Roosevelt referred to the White House as a “bully pulpit.” This was not a negative term, but referred to
the reality that the president of the United States had incredible influence to
bring important issues to the forefront of society. Back then (c. 1901-1909), “bully” didn’t mean
“harass” but meant “superb.” In other
words, President Roosevelt was saying the White House was a superb pulpit. Indeed it was and still is. Even though it had essentially positive
beginnings, it has come to be used in mostly negative ways.
Taking the modern use of
the world “bully,” it refers to someone in a position of authority “beating up”
on those under their authority. We’ve
all experienced it. Whether it’s a boss,
a president, congressperson, or a pastor, there are those of us in positions of
authority that can succumb to the temptation to “whip” people using our
platform, or pulpit.
If you’ve been around the
“church world” for a while, you have probably heard it: deliberate, undeniable
attacks on people in the church from this least likely place: the pulpit. There are times we don’t mean to and there
are times we are accused of “bully pulpiting” when in fact we are simply speaking
the Biblical truth (more on that later).
Here, though, I’m referring to the intentional “bullying” of others
using the pulpit and it carries several unintentional consequences. Here are just three:
of the Bully Pulpit: Abuse of the Sacred Calling
We read in 2 Timothy 4:1–2: 1 In
the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the
dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge: 2 Preach
the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and
encourage—with great patience and careful instruction.
We are charged by the
Living God to teach His people His Word.
It is a sacred and serious calling.
When we “correct,
rebuke, and encourage” it is not meant to be a time for us to “vent” but is conditioned by “great patience and
careful instruction.” There
is a higher standard for those who teach God’s Word. That isn’t my idea; it’s God’s. “Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow
believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly”
(James 3:1). When people write us
anonymous letters, abuse us, burn us in effigy, roast us for lunch, or gossip
about us in their small groups, remember the sacredness of our calling.
Sometimes, the sheep can be
cantankerous and our calling is to be their shepherd, not their attacker. There are certainly times when we must
correct them and we’re not discharging our office well if we don’t, but we
should do it without patience and love.
The breaking of the Bread of Life before the Lord’s people is powerful
and it will cause life-change. Will it
change everyone? No. We know that.
But it doesn’t mean we get to beat up on people just so we feel better.
of the Bully Pulpit: Sets a Poor Example
The Apostle Paul, who
certainly understood what it was like to be attacked, wrote under the Spirit’s
inspiration in Romans 12:19-21: 19 Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for
God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,”
says the Lord. 20 On the contrary: “If your enemy is hungry,
feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you
will heap burning coals on his head.” 21 Do not be
overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
As pastors and leaders, we
are to set examples to the Body of Christ and bear witness to the world of the
life-changing power of the Gospel. If we
set the example of taking the opportunities to “zing someone” form the pulpit,
we are taking revenge on them ourselves.
We are not leaving “room for God’s wrath.” Instead, we are told to care deeply for
anyone who comes against us. We “overcome evil with
good.” If you “fight fire with fire,” dear friend,
you’ll just get burned.
We must set a better
example for the Body than this. Many
mentors have told me: in five years, your congregation will take on your
personality. So if the example you set
includes getting revenge every time someone talks against you, what are you
teaching them to do? We know we’re
examples to the Church but what kind of personality do you want them to have in
of the Bully Pulpit: It’s Sinful
Scripture instructs in 1 Peter 5:2–4: 2 Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care,
watching over them—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God
wants you to be; not pursuing dishonest gain, but eager to serve; 3 not
lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock. 4 And
when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will
never fade away.
There are fewer greater
examples of failed leadership than abusing the pulpit by lording your authority
over people. When we simply beat them up
for disagreeing with us, we are harassing the sheep. We are not being good shepherds; instead, we
are simply acting like “hired hands”
(cf. John 10:12-13). It’s sin—plain and simple. Many times, when I have seen bully pulpitting
by a pastor, it’s because they are upset that someone called their crazy idea “crazy.”
It’s sinful to beat people
up simply because they disagree with us and because we happen to have a
platform every Sunday. Instead of
teaching them the truth of God’s Word, we’re defending our bruised egos. That’s going to cause problems, right?
How do you avoid the “bully
pulpit” when you legitimately must correct something in the Fellowship and it
must be done publicly? First, pray. Second, pray.
Third, pray. Our motives and our
sinful desires are always playing against us.
One of the reasons I love teaching through books of the Bible and preset
topics is it is very, very difficult to “bully pulpit” or even be accused of it
when last week you taught Matthew 5:1-12 and they know Matthew 5:13-16 is this
Next, plan, plan,
plan. Skipping around from week to week
almost forces you to pick the latest gossip around the church, find a passage
against it, and preach it. How can you
NOT bully pulpit like that? Does that
mean I’m anti “topical messages”? Not at
all. In January, for example, I’m
teaching a series on the Church called “How it Works.” After that, “Home Wreckers” will help us seek
Scripture’s wisdom on avoiding the wrecking balls in our lives. Resurrection Sunday 2013 will start a four-part
series called “4given: The Four Sides of Forgiveness.” After that, “The Greatest Stories Rarely Told,”
a survey of the Old Testament, will consume most of the rest of the year.
I can assure you, these
topical series came directly out of the needs of the body and where I believe
there needs to be correction and understanding so the Christ-followers in my
fellowship continue to walk in the newness of life. But by the time we get there, any situation
that has recently happened as of this writing will have long been processed by
me and not find it’s way as a baseball bat in my messages.
As teachers, we must try to
move away from the “tyranny of the urgent.” There just aren’t THAT many things we need to
deal with immediately—as in, this Sunday.
Develop a preaching plan, preach it, and allow the lion of the Word of
God out of its cage. They are, after
all, His sheep and not ours.
“For the word of God is alive and
powerful. It is sharper than the sharpest two-edged sword, cutting between soul
and spirit, between joint and marrow. It exposes our innermost thoughts and
Hebrews 4:12 (New Living Translation)