Eugene Cho

the president visits your church?

Did you read this news about President Obama going to church yesterday (publicly) for the first time in nearly six months. Seriously, it’s not that big of a deal. He is the President and going to public places must be incredibly delicate and difficult so it doesn’t surprise me that he’s not going to church regularly.

But what did surprise me is the speculation of politics behind his decision to publicly go to church because of the increasing number of folks that believe he’s not a Christian but rather, a Muslim…

Nearly one in five Americans believe Obama is a Muslim, up from around one in 10 Americans who said he was Muslim last year, according to the survey, conducted by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life.

The number of Americans who expressed uncertainly about the president’s religion, meanwhile, is much larger and has also grown, including among Obama’s political base. For instance, fewer than half of Democrats and African-Americans now say that Obama is Christian.

But again, that’s besides my main point I’d like to discuss with you.

The reason why the story captured my imagination was the fact that President Obama and his family attended a church called St. John’s Lafayette Square (an Episcopal church) approximately a block from the White House.

I just automatically assumed it was a larger church but in reading the story on CNN, there were roughly only 4o other congregants at the church. It fascinated me because I wondered this question:

How does the President and his family being present at your church influence the dynamics of your church, worship, and fellowship?

I’m not knocking the size of this church at all. I’m just imagining that in such a small group, the presence of the Obama family would be that much more distinct and overwhelming and possibly…distracting?

I’m curious about how you would respond as a leader or pastor of a church if the President dropped by for a visit?

  • Would you agree to the President attending?
  • Would it be a distraction?
  • If you disliked him and his politics, would that impact your decision to agree to his visit?
  • Would you change your sermon or teach what you had scheduled? That would be Leviticus for me.
  • Or would you preach something in hopes of being a voice or influence to him?
  • Besides a “welcome”, would you do anything else?

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24 Responses

  1. Well, on the flip side, he only disrupted 40 people’s Sunday service, not 400 or 4000. OK, I’m mostly being cheeky, but, y’know…

    I suspect if I was preaching, the sermon would be suitably uncomfortable already for a man who claims faith but is also chief of a nation with such massive differences between richest and poorest. I’d probably want to go do “Mary’s Song” or something.

    Also, seriously, the dude just went to his parish Anglican church. That’s awesome. We clearly have something in common!

  2. Ben@TIC says:

    As usual, I’d make sure the gospel is clearly and heart-movingly preached 🙂

  3. Andy M says:

    If it were up to me, I imagine that I would respectfully decline his attendance, expressing concern over the effect that it may possibly have upon both the congregants and people whom the church may have influence on, currently or in the future. If it were to unintentionally bring partisan politics into the church, then I think it would have lasting damage.

    It may be possible to avoid that kind of effect even if the President did attend my church, but I imagine that it would be very unpredictable.

    I would like to think that I would not turn any person away just because I disagree with their politics, but I imagine that it would be more difficult than I think, if I seriously disagreed with the President’s policies.

    If it were me preaching, I think I would stick with my typical plan. Though that would include the possibility of speaking about the Kingdom vs. Empire, and Jesus is Lord so Caesar isn’t. But I wouldn’t do anything different for the President, in a church he is nothing more than a man.

    I also wouldn’t announce his presence, though it would of course be obvious. And if doing anything much differently than normal was required before he would attend, then I would decline. I respect his office, but church is not about who attends, it is about our Lord.

    But of course, I say all this as a layperson who is glad that this kind of situation isn’t likely to cross my path.

    • Hannah says:

      I respectfully disagree, but no one who steps into a church to worship the Lord should be turned away.

      • Eugene Cho says:

        from what i could gather from the article and the pics (the lackof), i think it was the best case scenario.

        i’d welcome the president w/ the contingency that no media be allowed and to kindly ask the congregants to keep the focus on worship.

      • Andy M says:

        I agree that I don’t think anyone should be turned away, however the implications of the President coming to a church are huge and could have many unforeseen effects upon the church, it’s congregants, it’s public image, etc. And whether it should or not, it would probably bring partisan politics into the church.

        At the least, I’m pretty sure that the President himself would understand a pastor’s choice in the matter. He surely knows well the effect his presence can have anywhere he goes, and as a Christian would want what is best for the church.

        The unfortunate situation for any President is that their position politicizes every single thing they do, which in turn likely isolates them from anything being remotely normal. Their attendance at a church, even if meant to be a private act, is a political act with possible implications for the president, the pastor, the congregants, etc.

  4. dmbaldwin says:

    Great questions Eugene! I have served in churches where world-wide celebrities attended. The mistake one of the Sr. Pastors made was drawing too much attention to it. It totally side-tracked the service.
    If you believe that the Holy Spirit is in your preparation and He knows Obama is going to attend then just go with what you have prepared. Also, anyone should attend your/our church, no matter who they are! I would keep to the service we planned no matter who shows up!
    Love you questions man.

  5. Ellen says:

    If the President came to our church, well, he’d be welcome as a child of God, welcomed to take part in the liturgy (we are pro-participation so everyone takes a part) and certainly welcome at the Table. The liturgy or the sermon would not be changed on his account, nor would anyone’s politics change the sincerity of the welcome.

  6. Honestly, while I would probably keep to the regular preaching of what I have prepared, I would be very tempted to throw in tid bits in there to indirectly speak to him.

    For example, I would want to say, “Mr. President, be a man. End abortion. End the genocide in our country.” but I know that would draw too much attention to him so I would make a mark about abortion and as a Christian what you should do.

    This would be very tempting and I would have to consider through much thought and prayer.

    • Andy M says:

      I don’t mean to start an abortion debate here, but no President, right or left, Republican or Democrat, has the power to just end abortion. The nation is too divided over the complexities of that issue, Congress isn’t likely to make any laws regarding it, the Supreme Court isn’t likely to change from Roe vs. Wade, and the President just doesn’t have the political power to just “end” it. And it would be political suicide to attempt it. If there is to be a change with abortion, it will have to be done through a different way than how it has been handled since Roe vs. Wade.

  7. johnhkim says:

    I would love for the President of the United States of America to come & visit my church if I was the pastor. At this hour in history I think we believers need to rise up as those who stand in the gap & intercede for our Nation & for our President, regardless of our political affiliation.

    Our nation is in moral decline, 50 million babies have been aborted in America since Roe v Wade, the poor keep getting poorer, & economy’s a mess. This would be a KAIROS time for the Gospel to be preached in love to a President who is longing for a revelation of the grace & mercy of Jesus Christ.

    May something like this not be about too much attention or scrutiny or even the pastor’s church, but about God’s people loving, honoring, & serving their leader whom God has appointed.


  8. Ellen says:

    Just a thought – how will he find a place to truly worship if pastors see his presence as an opportunity to press an agenda? Shouldn’t he be allowed to be just a human being at church?

  9. John Grebe says:

    I would be glad to have him at my church and it would not change my preaching one bit as I always try to focus upon the importance of living out the Christian life during Sunday afternoon to Saturday night in my preaching. Also I would not try to press politics one way or the other as I feel the church should be politically neutral when it comes to political party lines. I feel it is sad at how our president was driven out of his church by politics and an unfair attack upon his pastor by a very short and out of context fragment played in an infinite loop by the media who never published the whole of the brilliant sermon on how America should not dare to call itself the people of God without also acting like the people of God.

  10. Leo Chen says:

    I’m sure it would be disruptive but probably not so much after a few times. Sort’a like seeing Dave Matthews at Greenlake and Wallingford. People got used to it and left him alone. As for changing sermon topics, as a layperson, I don’t really care if one sermon topic gets changed for a “presidential visit.” I’m more concerned with the over-all trend of topics and content in response and/or to mold the changing socio-economical-influencial status of a congregation.

  11. mo says:

    I’d be pumped, but I’ve always liked the president. I could see some people being weird about it, or leaving. I think out church would be ok overall, but seeing as we meet in a rented nightclub, the logistics might be tough. He probably chose a smaller place in part because its easier to arrange and part because it might be more his style. I dunno.

  12. Tony Lin says:

    If he wanted to visit I would have no problem. My church has had presidents visit before… James Madison and James Monroe both worshiped in my church before so no big deal. He would just be another president to worship here. I would pray for him as we pray for all the leaders of the world. But I would never use the pulpit as a place to convey personal messages to the president. If he is convicted by the sermon, to God be the glory… Well, with the exception of maybe asking him to give his ONE DAY’S WAGES…

    I would definitely ask for a private meeting with him though. But that’s standard, I ask every visitor to my church if I can visit them at home. That’s not that unusual.

    If he wanted to join I would apply all the requirements that are applied to everyone else, such as “Will you be an active member of this congregation?” If he can honestly answer yes and say that he can participate and support the ministry of the church, then fine. If he cannot, then sorry. We don’t accept members just so the have their name on some list.

    And I’ll admit it, I would have my picture taken with him and put it on FB.

  13. pastoralan says:

    I’d ask the President to share how a person goes to heaven? If Muslims and Christians worship the same God? Just kidding.

    The Presidents faith has barely been public or on the news. I’m glad he went to church (which is a heretical phrase; we go to worship, we are the church) … or rather worship.

    Would His gospel be recognized in Acts?

    I would not change anything other than recognizing ANY president. Unless he wanted to greet the crowd. I would think we should let it happen if he wanted it.

  14. Lori says:

    Well, I am not a woman of the cloth. But if I were, I would welcome the President whole heartedly as long as he was only there to worship. I would encourage my congregation to be respectful of his privacy if he so desired, and remind everyone, President and all, that we are gathered in His house today to worship the Lord, and let that be our focus. Whether or not I acknowledged his presence in the service, I would say out of courtesy yes, unless he’d rather not. If it is a habit of a church to greet newcomers in the service it would be even more appropriate to say welcome. But it would be short and sweet and let’s get on with worship.

    I would preach what the Holy Spirit led me to preach. I would not use it as an opportunity to preach on political issues unless the Spirit so led. If abortion was originally in my sermon, so be it. But I would not go out of my way to preach
    that if God laid something else on my heart.

  15. g says:

    I remember reading in an interview or news story about the president that the reason the family rarely attends church outside of the White House chapel is because they are conscious of how disruptive it is to the congregation they are visiting. The Secret Service has to sweep the entire church building, frisk parishioners, set up security, etc. that the Obama family probably has a hard time just being able to worship God.

    I think the choice of a small congregation was very intentional… it’s a shame they can’t worship more in public, but honestly, these days, I think I fear for the president and his family’s safety. Too many hateful, crazy folks out there… some of whom are his fellow Americans.

  16. […] to join Warren Buffet in helping turn around the U.S. economy. Or to inform me that he’d be visiting my church. And no, it wasn’t a direct letter from President Obama himself. But it was a letter from one […]

  17. […] to join Warren Buffet in helping turn around the U.S. economy. Or to inform me that he’d be visiting my church. And no, it wasn’t a direct letter from President Obama himself. But it was a letter from one […]

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One Day’s Wages

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In our culture, we can be so obsessed with the "spectacular" or "glamorous." The Church often engagws in thia language and paradigm...but what if God has called many of us to small, ordinary things?

Will we still be faithful?
Will we still go about such things with great love and joy?

I recently came across this picture taken by @mattylew, one of our church staff...and I started tearing up: This is my mother; in her 70s; with realities of some disabilities that make it difficult for her to stand up and sit down...but here she is on her knees and prostate in prayer. She doesn't have any social media accounts, barely knows how to use her smartphone, doesn't have a platform, hasn't written a book, doesn't have any titles in our church, isn't listed as a leader or an expert or a consultant or a guru. But she simply seeks to do her best - by God's grace - to be faithful to God. She prays for hours every day inteceding for our family, our church, and the larger world.

Even if we're not noticed or celebrated or elevated...let's be faithful. Our greatest calling as followers of Christ is to be faithful. Not spectacular. Not glamorous. Not popular. Not relevant. And not even successful in the eyes of the world.

Be faithful. Amen. #notetoself (and maybe helpful for someone else)

At times, we have to say ‘NO’ to good things to say ‘YES’ to the most important things.

We can't do it all.
Pray and choose wisely.
Then invest deeply. May our compassion not just be limited to the West or to those that look like us. Lifting up the people of Iraq, Iran, and Kurdistan in prayer after the 7.3 earthquake - including the many new friends I met on a recent trip to Iraq.

The death toll rises to over 400 and over 7,000 injured in multiple cities and hundreds of villages along the Western border with Iraq.

Lord, in your mercy... We are reminded again and again...that we are Resurrection People living in a Dark Friday world.

It's been a tough, emotional, and painful week - especially as we lament the horrible tragedy of the church shootings at Sutherland Springs. In the midst of this lament, I've been carried by the hope, beauty, and promise of our baptisms last Sunday and the raw and honest testimonies of God's mercy, love, and grace.

Indeed, God is not yet done. May we take heart for Christ has overcome the world. "Without genuine relationships with the poor, we rob them of their dignity and they become mere projects. And God did not intend for anyone to become our projects." Grateful this quote from my book, Overrated, is resonating with so many folks - individuals and  NGOs. / design by @preemptivelove .
May we keep working 
on ourselves 
even as we seek 
to change the world. 
To be about the latter 
without the former 
is the great temptation 
of our times.

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