Top 10 Reasons Pastors Should Avoid Politics

National Public Radio, among many other sources, features news of hundreds of American pastors attending workshops to learn how better to rally the faithful to a new round of culture wars.

Not that I want to rain on anyone’s parade, or crusade, but after giving the matter a little thought (and after setting out my views at rather too much length here), let me offer a few points for reflective hesitation among my clerical brothers and sisters.


10. Because no one trained you properly to get involved with politics—and a little seminar, however exciting, won’t make up for that yawning deficit. (Do you think politicians can be trained to be pastors by attending a seminar?)

9. Because no one hired you to get involved with politics. (And if they did, they shouldn’t have: See #10.)

8. Because pastors are supposed to call us toward the ideal and the ultimate, while politicians have to compromise over the real and the immediate.

7. Because the Scriptures (your main area of intellectual expertise—right?) are, at best, only suggestive and regulative over the field of politics (a quite different area of intellectual expertise—right? See #10 again).

6. Because you’ll alienate a considerable part of your constituency who see political matters differently, and will hold that difference against you, thus losing the benefits of your pastoral care and authority.

5. Because you need to consider the troubling fact that you’re not alienating a considerable part of your constituency, so why is your church so uniform in its politics?

4. Because governments come and go, and you need to reserve the sacred right to prophesy to whoever is in power.

3. Because politicians come and go, and you need to reserve the sacred right to comfort whoever is not, or no longer, in power.

2. Because politics brings out the worst in people, and you’re supposed to bring out the best in people.

1. Because politics brings out the worst in people, and unless you’re an exception (like Tommy Douglas), politics will bring out the worst in you.

Pastors, by all means think about politics and study about politics so that you can preach and call people to politics according to Biblically grounded principles and insight into the major trends of our time.

But leave the actual politics to actual politicians and political scientists.

(Remember that “foot” and “hand” thing, as someone, somewhere said?)


10 Responses to “Top 10 Reasons Pastors Should Avoid Politics”

  1. Cristian Rata

    It depends what you mean by ‘politics.’ It is a rather broad term and if you know your Scriptures and preach them well – you most likely will get involved in some ‘politics.’ It is not that easy to separate/compartmentalize your life. Or is it? 🙂

    • John

      As I indicate at the end of the post, I certainly don’t want pastors avoiding any mention of contemporary relevance! Quite the contrary: Too few pastors in my acquaintance ever get beyond personal piety in their preaching. No, what I have in mind is encouraging pastors to stay “pastoral” and to encourage and equip the “political” in their flock to engage in (various forms of) political action. I wrote an entire book (“Making the Best of It”) to help pastors in this regard–and it makes the same point along the way: Do what God calls you to do, and bless others as they do what God calls them to do.

      • Cristian Rata

        I see and I generally agree (I haven’t read your book yet). I just think that the title is a bit too strong, It implies (at least at first sight) that there should be an almost absolute separation between pastoral work and ‘politics,’ and that is just impossible as you recognize.

  2. Ken

    I agree whole heartedly. The Gospel of the kingdom of God is the politics that we need to proclaim which is far different than man’s politics. The church needs to be much more aware of what God wants to do through the church rather than through a nation or nations. As you stated, politicians and countries come and go, the church is here for eternity.

  3. Dave

    Thanks John. Agree wholeheartedly. Pastoring for 20 years in Australia I believe good Christian leadership challenges the policy regardless of the political party. We are to be a voice for those who are disadvantaged by political decisions. PS. Loved watching you and Q&A Monday night. Top job.

  4. Steve Mittelstaedt

    The issue with an active pastor working as an active politician may point to something more fundamental. When the parishioner is also a constituent that sets up a potential conflict of ethical obligations between the roles. Most folks are unlikely to recognize the conflict, let alone navigate it.

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