Why pastors must lead well on abortion

Why is it imperative for pastors to lead well on the issue of abortion? This is the ministry of Passion Life. Our work is to train primarily pastors and pastoral leaders. Sometimes we train local leaders, medical doctors and Christian lawyers are people who are leading in various ministries in the church, but our real goal is to train pastors well to lead on the issue of abortion with moral clarity and courage. We believe that if we can start not with abortion, but with the Bible, then we can inspire real change coming from the leadership down through the congregants.

In the church congregations, they are led by their own pastors to go out into their neighborhoods, their workplaces and their communities to be agents of change and to be the hands and feet of Christ. They do this by serving one mother at a time, one family or couple at a time who find themselves in a pregnancy crisis where they just cannot see how, or even if, things are going to work out for them. It is not easy, from our experience, to get pastors to engage well on the issue of abortion, especially in North America.

Now, before I go on, let me say that I myself am a pastor. John Ensor, our president here in Passion Life, is also a pastor. We know what it is like to be tempted or to be lulled to sleep into not leading well on this issue. All of us, as John says, come to pro-life ministry through the door of repentance. For us, it was a long process of awakening to the realization that we had not led well on the issue of abortion and why it was such a detriment to our people for us to have not done that. So as a pastor, I can sympathize with why pastors do not lead well.

I often say this, “Whoever discovers the means of engaging North American pastors on the issue of abortion will change the calculus on the pro-life fight in our hemisphere forever, maybe in our world as well.” Let’s start with the idea of why it is that pastors do not lead well on the issue of abortion.
I often ask pastors and pastoral trainers why it is that pastors do not lead well on this issue. Let me stop here and say I am generalizing. There are pastors who are leading very well on the issue of abortion with courage, clarity, and understanding of why it is important to talk to their people this way. If you attend a church where your pastor is leading well on the issue of abortion, don’t take it for granted. Be thankful because it’s very important. By and large, though, as a generalization, pastors are too busy to stop and think about what it is that their people need on this issue.

Pastors have a lot of demands on their schedule. They are studying, shepherding, spending time with people in their congregations, working on administrative duties, leading teams and, on top of that, they have weddings and funerals and unexpected things that kind of come up at various times. The burden of preparing well is sometimes a little bit difficult for pastors, but that is not an excuse for a reason to neglect the duty of leading well on the issues that are most important.

I often also hear people say, “I want to be gospel focused in my church. I really don’t want to be talking about side issues in our church. Here are issues that are divisive. I want to be talking about what God has done for us and why it’s so wonderful.” In response to that, I would say that we have found the topic of abortion is not a side issue to the gospel. Abortion is an unparalleled entry point for the gospel because of the number of people in each and every congregation who have been through some sort of abortion trauma.

Sometimes pastors just are not as knowledgeable as they would like to be on this issue. They would like to say, “I am very pro-life.” But if a girl were to come to them and explain that she was thinking about having an abortion because of the terrible circumstances that brought her to the position that she’s now in, many pastors just would not know what to do and say. That is a time when it matters most that you know what to do and say.

Another reason that I think is actually pretty common, I say this again as a pastor who can empathize with this, pastors are scared. They are afraid in North America. There is a lot on the line when it comes to talking about abortion and leading. Well, people could be upset, people could leave, people could be offended and pastors just are not willing to pay that penalty for leading well on a biblical issue. Let’s turn from the question of why it is that pastors don’t lead well to why it is that pastors must indeed lead well.

First and foremost, this is a life and death issue. This is not just your run-of-the-mill social or political issue. This is not hunger or poverty or racism or all the other myriad of extremely important topics that we, as pastors, need to lead well on. None of those issues that I just mentioned or any other really are life and death issues in such literal black and white terms when it comes to life.

God is zealous for his people, for his children, for the people of His creation. We as pastors need to remember how seriously God takes the issue of life and what the ramifications are for communities who do not value life. Again, this is a life and death issue. On that level, it is quite unparalleled as a preeminent moral crisis. Abortion is, in our day and age, another thing that makes it imperative for pastors to lead well so as to fight back against the culture that is already leading with a very loud voice. They are making very convincing and compassionate sounding arguments for why abortion is necessary.

I regret to say that in many churches, even my own church that I have attended for many years, has a lot of wonderful, good, solid, Christian people who would consider themselves pro-choice Christians. Why is that? Well, I think it is because the culture is leading loudly on the issue. Even if you do not believe in it personally for yourself, it is necessary for some people who find themselves in difficult circumstances.

Pro-choice Christians are simply not being led well with the scriptures. That is what we would say here at Passion Life. If they are pro-choice Christians, they are not being led well. They are genuinely Christians. They are probably not thinking through the issues on a deep biblical basis. This comes down to good pastoral leadership. Unfortunately, when we neglect to teach what the Bible says. We leave people open to being pushed around like waves on the ocean not knowing what exactly to believe, but listening to the loud voices in their world. I think that most of the pro-choice Christians that I know are good, compassionate, Jesus-loving people. They just are not thinking through the biblical implications of what it means to take an innocent human life.

John Ensor, our president at Passion Life, was a pastor for many years, and he would say that one of the worst days he ever experienced as a pastor was when a woman came to him and said that she had had an abortion a year ago and prayed, “God, if this is something you don’t want me to do, since someone to stop me.” John, as her pastor, had to repent that day because, although he never talked about abortion and thought that people in his congregation probably were not having them, he had been her pastor a year ago and God did send someone to stop her. He sent her pastor to help her understand the implications of the scripture on this issue.

When the culture is speaking loudly, our job as pastors is to help people tackle those difficult cultural issues that they do not understand well and bring a moral clarity from God to bear on those issues. That is our job as pastors. We are to lead people well in how to know, love and righteously respond to the word of God when there are difficult issues. These difficult issues are not to skip over or avoid. This would put in the camp of a sin of omission. James 4 talks about those who know the good that they ought to do and they do not do it. For them it is sin.

I would say the argument against abortion is best led from the pulpit because you are going to reach most people that way. But in some way, shape or form every church needs to be talking in a public way about what it means for Christians to think through the biblical implications of abortion. It is not enough to be pro-life and to simply pat people on the back to dismiss the issue as if it is not really all that complicated. We must lead well on the issue of abortion.

Passion Life exists to help pastors understand the totality and the fullness of the biblical counsel concerning life, the shedding of innocent blood and how to bring the grace of the gospel to the guilt and the shame of abortion. If your pastor is not speaking on abortion, perhaps you would share this post with him. Get him thinking and considering what it means to stir the pot on this issue a little bit in their church and go one step deeper.

Passion Life is here for you. We have many resources for pastors. Please reach out to us at any time. We exist to help bridge that gap in pastoral leadership. If you are a pastor and you are not leading well, we are praying that God would bring a conviction to your heart to be able to take those first steps to leading well. If you are leading well, God bless you. It is an important issue that each and every person in your congregation needs to hear from you about.