How we get them wrong and what church leaders can do about it.
Chris Maxwell, director of spiritual life and campus pastor at Emmanuel College in Franklin Springs, Georgia, recalls a troubling episode during his pastoral tenure in Orlando: “In March 1996 I almost died of encephalitis. A group of people came to visit me and read Matthew 7:17–18: ‘Every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit.’ For them, admitting I had brain damage and needed medicine was lack of faith. This was the reason I became sick and wasn’t being healed. I told them, ‘If that caused my sickness I would’ve been sick long before.’”
John Koessler, professor and chair of pastoral studies at Moody Bible Institute, is all too familiar with scenarios like this. “I find that people tend to be one-sided in their handling of the Bible. They ‘lean into’ certain texts or truths to the exclusion of others. Some focus only on a portion of a verse. Others use one text to cancel out another.”
This isn’t surprising to most church leaders, who often see verses plucked from their homes to serve other purposes. To better understand these tricky situations, I asked several pastors to share the misused passages that make their skin crawl and how people in ministry can model healthy biblical interpretation.
“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”
An entire cottage industry has developed around this decontextualized verse. It adorns t-shirts, knick-knacks, and the walls of our churches, written in graceful, soothing script. “Having …