Pastor, Don’t Avoid Uncomfortable Topics

by Brett McCracken November 11, 2021

Few pastors jump at the chance to preach a sermon on sexuality.

I certainly didn’t. When I saw my name on our church’s preaching schedule attached to the topic, “Wisdom in Sexuality (Proverbs 5–6),” my first inclination was to try to get out of it. Couldn’t a more seasoned elder at our church take this one?

But I didn’t try to get out of it. I preached the sermon. And I’m glad I did.

Was the room icy as Antarctica as I preached for 40 minutes about God’s wise design for human sexuality? Yes. Was my throat dry as the Sahara as I worked my way through various points about gender complementarity, sexual immorality, and drinking water “from your own cistern” (Prov. 5:15)? Most definitely.

But the feedback I received after preaching the sermon was surprising. Thank you for going there. Thank you for not avoiding such a difficult topic. We need more sermons about this.

Pastors, your people want you to go there. They are hungry for clear, compassionate, biblical teaching on the difficult topics facing our culture and their own families. Sexuality. Gender. Racial reconciliation. Hell. God’s wrath. Tithing. Church discipline. Divorce. Greed and materialism. War and violence. Charismatic gifts. Christ’s exclusivity.

The Bible has things to say about all of these things. And preachers should, too.

Whole Counsel

It takes courage to preach the whole counsel of God. When Paul tells the Ephesian elders, “I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27), he implies there would be reason for some to shrink.

The whole counsel of God is intimidating. Some parts of it are scary—downright offensive in various cultural contexts. Many parts of it are daunting because they are direct; other parts are daunting because they are complex, resistant to simple “three-point sermon” treatment.

Either way, the whole counsel of God—revealed to us in his Word—is challenging to preach. But preach it we must. Otherwise, we as pastors have the blood of our congregations on our hands (Acts 20:26).

Seeker-Sensitive = Inauthentic

The seeker-sensitive approach to church assumes most people don’t want to hear anything uncomfortable from the pulpit on a Sunday morning. People just want feel-good sermons with easy, practical takeaways for personal growth, right? People will run for the exits and never return to church if we preach on difficult topics, right?

I’m not so sure.

As a millennial evangelical who was raised on rather inoffensive sermons and attended “don’t ask difficult questions” youth groups, I actually do want churches to lean in to the tough topics and thorny questions. Many of my peers feel the same way.

The college students I disciple these days aren’t looking for a Christianity that positions itself as nice, inoffensive, easy, and comfortable. This feels false and inauthentic to them. Why? Because it is false and inauthentic.

Christianity is unavoidably costly and uncomfortable. It’s a faith built around a guy who was brutally crucified on a cross and told his followers, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Mark 8:34).

Those aren’t the words of a man who worried about offending the masses.

Hide Not the Offense

We’re naturally tempted to hide the various offenses of Christianity, but as Charles Spurgeon notes, we do so at our peril:

"Hide not the offense of the cross, lest you make it of none effect. The angles and corners of the gospel are its strength: to pare them off is to deprive it of power. Toning down is not the increase of strength, but the death of it."

We don’t need to tone down Scripture or domesticate the gospel. We need to preach it boldly and comprehensively. The people in our pews don’t want to be sold a sanitized, fake Christianity that conveniently affirms them wherever they are and leaves them unstretched and unshaken.

They want the truth—however hard it is to hear.

Editor's Note: This is an adapted excerpt from Brett McCracken’s book, Uncomfortable: The Awkward and Essential Challenge of Christian Community. The adaptation was originally posted at TGC.

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