Why a church needs theology position papers on sensitive subjects 

By Trevin Wax

These days churches can become easily divided because of controversy over theological positions or ethical stances. When it comes to tackling these issues, the church’s statement of faith only takes you so far.

A statement of faith is focused on the doctrines your church believes, but it doesn’t answer other questions that come up in today’s environment on topics that might be controversial.

This is where position papers can be helpful. A position paper is a deeper dive into the practical aspects of some element of Christian theology. It does not replace a statement of faith; it applies your church’s statement of faith to a particular topic.

Three reasons why position papers are necessary:

1. Provides clarity for visitors – Position papers should be written in a way to be welcoming to visitors. They aren’t just a list of the church’s doctrines, but instead explain why your church has the views it has. By posting them online, you help visitors to know up front your church’s positions on potentially controversial topics like the meaning of marriage, political engagement and what the Bible says about race.

2. Provides a model for church members – A position paper shows church members what it looks like when the pastors and leaders of the church are wrestling through difficult issues, bringing biblical wisdom to bear on sensitive subjects. This also gives the congregation a model for how to talk about these issues themselves.

3. Provides unity for the staff – Position papers help you raise and identify issues where you may not be on the same page with a potential staff member. This helps you avoid a situation where you hire someone and then face unintended consequences and potential division down the road.

Position papers aren’t intended to lay out every possible response to any scenario that arises. They are a way for a church – on moral and theological issues – to bring their theological framework to bear on different subjects, and then speak into how the church addresses these challenges. By being clear, a position paper can aid the church’s pursuit of unity – among both the congregation and the staff.

Published October 31, 2022

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Trevin Wax

Trevin Wax is Vice President of Resources and Marketing at the North American Mission Board and a visiting professor at Cedarville University. A former missionary to Romania, Trevin is a regular columnist at The Gospel Coalition and has contributed to The Washington Post, Religion News Service, World, and Christianity Today. He has taught courses on mission and ministry at Wheaton College and has lectured on Christianity and culture at Oxford University. He is a founding editor of The Gospel Project, has served as publisher for the Christian Standard Bible, and is the author of multiple books, including The Thrill of Orthodoxy, The Multi-Directional Leader, Rethink Your Self, This Is Our Time, and Gospel Centered Teaching. His podcast is Reconstructing Faith. He and his wife, Corina, have three children.