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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  • My pastor is a wonderful, humble Christ exalting man. His love for the church is visible in everything he does, he is not perfect but he has a relationship with Christ that strengthens him in all his ways. This was not so in my local ( Baptist) church that I attended for half a century. The pastor there ( new) lied, slandered, plagiarized every sermon ( mostly stories and jokes not really biblical sermons) word for word and even used personal stories that belong to someone else. Once confronted (or exposed) he said he wasn’t paid enough to do his own sermons,he became angry because some opposed his lack of interest in study and laboring over the word. He called them names and slandered some and then he told them to get out of the church which they did after being told ” not to touch the Lord anointed”. It was horrible and broke hearts and faith within the local community and of course the church. It is very hard to believe any pastor once you have experienced such dishonesty and abusive behavior, but there are good faithful pastors who deserve honor.
    I believe my Bible, and wolves ( Matthew 7:15-20 ), imposters, deceivers, ( Mark 13: 5-6 . 2 Corinthians 13,14,15, Colossians 2 ) false teachers ( 2 Pete, Jeremiah 23:1-30 Ezekiel 34 ) hirelings (John 10 ) are going to come into the church as are men with the spirit of Diotrephes ( lll John) ,Balaam,’ Cain and Co’re ( Jude 1)
    We are all commanded to test, correct, and contend biblically with love. The Breans tested Paul and he commended them. Many congregations have been tore up by bad pastors and many faithful pastors have been hurt too. In my area it is very hard to find true gospel preaching and teaching. These are testing times, remember Jesus He is the true Shepherd.

  • I am deeply troubled at the response of not all, but too many in regard to their pastors and the church at large. You would think the church was a building or an organization. Ironically these attacks are really on ourselves and I do not believe these folks are even aware of it. We are the problem as we are the church. Our lack of spiritual formation to Christ is the cause of all the “leakage” in these posts. I have written extensively on this for nearly a decade(www.rewnovatorministries.org) and have been largely ignored which is fine because I know to attempt to help others know how to hear God and obey is clearly in His will.The agenda of the church MUST be to teach others to obey all of the commands of Christ through an intimate and constant relationship with our Trinitarian God. To live in His presence second by second. We live to ourselves with a consumer mentality and are never satisfied by a man or a woman in leadership because they are not what our soul desires or needs for LIFE. Hence we murmur and leak our discontent with mortal man. Surprised?

    • Virginia Minetree says on

      Mr Akron, I couldn’t agree anymore concerning being troubled at the response of not all…..concerning your sharing in Christ Jesus. Our spiritual formation is secured by the cross not by us and the gates of hell shall NOT PREVAIL AGAINST THE BODY OF CHRIST. He holds our hand, our hands are much too tiny to take hold. We are eternally secure in Christ Jesus only by His Grace and shed blood. Being carried by Jesus is the better road……. Blessings…….

      • Virginia:
        If the CROSS is our source of Spiritual Formation (SANCTIFICATION). Please tell me how the CROSS transforms our character to Christlikeness.

      • Virginia Minetree says on

        Mr Ackron, I will respond back to you tomorrow morning.. rather you mean Christ-likeness, Mr Ackron. I will most certainly reply tomorrow. Bless you. I think you know the answer to that……Mr. Ackron. ;.) However, I will be delighted to respond in the morning.

      • Virginia Minetree says on

        Mr Ackron, since this is Mr Rainer’s blog, he may be better equipped to help you on your inquiry out of respect for Mr. Rainer’s blog. I would rather defer my response since I feel it is an inappropriate to ask me when you already know the answer. ;.) and this blog does not belong to me simply out of respect. ;.)

  • Virginia Minetree says on

    Thank you for moderating my last comment. My intention would never be to discourage his heart if he is right with the Lord Jesus. I believe you were proper in your moderation of my last comment. Lastly, I respect your moderation and God bless you.

  • I have an additional comment if I may. I don’t wish to twist your context in your closure but I most certainly disagree with the partial portion of your sentence “Most pastors are wonderful servants of God….” No, some pastors are wonderful servants is most proper to say because they are not looking to Christ nor do they know the first thing about “servant-hearted” leadership and fail to authentically point their brothers and sisters to the very face of their dear Savior and Lord. We are now living in a time of a mere handful are actually Christ-centered and lead by example….That is very unfortunate and I do pray for pastors but I truly don’t know where they are???? I will continue to pray for pastors in America in my prayer time with Christ, for He alone is my Living Hope and Stead.

  • I am greatly saddened and grieved at the lack of authentic Christian leadership in the body of Christ. I believe most importantly, that Christ is very grieved . Christian leaders are called lead to by example. It is easy to preach a sermon if you love Christ and know His word but Christian leaders are not teaching authentic Christianity nor are they truly living and abiding in Christ. 50 percent of protestants are now adhering to Universalism, a very dangerous school of thought that is misleading many people. Furthermore, due to dangerous “Christian Propaganda,” that many believers have experienced over the years has caused much concern, if you will. I like what Chuck Swindoll said on one of his devotionals and it is so very true. Legalism damages people because it takes away from the Good News of the Gospel! How many churches are teaching legalism which is the law!!!! I have been literally shocked by personal experience concerning false teaching, grave harm —and the Lord indeed calls His children to develop proper discernment and wisdom! Believers must look to Jesus and never to a pastor to guide them unless they have a Bible with them if they dare sit under a Chrisian Leader! He is the Head!!! However, remember what Jesus said in the Gospels? He said many false prophets will come and deceive even the elect if possible, people will become lovers of themselves. An authentic Christian leader will always point others to Christ not to themselves, will lead by example as the Apostle Paul demonstrated and ought to properly equip believers. I think every believer should pray for pastors in America and around the world but sadly where are the Christian Leaders, where are the Shepherds????? As the body of believers, we should always attend church to give grace not to look to receive self-centeredly and never ever look to the pastor as the final authority! Leaders are deceiving believers. You have some wonderful points but your points are not a total representation of what is truly going on the body of Christ, if you will. God bless……I give you Chuck Swindoll’s thoughts:

    Forgotten Words

    “Whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant.” (Matthew 20:26). ~Matthew 20:26; III John 1:9-10

    Forgotten words.

    Truth be told, even in our churches we tend to get so caught up in a success-and-size race that we lose sight of our primary calling as followers of Christ. The “celebrity syndrome” so present in our Christian thought and activities just doesn’t square with the attitudes and messages of Jesus. We have skidded into a pattern whereby the celebrities and top dogs in our church life call the shots . . . and it is difficult to be a servant when you’re used to telling others what to do.

    Maybe I need to clarify what I mean. In the body of Christ, there is one Head. Christ Jesus is Lord of His body.

    He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things have been created through Him and for Him. He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together. He is also head of the body, the church; and He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that He Himself will come to have first place in everything. (Colossians 1:15–18)
    No human being dare take that position. A man named Diotrephes, mentioned in verses 9 and 10 of John’s third letter, attempted to do so and was openly rebuked by the apostle. Diotrephes’s account is a warning to anyone who desires to become the “church boss.”

    It may be a board member, a pastor, a teacher, a musician, a former officer or former pastor in a church. No matter who, the Diotrephes mentality has no place in the body. Only Christ is the Head. All the rest of us are in the class Jesus spoke of in Matthew 20: servants.

    You’re probably saying, “But there must be leadership to get the job done.” Yes, I agree. But it must be servant-hearted leadership among all. ~Chuck Swindoll

  • Fredericka,

    It’s refreshing to read your question about having a place in your local church after serving in leadership. After the tenure that you and your husband have had there, I’m sure this is a tight place to be.

    Before I say what my intentions are to say, let me be clear. I have watched women in your shoes take it upon themselves to go into the pastorate to Serve after their late husband. I believe this is totally contrary to scripture as women were not to have any roll as far as governing the church was concerned.

    I am not in the “ministry” per se but grew up in a pastor’s home. One of the most dreadful pastorates he ever took was one where the founding pastor had recently died and his widow ran the church while men of her choosing did the preaching. My dad agreed to “help the church” for a while as he was more seasoned and she had run off the first innocent preacher who tried to “help.”

    I am thankful that God gave my dad wisdom in keeping us protected from her, as our lives were overwhelmed by her strong arm and opinions in the church. No matter how right the Word being preached was, or how out of line she was in her attitude, there was a 40 year old relationship with the people that she could manipulate any way she wanted. Fortunately my dad’s tenure there lasted only a year. However, I learned a lesson from that one woman that is still very active in my life 20 years later.

    I am now a lay member of my church – no longer under the pastorate of my father. I have a younger pastor who is quite different in his role as leader than my father was. There are times I think to myself that I wonder if the outcome might be a little different if he handled situations a little differently and vice versa…. Would the outcome be a little different if my dad would have done it that way…. But with that being said, my current pastor has no doubt that my husband and I stand behind him fully and that he has no reason to worry that we will be any sort of a problem for him. That being said, our pastor is not a bully who uses the pulpit and position for his power fix. The comment to follow is considering your next pastor does not do the same…

    The greatest asset you can be in your church is to be your new pastor’s biggest fan…. Showing him your devout support and love….(people of your position can be very intimidating for a new pastor). I almost guarantee if you do this, it’s very likely the people you have served for this many years will line up behind you to follow your influence in being his encourager. Right by yourself, you have the ability to help him succeed and further the kingdom of God or single handedly destroy his ministry. I think there’s no greater work you could do in your church in the absence of your husbands ministry. If the new guy fails, so will the work that your husband spent his life working to build. You can continue to build on what your husband has built by letting your new pastor take full control of the reins and follow the leading of God. Change is hard for some people but sometimes getting uncomfortable leads us to places and people we would have never gone otherwise.

    Just the fact that you are asking your question leads me to believe that you have a heart that is pliable and willing to do whatever it takes to make his job easier. Reassure him that you will not undermine his ministry / leadership and that he has your full support and stick to it!! You have the ability to be the greatest blessing his ministry has ever known if you truly have the heart to do the right thing. And I think you do!! Go be a blessing!!

    • Frederika says on

      Hi Anita,
      Thank you for relating your experiences and gentle reply. You guessed right, I do want to do the right thing because at one time my husband pastored in a church where the former pastor and his wife retired. There were a few problems and the elders stepped in. We also were in a church where the former pastor’s wife was exemplary and she was constantly held up for me to follow. I have cried a few tears, but later onI saw that as part of God’s plan to teach me and to challenge me to grow. So, now we are in this position ourselves. We have thought about changing church membership, but the closest church also has a retired minister’s couple who have their ties to this congregation. I am involved in extra-church activities and have many outside interests, but I also feel the need to belong and be part of a church fellowship. Are there any other ministers’ wives who have been on this path?

  • What if the real problem is that the majority of ‘Christians’ don’t even understand why and what they believe?? By that I mean, it should be taught where the origin of The Bible comes from. The Catholic Church and its influence on most of the churches that worship on ‘Sunday’. Why Sunday? Where did this come from? What about all the missing writings about the ‘leader’ or who should be the ‘leader’, the one we’re told to ‘follow’…what about him and his true identity? Why do we support a ‘White Jesus’? It is the TRUTH about these things and so much more that will set people FREE. The world sees us as HYPOCRITES because we follow blindly and allow this foolishness to continue. EVERYTHING can be traced back to its original purposes and how it should function. Forget what man made up (for control and power) it seems, looking at Constatine, and the little bit I’m learning, and teach people how to have a powerful, fulfilling, one-on-one relationship with the Creator/God, not ‘busy’ in church but in their homes, raising their children, loving their communities, helping the poor on their own….living from the HEART!!!

  • We have found that people look down on Pastor’s because they have been HURT by Pastors & OR people in the church! We have found that some Pastor’s greed gets in the way & because of that greed, they don’t make Biblical decisions when dealing with those in their churches. They know WHO GIVES WHAT! People are hurt & leave. After awhile, it is hard to trust Pastor’s OR other’s in the church anymore! We know there are GOOD PASTOR’S OUT THERE! We just don’t know WHERE TO FIND THEM! It’s hard to keep looking for a church, because you have to INVEST yourself into a church, BEFORE you discover you’re in THE WRONG CHURCH! It is an AWFUL UPHEAVAL to a family, when their children have made friends! USUALLY, if you don’t go to that particular church, people don’t want to associate with you! People in the church have the SAME MENTALLITY of THE WORLD, they don’t STRIVE TO BE LIKE JESUS anymore! It’s SAD & it’s SCARY!!!!

  • As a pastor for twent-five I can say I love being a pastor because I know I am doing what God has called me to do and It is wonderful to see lives changed. However, if it were not for those two things, I could not and would not be a pastor. I do not have time to talk about all the stuggles that I have faced, most of which I believe is related to an unbilical structure of the chruch. I will say, as a father of three young boys, that one of my greatest joys in to think that God would call one or all of my sons to pastor a church. At the same time, one of my biggest fears is the thought that God may call one of my sons to be a pastor.

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