Sermon Insurance

We are in the process of reviewing our church’s insurance policy.  Yesterday I learned that companies now provide coverage in case someone listens to a sermon, either in a service or even on the church’s podcast, and sues the church for mental or emotional distress caused by the message.

I have gone through a series of reactions to this news.  My first inclination was to remove all my sermons from our church’s website lest some outsider listen to a message and claim emotional damage from what they hear.  Who knows when I might inadvertently trample on someone’s fragile psyche?  It’s a scary thought.

Then I thought about situations where a preacher could justly be accused of causing emotional distress.  For instance, when a sermon exposes certain confidential information about a parishioner, or when a message incites violent behavior against a person or group.  Preaching can certainly be used in an abusive manner.

But my primary response has been one of disbelief.   Are the only safe sermons these days those that soothe and salve and stroke our sagging self-esteem?  Are we to exchange the surgical scalpel of God’s truth — which is designed to judge the very thoughts and attitudes of our hearts (Hebrews 4:12) — for a sermonic version of a Q-tip?

You see, I recognize that there have been more than a few times across the years when a sermon has created “mental or emotional distress” for me.  For instance, when a message exposed hidden sin in my life.  Or showed me that I needed to forgive someone who had inflicted deep pain upon me.  Or called me to let go of some cherished idol in my heart.  How dare that preacher meddle with my life!

Of course, there’s nothing new about all this.  In the past, people may not have sued God’s spokesmen.  Instead, they were known to throw them in wells (like Jeremiah).  Or saw them in two (like Isaiah).  Or cut off their heads (like John the Baptist).  Our method may seem more sophisticated, but the message is still the same: tell us what we want to hear, or else!

I have an idea for our church’s next staff position.  It will be an “Itching Ears Editor”(see II Timothy 4:3) to go over my sermons with a fine toothcomb before I preach them and weed out anything that people might not like.   After all, who knows what someone might do if they would happen to fall under conviction?

About Pastor Dennis

I started following Christ as a senior in high school. My wife Cheryl and I have been married since 1979 and have three grown sons. I have pastored three churches during 27 years of ministry, including my current assignment in Owego, NY. I enjoy reading, running, hiking, and all kinds of music.
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16 Responses to Sermon Insurance

  1. Russ Long says:

    Dennis you are too funny! I can hear you voice as though we are talking about this over coffee. Seriously, I think that your point regarding the fate of a true prophet is well taken. I don’t like pain, but I would rather take a few hits for the truth than compromise the message and survive. Thanks for your thoughts today.

    • Pastor Dennis says:

      You’d be talking over coffee, Russ — me over chai tea (I don’t like the taste of coffee!). I’m glad that I’ve got a mentor like you in ministry to observe and emulate. You’re the combination of a tough and tender prophet that I would like to be.

  2. Carol says:

    Oh, Dennis, what to say, what to say. We are a sue happy society – and lest a lawyer sees this – I think some unethical lawyers have actually encourages our society to go this way. As a teacher who has always cared for her students (do I need to be careful how I say that lest someone make something out of it that really is not meant?), it came to a point I could not give a hug to student who was hurting, could not high five or pat on the back a student who did a wonderful job. The egg shells we walk on are thinner than ever. Don’t want you to get in trouble – but preach what is laid on your heart. Did Jesus back off because those in power were hurt by the truth He spoke?

    • Pastor Dennis says:

      Hi, Carol. I intend to do as you’ve said — to preach God’s truth as clearly as I can, even if it produces a hostile reaction. That’s easier for a thin-skinned pastor like me to type than it is to live, but I depend on the promise that God’s power is displayed in our weakness.

  3. Patty says:

    You ARE too funny! So is this “insurance.” But I do know that there are people out there who will sue over anything if it might profit them. That said, I have to add that your sermons are so gentle and caring while yet speaking the Truth that I find it beyond my imagination to believe anyone could be offended.

    • Pastor Dennis says:

      Thanks, Patty. May the Lord help me to not be so gentle and caring that I would ever compromise His truth. That’s a good way to pray for me as your pastor.

  4. Matt King says:

    Dad,
    As I find with many of your blog posts, I think the issue stems to a societal attitude or cultural idea. Our society is so set on “individual truth” – meaning a different truth perhaps for me than for the next person. Then, somehow, people get offended when your so called truth is expressed as the right way. What a dangerous world to live in – one where no absolute truth is evident – one where the “right” way is nonexistent. That scares me. Fortunately, we know this isn’t true. There’s so much hypocrisy in taking the word truth, and distorting it to mean whatever you feel will benefit you. Truth has vanished at that point.

    As Christians, we must remember and hold to the truth (real truth this time) that people becoming offended is far better than people ignoring a relationship with Christ and justifying it. We must be confident and intentional about delivering the truth we know to other people.

    -Matthew

    • Pastor Dennis says:

      I think you’ve described the issue very well, Matthew. You’re right — it is a scary world in which everyone defines truth for themselves. But I’ve also been thinking that in such a society, the beauty of Christ’s truth can stand out brilliantly through the lives of those who authentically walk with him. I want to be that kind of person.

  5. Polly says:

    I think it is also interesting that in our culture we think we can buy ‘insurance’ to protect us(at least financially) from every unpleasantness. Since God will be the ultimate Judge of the worth of your sermons, I think you’re wise to keep your ‘insurance policy’ with him :)

    “After all, who knows what someone might do if they would happen to fall under conviction?”
    I remember reading once that that was the argument against having the Ten Commandments posted somewhere(in public school I think)- If they are posted on the wall then people might read them and if they read them then they might be convicted by them and ….then what?! Obey them?!

    • Pastor Dennis says:

      Ah yes, Polly — the truth of God can be quite dangerous. In one way, it’s quite a testimony to the power of His Word that people would think of suing a preacher for mental or emotional distress!

  6. Janice Goodell says:

    What law is broken by preaching about the love of God to change lives? What about the second amendment? There are commercials, music, conversations with co-workers that cause emotional distress. Is the insurance company asking for a higher fee to include this coverage? Maybe our district lawyer could give some guidance, or even the denomination on our choices here. If it is mandatory to have this coverage, it might cause pastors to craft semons to zero in on the love of God. “There is no law against love.”

    • Pastor Dennis says:

      You’re right, Janice. What I’ve come to learn, though, is that even God’s love can wound us deeply on the way to our healing. It’s like suing the surgeon whose painful scalpel is cutting out the cancer that would destroy us.

  7. Sherry says:

    Unfortunately our society is sue-happy, anything to get a buck for themselves. I would EXPECT we’d feel some level of anxiety or discomfort if we are feeling the Spirit’s conviction of areas in our life where we NEED it. PLEASE don’t stop preaching what God lays on your heart!

    • Pastor Dennis says:

      Don’t worry about that, Sherry. When I have to water down my messages to not create discomfort in people’s lives, it will be time for me to leave the pastorate and start selling used cars!

  8. Daniel Cash says:

    I think that pastors need to turn that logic around. Congregants would be less likely to cause division in the church if the pastor could sue them for “emotional damage.”

    Think of how smoothly board meetings would run, not to mention church-wide meetings!

    • Pastor Dennis says:

      I had a similar thought when I heard about this insurance coverage, Dan. Unfortunately, pastors are often left to suffer without the awareness of most people in the church. I think congregations would be shocked to learn about the ways church people abuse their pastors — sometimes under the banner of “holiness.”

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