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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  • Fantastic post. I could comment on all of the points, but #3 really stood out to me. It seems that tenure is a circular issue these days. At least where we minister (Canada) a lot of the smaller churches go without pastors for long periods of time. This gives the deacons more power than they should have, and then when they do get a pastor the deacons don’t want to release their power. So the pastors don’t stay long because they get stopped at every level by deacons. Then the deacons gain their power back because the pastor didn’t stay. It’s a vicious cycle that is very hard to break. A saying that we hear a lot around here is “People stay, pastors leave.” Sad, but true, especially in a culture where no one moves away and the pastor is the outsider…forever and always.
    Thanks for writing so frankly. I share your burden. And I hear from the hurting pastors’ wives on a daily basis. Heartbreaking, but by God’s grace I will attempt to make a difference!

  • Also to Melanie: There are a lot of pastors, in this country, who have challenges, which you have no idea about, nor compassion. Churches & pastors ought to work together to solve these challenges, but your approach won’t get it done. It just is alienating & very disrespectful.

    • I totally get what Melanie is saying. Her “rant” is what struck a chord with me. The people on here who keep telling Melanie that she isn’t Christlike really need to look at themselves. Just because she doesn’t act like your idea of a Christian, doesn’t mean she isn’t one. Furthermore, to have you sit in judgment after a paragraph is ridiculous. Maybe she had a really bad day and took it out on this blog. Maybe she found out some horrible news and couldn’t process it well. Or maybe she’s had it up to her eyeballs with Christians who act like they’re better than she is and she blew up. We’re supposed to remember that preachers aren’t perfect and that they’re sinners, but we can’t give other people on a blog the same courtesy? Honestly reading the sanctimonious comments by the few of you who made them reminded me why I quit attending church. Maybe you all need to worry about the floods in your own houses before you come over and tell me that mine is unsafe.

  • Wow, Melanie, nice rant. Your tone will stop ppl from listening to you right off the bat. There is some truth to what you say, but it’s only a small % of pastors who are that way. You’re not Christlike at all. You might do some things to help the poor, but there is a tremendous amount of negativity in your spirit. Pastors are frequently criticized & need more support & encouragement than what you imply. I’m sorry you had a bad experience, but I don’t excuse your rant either.

  • While there may be some validity to what is discussed in this blog, I think the focus is in the wrong place.

    What is it that we should be concerned with what anyone thinks of us? There is One we ought to seek to please. If we seek His approval we ought not to seek the approval of any other.

    Our example is Christ. He sought to please no one except His heavenly Father. It mattered not to Him that the Pharisees, Sadducees, and other religious people didn’t like Him or approve of Him. Likewise with those who followed Him [In John 6 many who were His disciples became offended at His teaching and left Him, never to follow Him again; In John 8, when Christ spoke the Truth to those Jews who believed on Him, they responded by taking up stones to stone Him].

    It matters not what education or lack thereof one has; if one is called and taught of God and he or she faithfully follows their Master, then nothing else will matter either in this life or in eternity – regardless of who approves or it or likes it or not.

    Let us seek to walk in the steps of our Master, for to this each disciple is called (1 Peter 2:21-25).

  • Kevin Billiot says on

    Melanie needs to grasp that her form of self-righteous religion is worthless in God’s eyes and will end in death. (Lk. 18:9-14)

    • Kevin. Actually, I agree with Melanie. After I saw the state of local churches and the apathy of the “laity” I realized that the biggest problem was the pastor. The modern pastor has bitten more than he can chew. They wanted ultimate power to control a group of people and they have failed as spiritual leaders. Clergy/laity is not even biblical. The thing we call “church” is not organic. It is man-made and man must continue to give CPR to keep it alive. It is unnatural in the spiritual realm. I know you probably don’t understand what I’m talking about, but you must go back in the history of the Church. you’ll find that a lot of the stuff we do is stuff that was added on little by little.

      • You are right on target. I’ve spent over 40 years in the church, 15 years in the ministry as a pastor. Most (not a small percentage as stated above) pastors are more interested in pushing their own beliefs and agenda while doing everything with the purpose of building their own personal ego and kingdom, not God’s Kingdom. The church is a long way from what the Biblical church was.

        God is real. Preachers- not so much.

  • I personally feel disheartened by the comments made here though none of them are directed at me. As a pastor, they always cut close because I know comments like these can be merely a breath away and made easily by those who may not know the whole story.

    My encouragement to all is simply to avoid jumping to conclusions about the integrity of a pastor without making inquiry. I know well that some of my members would consider me to be lazy because I don’t do enough XY or Z. Even during one of my performance evaluations with the church, I was told in the same meeting to pour a great deal of time into the church, more time visiting the members of the church, having an online blog, evangelizing to the lost, leading various different studies and membership classes, essentially be at the church every time the doors were opening, be faithful to the family, date nights with my wife, counseling with young couples, be involved with with unbelievers through organizational work, volunteer work, physical and spiritual exercises, conferences, sermons that will rattle hell out of the unsaved and… are you tried yet of reading this? I honestly try to pour as much as I can into my ministry without neglect to my first ministry of my family. But I can’t do it all. I have bad days where spiritual warfare is overwhelming and the demands so great it’s hard to know where to start. I’ve spend days before praying and reading the Word because that’s all I could do. But I’ve been called to this and He gives strength to endure.

    So please, else you find yourself bringing accusations with Satan, ask before you assume. A good pastor knows how to fulfill the first two commandments and does love the sheep entrusted to him.

    • Hi Steve,

      Perhaps the dilemma and stress you (and many other pastors) face is because we have fallen into the trap of “doing church” contrary to the blueprint laid out for us by Christ and His Apostles in the New Testament. In the NT there was no clergy and laity division – all disciples were priests unto Christ. Those who were appointed by Christ to be pastors, teachers, apostles, evangelist, and prophets were to be servants rather than “leaders.” There purpose was not to run the church – it was to so minister to and serve the members of Christ’s Church so they would come into the fullness of the ministry to which God had called them. In other words “make disciples” who would do the work of the ministry (preaching and witnessing the gospel and making disciples – as well as ministry to the Body of Christ).

      What makes us, as ministers, think that we are responsible for doing all the visitation, all the teaching, all the evangelizing, all the outreach, all the hospitality, etc.? What can’t we allow other disciples of Christ to come into the ministries God has called them to within the Church?

      Perhaps we’ve bought into the fallacy of the world’s modus operandi that one must have specialized training and university degrees and become a professional before they can have a place of ministry in the church. I guess Christ didn’t get the memo on that one.

      Why can’t we just learn what God’s way is of doing God’s work and then do it? As I’ve grown older (having entered pastoral ministry almost 39 yrs. ago) and as the Lord has taught me by His Word, by His Spirit, and by His leading, I’ve come to the conclusion that most of His Church is not operating by the blueprint He set down.

      At the top of the blueprint is that it is HIS CHURCH and He promised that HE WOULD BUILD it. What kind of pride makes us think that WE can build His Church?

      Perhaps, if we would do the work He’s called us to, by following His blueprint and His specific Holy Spirit leading for us individually, we wouldn’t have the time pressures and responsibility pulls many now face.

      • Wayne,

        The problem is often times not that the minister has fallen into that trap of doing all of these things. The problem is more often that the elders and deacons have fallen into that trap and the pastor has no way to keep from doing them all if they want to be able to lead the church and try to correct these problems.

        I was told this same thing by my elders in two seperate meetings this week.

      • Then it sounds like some new leadership is needed. Recently Pope Francis told some of the Curia that they could go take turns hearing confession. They acted shocked and he reminded them bluntly that they were not EU bureaucrats.

      • Wayne Greulich says on

        Yes, Mark, the fallacy is systemic in the church.
        I can’t speak to a specific situation without knowing all the details.
        However, I believe that pastors are still part of the problem. We can sit back and put the blame on others within the church – or we can seek out Christ’s design for His Church, live it as best we can, preach it, teach It, and make disciples – all under the direction of the Holy Spirit.
        One of the largest hindrances to the Church reforming to the NT’s blueprint is that most of us aren’t being disciples after Christ. Am I actively forsaking ALL to follow Him? Is my thinking and living that of a servant – or do I want to control and/or “lord it over” others in the church? Do I think and live as equals with all in the church or do make the unscriptural distinction of clergy and laity? Am I living as a part of the Body/Church of Christ as described in the NT (e.g. do I love my brother or sister in Christ enough that I am willing to give up my material/physical wants to meet his/her material needs?)?
        Breaking with the traditional church and it’s institutional system in order to be reformed to the NT blueprint is not easy. For example, the NT church met together in homes; they ate their meals together; and each born-again, Spirit-filled member of Christ’s Body was to participate in each “service” (1 Corinthians 14:26).
        Is it even possible to fulfill these last two characteristics in many churches today? It would be impossible both logistically and philosophically. Logistically most churches are too large for the latter example to be implemented. Philosophically, our entire system of “doing church” would have to be changed.
        This would most surely mean that Christ’s Church would very seldom have a building as most fellowships of believers do today. First, we don’t see any design or example of that in the NT. Secondly, how many billions (and perhaps trillions) of dollars are invested in “church” buildings and properties? Would we not be closer to Christ’s design of His Church if we instead used that money and resources to minister to the needs of the poor, or to invest in missions, evangelism, and NT discipling?
        This doesn’t even take into consideration the billions of dollars spent each year on maintaining church buildings and properties – not to mention the spending of human resources and time spent on these things.
        Speaking of the waste of time and resources, how many resources, both of money and people’s time and energy is spent on programs thought up and designed by man? I’ve come to realize that unless the Holy Spirit births and grows any ministry, it is a waste of all which goes into it. Only that born of Christ’s Spirit will bring forth any fruit which is eternal. All else is futile.
        Yes, it is systemic that the church has modelled itself away from the NT blueprint to such a degree that to return to it would be radical, rejected by most married to their religious traditions, and persecuted by the religious hierarchy – even as Christ, His apostles, and His disciples were in their times.
        Christ has taken me, as a 20-yr. ordained pastor (plus pastoring 2 other churches in 2 different denominations), on a very long, arduous journey to be able to break away from man’s creation of the church and to be brought to perceive, understand, and implement Christ’s blueprint for both discipleship and Christ’s Church (23 years, and I’m still relearning what Christ and the Apostles laid out for us in the Scriptures.
        With what He has taught me, however, I have to wonder if most institutional churches can be reformed into that which Christ designed to be His Church? I don’t think so. Christ, in addressing a similar issue stated that one cannot put new wine into old wineskins and if such were attempted both would be destroyed. No, new wine must be put into new wineskins.
        The primary starting point, though, is to discover, in the Scriptures, what Christ’s design is for His Body – especially as depicted in local fellowships of believers (local ekklesia).
        May our Father bless you and lead you by His Spirit into all truth.

      • Thanks, Wayne. Well put. After dedicating the last 46 years of my life to serving the Lord and His church — and intending to do that for the rest of my life — I agree.

      • Some churches have a Stephen ministry that does just that, goes to visit people who are in hospital, sick, etc.

      • I have read heartbreaking things on this blog. I have been a pastor for a long time and have served in various size churches. I love my family, church family, and tell them often. However, I don’t just tell them, I show them. Encouragement from the pastor and love from the pastor goes a long way. I found out a long time ago that I can not change one person or situation. I serve the one who can. He is all I need. Each of us need to go back and study the book of Collosians. There we are reminded that Jesus is all we need.

        I do not conduct business meetings at our church because I am the Spirtitual leader and not the Business leader. That is what the church elects committees to do. Also, we have Deacon Ministry, where they actually serve families. Pastor, when we lead in the Spiritual world as we are called to do, we find we have more than we can handle. Yes, I serve my family as I take those that need help to the doctor or hospitals, assist them in getting their social security and retirements together, feed the hungry and serve the poor.

        Along with pastoring my mother church, God has blessed us to plant two churches and I pastor a small church because they need one to serve them as well. I am an unusual Southern Baptist as I pastor four churches and oversee a Compassion Ministry.

        We are called to plant the seed only. If we can train others to share the load, we need to; however, if we can’t, pray for workers to come and take hold of the ministry Christ has for them. By the way, we are a church that averages 120 in worship and less in Sunday School. We try our best to serve the Lord and for those of you that wonder if we have problems; We are a church and yes we do have problems but we work them out. Pastors, use your deacons and if that doesn’t work, go to the church.

        When we love people as Christ loves them and see them as the crown of his creation and that we are the only created beings that he wants to love and have fellowship with, we understand and love people regardless of thier circumstances and the way they live thier lives.

        Finally, I love PASTORS AND CHRISTIAN PEOPLE BUT I ALSO LOVE THE LOST. I preach on Hell because Hell is a real place and people go there because they do not accept Jesus Christ as their Savior. No one is too bad or too dirty for Jesus. He will save them if they come to him. We must not try to be in a sterile field as churches but go out into the highways and byways to bring folks to the saving grace of Jesus Christ. I was raised in a pastor’s home and have seen first hand what the older days were like and now I am living in the more modern days. Some people and things are the same but I find if I love them and work with them to bring them closer to Christ, HE always intervenes on his behalf.

        Praying for all of you that have written on this blog. I love you through the love fo our Master. None of us have or ever will feel the hurt of Christ and I agree with Paul, “I find joy in sharing in the suffering of our Lord.” He has done great things and will continue to do so if we only follow him.

    • Thank you Steve!

      I had our church elder last week confront me at a meeting about spending too much time at XYZ place where I am involved with the community. In the next breath they asked if anyone had contacted the first new person who has attended from the community in about 9 months. Where did this person work? You guessed it XYZ, I have been very intentional to spend time with the employees at XYZ because I have been gaining a relationship with them.

      One of these elders then went into the community the next day and ran his mouth about me being sick earlier in the week but not too sick to do ABC, yet he never talked to me about it to find out that the Dr had changed my medication to help me and I started feeling better just an hour before I did ABC. Had he even bothered to come and talk to me he would have known this answer and would have known I did much less than normal when doing ABC.

      • Wow! Mark, shouldn’t your elder need to be relieved of his duties as an overseer of the flock?

      • Should and will are two different stories. This elder has influence with the others and has unfortunately been this way for years, which is part of why many of our other elders act this way. These activities cause churches to die and this just proves point 11. The church I am serving is dying and a few of us are trying to turn it around, but the eldership is not allowing it because if new people were to be brought into the church they may become leaders and “the old guard” would lose control.

        Many dying churches are dying because of lay leaders that have a death grip on the church and run off any future leaders that may come along.

      • What methods do you have, if any, for removing a deacon/elder? I know some churches use a reaffirmation vote every so many years. Some have no method.

      • Every few years our leaders must be reaffirmed and must also take a sabbatical year. The problem, is, that if they are due for sabbatical the leadership group will decide to keep them on and vote them on without following the set rule because they are above the rules. It really is a sickening process to watch. further more I can not understand why any church would have well more than 10% in leadership. Are there churches that need more than 10% of the congregation as elder and need to have deacons on top of that?

        To me our process seems to have become a “good ole boys club” instead of a church leadership. I have spoken this as have other elders, yet when the majority of the eldership is functioning this way and they are the ones who would have to remove their own unruly members, well… we have all seen how that goes.

      • Wayne Greulich says on

        For what it’s worth, I believe the Bible instructs us to take several actions.
        One is to publicly rebuke the elder for his sin (1 Timothy 5:20). If he rejects such correction then he is to be ousted from the fellowship (Titus 3:10; Matthew 18:15-17).
        Such actions, however, may not be possible due to your church tradition or man-made articles of governance. The Scriptures give further instruction which may then apply to your situation – Romans 16:17-18 tells us to separate ourselves from such people.
        I realize this may mean a radical move and huge change in your life. Remember, though, that being and living as a disciple of Christ (as described in the NT) is radical, contrary to conventional “wisdom,” and yet commanded by Christ (e.g. Luke 14:26-33, especially v.33).
        You have my prayers, brother.

    • Yes, you’re right. Two scriptures that many church members today find nearly incomprehensible are:
      1 Timothy 5:19 — that an accusation against an elder ought not to be accepted unless it is confirmed by two or more witnesses; today, many people think that they can think the worst of their pastors based on rumors.
      Hebrews 13:17 — that the elder really is a God-given authority in the lives of church members to which they owe submission and obedience. Now listen for the reflexive accusations that this is cultic:

      • Yes, those verses are legitimate, but there are times that elders just don’t care. They might not be committing a sin per se but they are just burned out and have no time for anything but pure church business. Also, some are full of power and enjoying it too much to ever step down.

  • Larry Elrod says on

    I think reason number twelve is that the world’s view of what a pastor is and the church’s view of what a pastor is and the seminary’s view of what a pastor is and the pastor’s view of what a pastor is does not line up with one another. The most popular pastors I know with growing churches are very similar in their life styles to the very people they are trying to encourage to be more selfless. We have become a society with a major disconnect between our heads and our hearts. Jesus quoted Isaiah in Matthew 15:7-9. 7 Hypocrites! Isaiah prophesied correctly about you when he said: 8 These people honor Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me. 9 They worship Me in vain, teaching as doctrines the commands of men.” I know that I am one, when viewed with the eyes of someone who has truly given up everything to follow Jesus, who is also a hypocrite.

  • Thom,
    This subject should cause self reflection in all of us. Having been in the ministry over 40 years I have observed a move away form the pastor as a shepherd to a focus on a leadership style that resembles the world. It is often coined as a “CEO” pastor though I feel that term is very strong. While pastors are to lead we must do so with compassion and vision casting. I have also observed a growing movement among pastors that they want to dedicate most of their time to the teaching and preaching ministry. I would encourage those that feel so led to move to an itinerant ministry.. The church today desperately needs pastors who are shepherds and understand the full skill set a pastor needs

  • When I read number 4, the first thing I thought of was Ananias and Saphira. Then I read Melanie’s rant and I can understand her point of view, as well. So much depends on the specific situation or person. There are always exceptions.

  • Wow! By the comments that are being posted you have struck a nerve and at the same time proved your 11 reasons. I also seem to think that there must be a variety of denominations represented in these comments and thus a different view of the role of pastor within each. As a pastor, I have had to struggle to not let the actions and attitudes of one church keep me from serving in my present position. I pray that those in the pew will do the same and not hold the faults of some pastors against us all. I pray that as pastors we will have the attitude of Christ and the example of Paul: “I was made a servant of this gospel by the gift of God’s grace that was given to me by the working of His power. 8 This grace was given to me—the least of all the saints—to proclaim to the Gentiles the incalculable riches of the Messiah.”–Ephesians 3:8-9

    By the way, thanks for I AM A CHURCH! We are going through it as a Church while I use your chapter headings as message titles. God is at work!

    • Thom Rainer says on

      Thank you Phillip. You are a true encourager.

    • I can assure you there are more than baptists posting here. It is also to safe to presume that a lot of ministers and priests are getting sermon/Sunday school ideas from the comments. It is interesting that in one particular denomination known for its preaching on and love of Paul more so than Jesus, that this year will be spent on a study of Jesus. I believe it is safe to presume that someone read some of the blog comments where people are wanting to learn about Jesus and are going to other churches where the homilies are on Jesus and where the gospel is read every Sunday (liturgical).

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