward red or blue, but toward Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ has things to say about how we live. His message speaks to our concerns about racial reconciliation, healthcare, refugees, militarization, foreign policy, schooling and hunger – in addition to the issues of salvation, vocation and spirituality. Know that you are being faithful when you nudge all of these concerns and issues. Know that you are being faithful when you host a class on them, even if you get pushback. Know that you are being faithful when you bring up an issue in a sermon, even if you can’t stay there for too long. Know that you are being faithful when you genuinely engage people’s concerns on Monday about what they heard on Sunday.
I pray you feel encouraged in your ministry. I pray you remember that although the task is mighty in speaking to people of very different viewpoints at the same time, God is equipping you for it. I pray you hold fast to the Scriptures and listen closely for how the Spirit is calling you to lead your dear members. It isn’t easy, purple church pastor. But you are called to this place. God needs you and your church needs you: red, blue and all shades in between.
Let’s keep at it.
Grace and peace,
Your fellow purple-church pastor
EMMA NICKEL serves as interim pastor at Beulah Presbyterian Church in Louisville, Kentucky. She is passionate about congregational ministry, trying new recipes and keeping her baby’s naps on schedule. She lives in Louisville with her husband, Matt, and their young daughter.