A Chemistry Conversation with Trevin Wax
Matt Steen, Co-Founder of Chemistry Staffing, and Trevin Wax, Senior Vice President of Theology and Communications at Lifeway, talk through the current divisiveness in the church surrounding responses to the pandemic and the various political differences. Trevin offers some sound advice to those of us "in the middle of it all."
- Author page: The Gospel Coalition
- New Book: Rethink Your Self: The Power of Looking Up Before Looking In
- Article: Church conflict during COVID-19 growing worry for pastors, says LifeWay Research
- Follow Trevin: Twitter, Facebook, or receive his columns via email.
Read the Full Transcript
Matt Steen: Hey, this is Matt Steen from Chemistry Staffing, and this is another Chemistry conversation. Joining me today is Trevin Wax. Trevin is the Senior Vice President of Theology and Communications at Lifeway, and that's quite a title actually.
Trevin Wax: Thank you.
Matt Steen: Wow! Theology and communications! But Trevin, thanks for taking some time to talk.
Trevin Wax: Glad to be with you.
Matt Steen: You know, we originally reached out to you to talk about what you're seeing conflict wise in the church and how pastors are kind of walking through that. You did a great piece on that for Lifeway back in August. Man, I tell you what, it doesn't seem like things have changed a whole lot. Really, the conversations that we've been having is, what are you seeing, where do you think this is leading, and how can we help pastors in this season continue to shepherd their flocks in a way that's not going to burn them out and is sustainable and healthy. That's a lot to solve in ten minutes, but fix all out problems Trevin.
Trevin Wax: Well, I'll do my best. As far as what we're seeing, I think what was interesting about the Lifeway research study that you're talking about is to see the difference between March and then later in the summer as to what was weighing on the pastor the most. So it looked at the March results of our survey of protestant pastors across the country. There were a lot of health challenges. There were all sorts of concerns and things that were pressures that the pastor felt - how to keep people connected and whatnot. But there was a lot of unity at that point around the decision to go into the lockdowns and what that would mean to the church and how the church should respond. By the time you get to the summer, the number one pressure point area of anxiety for pastors had become church conflict over reopening. So how to handle COVID. And I think the reason why is that a lot of pastors are still torn because there are people in their congregation that are very loud that are all about reopening, "this is a hoax," "we've taken too many of these precautions." And we have people on the other side who are like "why are we even starting to reopen," "how can we even think of doing kids ministry," "you're putting our people at risk." And so you have, I think there are loud voices that are not actually representative of the bulk of the congregation. But in a season in which we've already been isolated, we've been distanced from each other. To have that added pressure - and you know this, Matt - pastors feel the weight of preserving church unity. That's one of the burdens of a pastor, right? And when they get the angry email over here and then the bad voice call on this other side, they feel just beaten up a lot. And that's what I'm seeing. A lot of pastors are like, "I can't do right. Whatever we do, it's going to tick off someone. And I'm trying to lead as faithfully as I can having never taken a 'How to Lead Your Church Through a Pandemic' course in seminary. I think that's where a lot of pastors are.
Matt Steen: Yeah, and that’s such a shame. So much of what we've been telling some of the guys in our tribe is, hey, look, nobody had this figured out. Right? Don't feel like you have to have all the answers because, quite frankly, the people that say they do they're lying. We haven't figured out how to do online ministry perfectly. We haven't figured out how to reopen or even close the right way. So as you're kind of walking through some of this and talking to pastors and watching them, what advice are you giving them? How are you counseling them, and what do you have to say to some of the guys that you're talking to?
Trevin Wax: One of the main things I've been saying is, please make sure you have a camaraderie, you have other pastors that you're in communication with. Pastors need to be leaning on each other during this moment. A pastor during this time is probably feeling so stressed out about getting hit from different sides on stuff that pastors need to reach out to other pastors to be able to say, "Hey, I need to forward you this email that I got" or "You won't believe this voicemail." There needs to be a little bit of a camaraderie in the trenches for pastors to be able to find each other to say, "We're not alone in this. You're not the only one that doesn't really feel like you know what you're doing. You're not the only one getting the angry voicemails, the emails, or the backlash because you've done this decision or that decision. We're all in this together. How are you doing? How are you making it through? What can we learn from each other?" I've been encouraging pastors, you need friends around you and that's great, but you really do need other pastors around you in a season like this that's really challenging for the shepherding role. So that's the first thing I'm telling people. Another thing I'm telling people is - and this isn't so much advice for the pastor as it is advice for church members - I'm encouraging church members who whether or not - and I'm talking the people in the middle, the quiet majority in the church who are not really loud on one side or the other - encourage your pastor. Reach out and encourage your church leadership because you may not agree with every jot and tittle of their reopening policy and how they're doing things, and that's fine, that's fine. But show the grace to know they've never been in this situation before, we've never been in this situation before. And trust me, they're hearing from the loud extremes and fringes. They need to hear from you to say pastor, we support you, we love you, we're with you in this. I'm encouraging church members to do that because I think pastors really need that right now.
Matt Steen: Oh, absolutely. We need that every day. So you don't have to wait for a pandemic in order to do that, but this makes a great time to start, right. Let me ask you a question, and this is just something I’ve been chewing on. We didn't walk about this ahead of time, so I apologize in advance. We're already in this incredibly divided state where we're getting it from both sides, and we've got what... six weeks? Less than six weeks until election day. And it just seems like it keeps getting ramped up. Again, didn't get the pandemic class in seminary, didn't get the super divisive election class in seminary. What now? We're already exhausted, what now?
Trevin Wax: It seems like every four years like it's a more divided election. That's part of the challenge is pastors leading people with different sensibilities about how to vote, what a vote means, what a vote is actually for. There's all sorts of different reasons that people come to the conclusion that they do when it comes to voting. I think it's really important for pastors to show - here's the problem we have here in our society. Everything now is becoming political, more and more political. Everything is becoming politicized. Now sports games, everything. We need, as much as we can, for the church to be a transcendent voice in the middle of a lot of partisan ranker. That doesn't mean that the church is not political. We have a king. His name is Jesus. That's a political statement. We are people of mercy and justice and righteousness, both public and personal. The church, the gospel has political implications. There's no question about that. But in this season where everything is getting polarized and politicized, I think it's important for pastors to avoid this temptation to jump into a lot of the comments on social media, Facebook, Twitter to where it's really clear that there's this partisan divide. We need pastors that can maintain a prophetic distance from the ranker of the moment. And the only way that we do that is by lifting high the word of God that is eternal and lifting high Jesus Christ who is the eternal King, by remembering our true calling. And our truest calling is not to speak out on every political issue, though there will be a time and political issue when we feel like God is calling us to say something about it. That's fine. That's not our ultimate calling. Our ultimate calling is faithfulness in our representation of Jesus Christ and the cultivation of the people that we are to steward.
Matt Steen: That's so great. And I think it is easy and hysteria of the moment, and it is a hysterical time, right? Not in the humorous way. But it is so easy to get caught up and think that we have to have the opinion on everything and speak to everything, but I love that you give us the freedom to kind of step back. Let's focus on Jesus. That's a full-time job in and of itself, and we'll figure out the rest as it comes. Trevin, thank you so much. We can track you down. You do a ton of writing at the Gospel Coalition website. Anything else you've got coming up that you'd like for us to check out?
Trevin Wax: Yeah, I do. I've got a book coming out this month actually called Rethink Yourself. I got my very first copy of it this week. The Power of Looking Up Before Looking In. It's a book about the society we live in and the idea that the main purpose of life is to look in and find yourself and then express yourself to the world. Challenging that and showing how that doesn't really work and challenging that with scripture in a way that I hope will be accessible and will help people be able to rethink their lives in light of the Bible.
Matt Steen: That sounds fantastic, and we'll be sure to check that out. Trevin, thank you so much for your time, man. I really appreciate the work that you do and how you support pastors.
Trevin Wax: Thanks so much for having me, Matt.