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

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

171 Comments

  • 12. The coming out of LGBTQ people. Now that LGBTQ people have come out of the closet, everybody now personally knows at least a few. Pastors that preach against them become distrusted as the sermons don’t match the reality of the personal experiences congregants have of LGBTQ people.

    13. Science and the Internet. Pastors who preach against Evolution and various scientific truths become distrusted as their preaching can easily be disconfirmed by a quick Google search. Evidence against them is overwhelming on the Internet.

    14. Counter Apologetics and the Internet. Many scholarly works on theology that you wouldn’t have found in a local library are now online. Pastors become distrusted as apologetic arguments are now easily refuted by a Google search.

    My apologies for the pseudonym. These kind of comments are often accompanied by backlash that could affect my family relationships or even my livelihood. I hope you still publish them as they need to be known.

  • “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.”

    And I quote, but you forgot when the Pastor has a strong entitlement mentality. If he’s a sociopathic narcissist then he will do whatever it takes to get his needs met at the expense of the parishioners. I’ve been subjected to this before myself on a couple of occasions at horrible churches.

  • I think there are a lot of great points in the article including points on cynicism and self-entitlement. Pastors need a lot of encouragement today, especially with high expectations. However, I also think they need more accountability, or a more mature view of leadership.

    We’ve structured churches in a way that the lead pastor is kind of like a CEO. It’s unfortunate, because what often happens is they have a measure of success and feel as if they can essentially ask God to bless their plans, and so long as they are “preaching” okay, and doing the things, they do as they please. I suggest they too become self-entitled, and/or simply end up grieving the Holy Spirit, despite not having overt outward failings. I can say 5 churches I’ve been a part or visited have had this problem. Often the same pattern. It’s difficult, because it’s often a surrender issue that could be addressed with a more biblical leadership structure of accountability, or allowing multiple folks to lead services. But most people in the church aren’t even looking at those things, because there is such deep self-interest today. And humility is lacking, and when it’s not, pastors simply don’t feel as if they can trust people due to wounds.

    I think there are many great pastors with good intentions, who serve an imperfect people. I think there are people who want to help pastors, but simply can’t since they’ve bought the lie it’s about them, or they are ‘in charge”. God’s given for gifts for the perfecting of the saints and working of the ministry. We just don’t receive them, and might we consider it could be part of why we don’t grow up unto the Lord in all things in Christ, as he intends.

    Just some thoughts, but very good points.

  • Pastors should not take advantage of people. I have seen it over and over again, at various times in my life, and I am leery of church. Here are a few examples: Pastor #1: moved into our house while we were overseas, pretense: to help us out. He was there 2.5 years, wouldn’t move out, pursued his Christian music career, paid about 2 months rent. When he left, didn’t even take out the trash, or the food from the fridge, and had the electricity shut off. Then he stole many things from the house, such as the track lighting bolted to the ceiling, bathroom fixtures. Pastor #2: Money money money. 50% of sermons in a year are about money. 30% of a sermon not about money is dedicated to talking about money. Then all of the “Love Gifts” the pastor requests WEEKLY, such as for his birthday, his anniversary, his wife’s birthday, his children’s birthdays, his children’s graduation, etc, etc, etc. Requests are for CASH ONLY. Then the inflammatory speeches to the congregation: “You tell me, where in the Bible does it say a pastor can’t have a big house?! Where in the Bible does it say a pastor can’t drive a new car?! Where in the Bible does it say a pastor cannot wear expensive suits?! Then the kicker: severely scolding my wife and me on stage at church in front of the congregation within our 6 month old because we did not bring cash to pay him a hefty “Love Gift” for the dedication of our baby my wife wanted, and scoffing at the $20 I had in my wallet that I tried to give him.. And pastors wonder why people don’t want to be part of organized religion?

  • James Titus says on

    I’ve never a pastor who actually followed Jesus, they all just seem to like to talk current events and how other people are behaving badly.

  • Many Pastors do not touch base with the realities of the world outside the church. They do not minister according to the needs of their immediate communities. They are indifferent to contemporary challenges facing their Christians and even the world outside the church which he is called to prepare the church to bring within the church. May be because most of them have only been trained in biblical theology and do not even know that almost every one, including those who do not know and accept Christ as lord and savior have some form of theology. Pastoral training must include other fields of study in helping adults learn as a compliment to their training. Else they will continue to see ministry from a shortsighted stand and the problem of lack of trust might only increase.

  • The worst case of spiritual abuse is how most every church I have been a member of misused the Bible to collect their pay. Most of the time they pretend redeemed Gentiles are in the Old Covenant instead of the New Covenant.
    There is no excuse for preaching and misquoting Malachi 3:8-9 that God will curse the redeemed from the curse over money when he gave us Jesus free of charge. Romans 8:32 says God with the Son freely gives us all things! Galatians 3:13 says Jesus took all curses over us to the cross and he left it there so I have so much distrust on the majority of the church leaders who are trying to give the curse back and the robots who swallow it.

  • The worst case of spiritual abuse is how most every church I have been a member of misused the Bible to collect their pay. Most of the time they pretend redeemed Gentiles are in the Old Covenant instead of the New Covenant.
    There is no excuse for preaching and misquoting Malachi 3:8-9 that God will curse the redeemed from the curse over money when he gave us Jesus to us free of charge. Romans 8:32 says God with the Son freely gives us all things! Galatians 3:13 says Jesus took all curses over us to the cross and he left it there so I have so much distrust on the majority of the church leaders who are trying to give it back and the robots who swallow it.

  • The most heartbreaking period of my life is when I read my whole Bible word for word and discovered how much I had been lied to in church.

    I also have a big problem with how many church leaders teach Pay in full and not Paid in full to enforce the Old Covenant tithe law. IF they do not understand the New Covenant is unconditional favor and love from God then they have no business being in the Pulpit.

    I grew up in a home where you had to prove you were worthy of love and approval so I don’t need to go to a church bldg. and put up with that mess as a grown person!

1 4 5 6 7