Pastors: keep your “gray” areas off the stage

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I was visiting a church recently (which I encourage anyone on a church staff to do periodically…you’ll learn so much), and I got called out from stage.

I was minding my own business, when the theological hammer came crashing down on my head.

Let me state this first: I’m a pro-Bible guy. I’m for it. I read it. I glean wisdom and life from it. I’m convinced that it’s the very Word of God.

But I’m not convinced that it has to be printed on a page to be the Bible.

image credit: Creative Commons user BigD

The service started out like 99% of every other service in America…a few songs, announcements, prayer, another song, then the sermon.

Here’s how it started, “Please get out your Bibles and turn to ______. If you don’t have your Bible, we have them available at the back…”

Normal, right? Nothing odd yet.

“And when I say Bible, I don’t mean your iPhone or your iPad or your digital device. I mean your physical Bible.” (he was shaking his Bible high in the air by now) He was peering over his invisible reading glasses…right at me and my iPad.

“THIS (he holds his Bible higher and shakes it more ferociously) is how Jesus had his. I think that’s good enough for us, too.”

I wanted to say, “Well, actually, Jesus opened the scroll in the temple, and it didn’t look like that neat, leather-bound, small book you’ve got above your head…” but I didn’t. At least not out loud. :)

I looked around me, to the people sitting close by. I was the only one with a digi-Bible.

Uh oh. I knew I was in for a long service.

Shades of Gray

There’s nothing wrong with holding convictions about gray areas. Things like watching TV, sending your kids to public school, listening to secular music, or drinking alcohol.

Scripture doesn’t say anything specific about any of these actions. It neither forbids nor condones these actions. Scripture may speak in principles, and how we should operate with respect to our freedoms, but with each of these areas, it’s relatively silent. (to these areas, I’d counsel someone to chase hard after wisdom.)

Turns out that the Bible also doesn’t say that, for a “Bible” to be legitimate, it has to be in print form.

Does God’s Word cease to be God’s Word when it’s on a digital screen? When it’s spoken aloud? When it’s written on a banner at a ball game?

Pastor: when you hold up “gray” areas as if they’re black-and-white, right-or-wrong issues, you needlessly alienate people.

The offense of the Gospel

If you’re going to offend someone, offend them with love. So overwhelm them with love and grace that they’re disgusted by it. Preach the Gospel so clearly and winsomely that they’re turned off by a God who loves and cares for them that much. Offend them with a community that loves and accepts them for who they are…people made in God’s image. Offend them with radical forgiveness. Offend them with scandalous grace.

But don’t offend them over what type of media they use to access God’s Word.

They’re accessing God’s Word…let’s rejoice!

Don’t raise gray issues to the level of black-and-white. When you do, you’re speaking authoritatively where God has chosen to be silent. Which is not ground on which I want to find myself.


Have you ever heard a pastor speak authoritatively on “gray” issues?

* image credit: creative commons user BigD



Christ follower, husband, father, writer, small groups pastor at Saddleback Community Church. Communications director for the Small Group Network.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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  • ScottC

    As a Pastor, I truly seek to keep my gray areas to myself and I don’t think I have many BUT it seems like I meet a lot of Christians in the pew/chairs that have them. And a pastor or church is not spiritual unless they have the same ones. Probably every pastor reading this blog has had someone leave his church or some trivial gray area. 

  • Corey Landreth

    good post!  I actually tell people, “today we’ll be in (whatever book/chapter), you can follow along in your Bibles, iPads, Iphones, smart phones, nooks, or you can follow along on the screen – however you choose to connect with God’s Word we want you connected.  This is one of the reasons we have free @b58c57605f2288a9f6c5c7439676a8e2:disqus iFi in our building.”

  • Derek W. White

    Thanks for the article. I’ve had a church committee tell me that there were people who didn’t like me preaching from an iPad with the implication being because it wasn’t the “leather bound Word of God.” Considering that quite a number of my parishioners use their iPhones and iPads for their Bibles, I stated outright that I’d continue to use it.

    In the end, one of the committee members helped me to understand that the iPad seemed to be the “problem” when, in reality, it was my preaching style when I was reading directly from my notes. I took that criticism well and changed my style and have not had any problems. Since then, I’ve had a number of parishioners ask me about various Bible study tools they can purchase for their tablet devices.

    As to a grey area I do not address from the pulpit, I tend to avoid those areas in which I have personal freedom but realize that some of my parishioners do not. Having ministered in a variety of settings, I tend to avoid talking about alcohol because I’m sure there are people in the congregation who have had personal issues with its use. When discussing those issues when they come to life during the reading of Biblical texts, I try to focus on the need for healing and love shown to those who have problems with various addictions.

    Most of the “grey areas” are dealt with pastorally on a one-on-one basis. I’ve found that these discussions grant a great deal of openness and freedom for communication.

  • Shannon Coenen

    WOW! I’d like to take this pastor overseas with me and watch his reaction when churches have NO Bibles (digital or print) because they aren’t translated in their languages yet or can’t afford them.  And what of the huge population of people around the world who are oral learners or illiterate?  Or who have had Bibles confiscated as part of religious persecution?  All I can say is….WOW!

  • Rodgers_wanda

    The Bible also tells us to be tolerant of those that are weaker in faith, that is certainly hard – we don’t compromise on the Word,  we live by it in loving our neighbor with lumps, bumps, faults and all.  After all, Jesus loves me :).  I am also reminded there will come a day if Jesus tarries much longer that the Word better be written on our hearts because the Enemy will ban it every place he can in this world.   I personally prefer my Bible, but I also love the referenced scriptures on an overhead.  The author of the Message wrote it in our modern day language so his students would pick up the WORD and read it and understand it.  We get so stuck in religion that we lose those whose hearts are so hungry for God and they just don’t feel that they will ever measure up.  My philosophy on life – WWJD.  Great post

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  • Peggy

    I don’t agreee that drinking alcohol is a ‘gray area’. May the Lord help us to understand all the damage that it brings to lives and families.  

  • Joe McKeever

    I was doing a wedding with a Catholic priest once (I’m Southern Baptist), and at the rehearsal, we got into a discussion over reading a scripture portion in the service. He said, “I would never read the Holy Word from a photocopy of Scripture. Either I copy it by hand, or bring the Bible into the sanctuary with me.”  That was a view I had never heard or thought about. I appreciate his high view of the holiness of Scripture.

    • Ben Reed

      Interesting for sure, Joe. My only question would be what the difference is between a handwritten one and a photocopied version of the Scriptures would be.

      Or, for that matter, what the difference between one that’s photocopied into a leather-bound edition would be from one that’s photocopied onto a digital screen.

      Just some stuff to ponder.

      Thanks for jumping in the discussion!

      • Anonymous

         technically, in most Catholic Parishes, the congregation can follow the scripture by reading it in the Missalette (which could be considered a photocopied version), but for worship purposes, the readings are always from the Bible itself.  I believe the distinction has the intention of conveying the sacredness of Holy Scripture.

        • Ben Reed

          Gotcha. Makes sense. We do similar things in Protestant churches, too.

          Not sure I buy that the medium necessarily conveys holiness or not, but I have seen it conveyed that way, too. Case-in-point: my experience at this church. :)

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  • Andrew Mason

    I love tweeting quotes from a message as I listen to it. It’s a form of taking notes for me. I only do it though because that’s how Jesus did it too.

    • Ben Reed


  • Black&white

    Using an ipad to read from is not a gray area. When a printed bible is availabe an electronic device creates a distraction for satan to work. On you or those around you. It sends email, texts, updates and emits an unearthly glow. A bible is sanctified for gods use whereas a tablet shares space with uncontrolled advertising, movies, news & uncLean books. Can you honestly tell me that nothing offensive has crossed your screen or that you feel it does not create an atmosphere of possible distractions? I caution you to use the printed word & turn off the tablet.

    • Ben Reed

      Hey Black & White,
      I’m calling it a gray area because it’s not an explicit command in Scripture. In other words, I can’t find for a passage in the Bible that says, “Don’t read from an iPad.” You may be able, through wisdom, to infer that it says something like that. But it’s gray because it’s not stated explicitly.

  • Ben b

    The issue is not the iPad or iPhone or paper bible. I have seen people distracted by the map of Paul’s journey as much much as an email!! It is between the person and God to how they read His word!