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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  • Randy Plunkett says on

    In the last 27+ years I have been pastor of three churches. I have been at my current church 7+ years. I was at my first full time church (served as a church planter before that) after seminary for 16 years. I have said all of that to say this: My experience with the people of God in his church has been overwhelmingly positive and I fully believe that when church members know that their pastor loves them and cares for them, they will love him back and yes, trust him. Most of the pastors I know and associate with have good relationships with their congregations and while I know that there are exceptions; for the most part if you treat people with respect and love they will support you and love you back.

  • Donnie C. Brannen says on

    I think #4 is huge. When “The User-Friendly Church” came out in the early-90s, a friend of mine pointed to it and said, “You know what we’re going to have if that thing takes off? Churches full of users.” We’ve unfortunately created a generation that knows little about servanthood and much about “serve-me-hood,” and they wander from church to church like tumbleweeds, rootless and fruitless, always looking for a better deal.

  • Frederika says on

    Many of the comments made me very sad. As the wife of a pastor for more than 45 years and having seen the culture changes, I can empathize with the 11 original points. Church members have higher expectations and want more input. But that doesn’t necessarily have to be bad. I still think that a minister can make a lot of mistakes if he has love for his people and they can detect that he is denying himself – that he is a true follower of Jesus. Church members will forgive a lot and put up with a lot if they can feel their minister loves them and is concerned for their eternal well-being and he has a servant heart. Another note I miss in the list is a sense of calling, such as ministers and missionaries (used to?) have. Taking their cue from the Scripture (the prophets and apostles), they knew that it would not be easy to lead a congregation (remember Moses?), but they had counted the costs and they felt called to a life of difficulties, even death. And lastly, ministers’ wives can be a great hindrance or an indispensable help.

    • Fredericka,
      You are quite right about the sense of divine calling to the ministry; today many seem to think of it, or, at least, sometimes give the impression that is some sort of a professional activity. And as to being a pastor’s wife, who can be either a great hindrance or an indispensable help, here’s something on that note that I think will cheer you up a bit.

      • Frederika says on

        Thank you. God bless you in helping pastors and church members to look at their problems in the light of Scripture. If we are the Lord’s people, we are on a journey on which God is teaching us through the “good and the bad” He places on our path (Rom.8:28). It seems we all are desperately in need of the self-denying and sacrificial love of Christ who died for carping and complaining sinners, like we are by nature.
        P.S. I’m new on your blog. Do you have any advice for a retired pastor’s wife who wants to be active in the local church, but doesn’t want to “step on anyone’s toes” – especially of the new pastor and his wife?

      • Well, Fredericka, I don’t know that I have any advice other than what you will find in the Bible itself, and most especially Judges 5:7, where Deborah refers to herself as “a mother in Israel.” I don’t mean that a woman should arise as did Deborah to leadership in that particular, and most exceptional circumstance, but to be a “mother in Israel” in broadest sense of the phrase. Anna, in the New Testament (Luke 2:36 & 37), was, in that sense, such a mother. And, by implication, we hear of others in I Timothy 5:2 & 10. As to my blog, well, here are two more on the role of women.
        If you tour the sitemap you can see all the previous posts (about 300 now), and there is usually a new post published every 4 days.

  • The main reason why I don’t trust a number of pastors is that they get up in the pulpit and preach what they have made up instead of what is in the text of Scripture.

  • Tim Collins says on

    It is not surprising that the world in general doesn’t trust pastors for the reasons you stated, not to mention the Biblical doctrine of natural enmity. However, more worrisome is that fact that many professing Christians do not trust pastors much, and for some of those same reasons. But there are other reasons that haven’t been mentioned at all. Here’s just a few of them, found even among some of those who espouse sound Protestant doctrine: too many pastors meddling in politics, political controversy, or partisan party advocacy; their perceived identification not with the poor of this world, nor even with the lower middle class, but with the more prosperous economic end of the spectrum (compare that to the social appeal of this new Popish antichrist); the rise of “female” pastors, and women in pulpits, which is obviously contrary to clear Scripture; the collegial “darest thou teach us” or ‘circle the wagons’ response of many pastors to criticism; and related to that, the flood of false doctrine flowing out of the mouths of so many celebrated American “pastors,” their hand-in-hand fellowship with Roman Catholics, and the general kid glove approach to confronting these false prophets by those who do know the truth; hard to imagine Luther or Calvin, or John Wesley being so gentle, nor, for that matter, the apostles or our Lord Jesus Christ (Jude, Matthew 23). The remedies to these things are obvious. Stop doing them.

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