Eleven Reasons Pastors Are Trusted Less Today


A day does not pass that I do not hear from a hurting pastor. Serving in that role has to be one of the most challenging vocations today. Sure, there are some bad and immoral pastors. But the vast majority of our pastors serve their congregations in a way that honors God and makes a difference in the community.

But both anecdotally and by objective research, we learn that pastors are trusted less and held in lower esteem each year. A recent Pew Research poll found that the favorable view of clergy had declined to 37 percent of those surveyed.

Why are pastors no longer held in high esteem? What is behind the precipitous drop in favorable ratings almost every year? Allow me to offer eleven possible reasons. As you will see, they are not mutually exclusive.

  1. The moral failures of a minority of pastors receive widespread coverage. The media loves the sensational stories behind clergy failure. For sure, some stories such as sex abuse should be brought to the public eye. But many people now believe the bad behavior of a few is normative for all pastors.
  2. Our nation has marginalized the Christian faith. So it should not be unexpected that leaders in the Christian world are viewed more negatively.
  3. Pastoral tenure has dropped significantly over the past few decades. Tenure is up slightly the past few years, but the longer trend is down. Trust is built over several years, not two or three years. Fewer pastors have made it to the point of several years.
  4. Some church members have a strong entitlement mentality. They see the local congregation as a place largely to meet their needs and desires, rather than to serve and give. If those needs and desires are not met, the pastor is often the locus of blame.
  5. Social media encourages criticism from a distance. There is much commendable about social media. Indeed, I am heavy user of it. But it also is a means for critics to sound off about pastors (and others) without forethought or consequences.
  6. A few pastors have poor work ethics. More pastors are just the opposite; they fight workaholism. But the few pastors who are lazy and have little accountability hurt the perceptions people have of other pastors.
  7. Pastors are often the scapegoats for fear and change. It is cliché to say the world is changing rapidly. Many church members would like their churches to remain the same every year. Such a reality is not possible, and the pastor is often the scapegoat for the discomfort that comes with change.
  8. There is a pervasive cynicism in our society. The reasons behind that reality are many. But congregations and their leaders are not immune from this widespread and pervasive cynicism on society that seems to be growing.
  9. There is a failure of some pastors in two key areas: leadership and emotional intelligence. Some pastors are well prepared biblically and theologically. But some have not been taught leadership and healthy interpersonal skills.
  10. There are higher expectations today for pastors to be competent, even dynamic, leaders. But, as I noted in the previous point, some pastors have no preparation to be leaders of churches.
  11. More churches are dying in America today. I estimate as many as 100,000 churches in America are dying. Many will close their doors in the next few years. Many of the pastors of these churches are blamed for this malady.

I love pastors. Most pastors are wonderful servants of God, yet their plights are often very difficult.

What do you think of these eleven reasons? What would you add?

And allow me one footnote: please pray for your pastor.

Image Credit: elev8.com

Posted on January 20, 2014

With nearly 40 years of ministry experience, Thom Rainer has spent a lifetime committed to the growth and health of local churches across North America.
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  • Seth Woodward says on

    I am completely terrified of Christian pastors and have come to dislike the congregants. I absolutely do not trust any of them at all. I was a Christian for thirty five years. I attended church every week, studied the bible, tithed (Including 10% of my time in devotion, prayer and study) I even lead worship for a while. Until, I was deeply betrayed by a pastor who I thought was a friend for fourteen years. I was devastated. My whole spiritual life came crashing down upon me. I was crushed and as hard as I sought God He was not there. I couldn’t hear or feel Him at all. It was as though not only had the pastor devastated me but God abandoned me at the same time. That was 14 years ago. I do believe in God and am willing to work for Him but I don’t feel Him with me at all. I had some pretty bad abuse as a child and I recall crying out to God for help and . . . . .Nothing. The torture continued. I didn’t know why He didn’t help. I thought I was saved but now I don’t know. As He did when I was a child I don’t expect any help from Him. With all of the evil encroaching on every aspect of life I don’t see Him or feel Him at all. Because of my childhood I don’t believe He will help at all. I don’t think He is near and I most surely don’t think He cares. With that in mind I know that I must prepare for death. I know I’m going to hell and it frightens me deeply but, what can I do? I’m in the same boat as the infant who is born into a crack house, starved, beaten, raped and murdered all before the age of four. Where is the help for the innocent child? Keeping in mind that God is omniscient, omnipresent and omnipotent so He knew all about it but still allowed it. In love, I guess. That shows a lot of love. I have come to believe that God cares for some people and some He does not. I don’t think there is any hope at all. What a miserable future.

    • First, let me say that you are loved. And you are being prayed forever right now. Your courage to share is inspiring.

      I am deeply grieved by what happened to you. Man, I am so sorry. And the abuse as a child would shake anyone. With you being in the Church for so long, you know allot of things to be true of Gods character. No need to rehash what already know. I would ask 2 questions and then make 2 comments. (Dude, I totally get the betrayal part, I was betrayed by the Church and it wounded me so deep, that It took over 4 years to come out of the spiral I was in).
      Question 1) Would a man that God was not moving in or around be concerned with going to hell? (Does one that rejects God, care about what God thinks? Or even fear hell?)
      Question 2) Do you believe God to be every bit of the God described in the Bible?
      (If so, we see followers killed, imprisoned, suffer hardship, lose their family, struggle allot, commit adultery, lie, and struggle to live as God would have them live)

      Comment 1) Emotion and feeling is a part of the faith, but it’s not the glue that binds. A person who loves God, can be challenged as Job. Or challenged as the 3 friends in the fiery furnace in Daniel. Or one may find themselves in a Jonah moment. Tribulation. Feeling far from God is not always what we think. Sometimes, it’s a challenge for us to realize God is still near. Perhaps, it’s a challenge to draw near to God, and He will draw near to you. (That’s totally not always easy.)

      Comment 2) Keep hope. Yes, I can admit at times it’s a struggle to digest sin, pain and suffering. How could God allow this? This becomes theological in nature, as it’s complex to answer. Perhaps, we should ask, why would God bother to save anyone? Why sacrifice His son to save anyone? I struggle with keeping focused on the Gospel instead of myself. But when we realize, yes, evil happens. Yes, God knows. Yes, God sent a way to fix things in the end, it changes things. (I am sickened by those who abuse others, that is terrible) The thought of a little being tortured is gut wrenching. A friend of mine used to always tell me that sometimes, some things happen for a no good reason. Sometimes, the only satisfactory answer will be found in heaven. I think my friend was right.

      Not a single person can fix your life, not even yourself. Your only hope is Jesus. My only hope is Jesus. I am not stupid enough to say I have it all figured out. But I do know it is Jesus who is the Author and Perfecter of my faith. And we know God does not play favorites. To do so would mean that God can be bribed or swayed to not be good. I am praying for you. I hope God is moving in your life

  • I find it hard to respect my pastor because of his complete lack of follow-thru on any thing that he has started in this church. I can’t even remember how many things he has proposed in the church from leadership meetings to missions to men’s ministry that have never been started or followed thru on. Case in point, I am the Men’s Ministry leader in our church and my pastor and I committed to taking our men through the “Maximized Manhood” curriculum. I teach one small group of men in this progam and are progressing well, whereas, my pastor is leading another small group in which he has never read the books or filled out the workbook, which are the key components of this curriculum. A final exam and essay are also required but he had never turned in any of these things to me and now we are on the 4th book and halfway through the course. Many other things I have talked to him about but he never gets back to me about any of them. I see these things as affecting the growth of our church and don’t know what to do without causing dissension.

  • James smith says on

    This post is nonsense and has the typical pastors are all that and people are the problem mentality. People dont trust pastors because they are worse than used car salesmen. The people in most cases are nothing more than wallets and free labor. But when you have a problem they are not there for you. They are to “busy” which in most cases is tweeting 8 hours to brand their church. They are dreaming of ways to expand and build so they get more money. Even associate pastors are pointless because in many cases they are not there for the people they are there for the “man of God” The whole thing is a joke.

  • Robert DeWitt says on

    How do you handle it when the members of your church continually ask other pastors in the area to do their funerals?

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