Rebuilding Lost Trust In Pastors

“Americans’ rating of the honesty and ethics of the clergy has fallen to 47%, the first time this rating has dropped below 50% since Gallup first asked about the clergy in 1977. Clergy have historically ranked near the top among professions on this measure, hitting a high rating of 67% in 1985.” (Source: Honesty and Ethics Rating)

Although pastors remain in the top third of the league table of trust, the decline is significant enough for us to ask what’s happening and what can be done to put it right. We’ll look at causes first and then at some cures.

Pastoral Causes

Immorality: The report itself notes that: “The Catholic priest abuse stories from the early 2000s helped lead to a sharp drop in Americans’ ratings of clergy, a decline from which the profession has yet to fully recover.” However, Catholics don’t have a monopoly in immorality. Evangelicals are doing sadly well in that department too.

Greed: Some megachurch pastors’ salaries and lifestyles have drawn just criticism.

Distance: Some pastors do little more than teach and preach. Others become like CEOs, spending their days administering paper and staff. In both cases, there’s a loss of contact with the sheep as the pastor increasingly delegates home and hospital visiting, counseling, weddings, funerals, etc.

Brevity: The average length of a pastorate is four years, which makes it virtually impossible for people to get to know the pastor well, never mind begin to trust him.

Cultural Causes

Cynicism: Society has become more cynical and less trusting in general. It’s no surprise that the church suffers along with other institutions.

Media: Given the media’s non-stop all-out attack on the church via outright opposition, mocking sniggers, and caricatured Christians, in some ways it’s a miracle that anyone trusts a pastor these days.

Attendance: With less people going to church, people have less face-to-face contact with pastors. Again, hard to trust people you don’t know.

Rebuilding Trust

Why is this so important? Why can’t we just shrug our shoulders and say, “Who cares? They didn’t trust Christ and we shouldn’t expect anything different.” That’s an understandable reaction; in some ways, the level of trust that pastors have enjoyed has been a cultural anomaly resulting from the United States’ unusually strong Christian heritage.

However, we can’t just nonchalantly throw trust overboard as if it doesn’t matter. It does matter, because God has bound up the messenger with the message. If the messenger isn’t trusted, neither will his message be trusted.

So how do we rebuild trust in the messenger and the message?

Patience: We need to realize that grand gestures are not going to work. It’s going to be a long, slow, incremental process of multiple actions by multiple pastors in multiple locations.

Stay: Pastors have to commit to staying longer in their posts. Most people take three years or so before they really begin to trust a pastor and open up to him. Constancy and consistency create credibility.

Mix: Get out of the pulpit, get out of the office, and get among the sheep. Yes, it’s much messier than study and administration, but how else can pastors truly say, “I know my sheep and am known of mine” (John 10:14). Notice who’s at the top of the table – nurses!

Holiness: A holy life is a trustworthy life. People are looking at two areas in particular: money and women. To be blunt.

Local: A small minority of pastors may be called to a wider ministry, but way too many evidently desire a wider ministry, and often pursue it to the detriment of their local churches. Unless people see that the shepherd prioritizes them, and usually makes them his exclusive concern, they will not trust him.

Bridges: Build bridges with the unchurched. Get involved in non-church activities so non-church people can see you are “normal,” that you have two eyes, one nose, skin, feelings, etc. That you are surprisingly just like them.

Ultimately Gallup opinion polls are less important than God’s opinion of us. We certainly don’t want to become man-pleasers either; people can smell that a mile off too. Our first question must always be “Does God trust us?” more than “Do the public trust us?” However, without sacrificing our integrity, we must also have a concern to build trustworthiness. If we do that, trust will follow.

What do you think the causes of this declining trust are and how can pastors climb the table again?


Worldview

With most bloggers going Daffy Duck yesterday, there really wasn’t enough decent material for a “Check out” post. So here’s an extended duck-free Worldview.

The Healthiest (and Not-So-Healthy) States in the US
Well here’s a “good news” story: “According to a major new report from the United Healthcare Foundation, physical inactivity is down, smoking is down and obesity levels are flattening out. Infant mortality is falling nationally. Fewer people are dying from cardiovascular disease and from cancer compared to two decades ago, when the foundation first made its research.”

And if any Mississippians needed a further reason to move to Hawaii, you can jump from the bottom to the top of the league by doing so.

I Offended You, So What?
Here’s a good riposte to so many in our hyper-sensitive world: “When some people say they are offended what they are really saying is that I’m upsetting them so I ought to stop talking about abortion.”

Even for Rich Kids, Marriage Matters
It was sad to read that New York Times columnist David Brooks is getting a divorce. As someone who has often bemoaned the impact of broken families in our society, it’s no surprise that he is now the subject of attack by liberal bloggers like Matthew Iglesias at SlateIglesias argues, however, that as Brooks’ kids are affluent and privileged they will not suffer from this divorce as much as poorer kids.

The blog of the Institute for Family Studies begs to disagree and collates evidence that demonstrates how all kids suffer from divorce, even rich kids. “They are markedly more likely to fail to graduate from college, to have a child outside of wedlock, and to lose the socioeconomic status of their childhood than their peers raised in an intact, married family.”

  • Young adults from college-educated but non-intact families are about 31 percent less likely to graduate from college than their peers whose parents are married and college-educated.
  • Children from the top third of the income distribution are markedly less likely to maintain their station in life as adults if their parents divorce: specifically.
  • 40 percent of the growth in household income inequality between 1976 and 2000 can be attributed to the breakdown of marriage in the less privileged precincts of America.

Moms who cut back at work are happier
In The Atlantic, W Bradford Wilcox writes that “two facts are often obscured in the public conversation devoted to women, work, and family.

  1. First, the vast majority of married mothers don’t want to work full-time.
  2. Married mothers who are able to cut back at work to accommodate their family’s needs tend to be happier.

Women married with children were more likely to be “very happy” with their lives if they made a family-related work sacrifice. By contrast, the happiness of married men was not significantly related to making work sacrifices for their families.

The research confirmed what most similar surveys have found:

Most (married) mothers would prefer not to work full-time, and the most popular option for women, when it comes to juggling work and family, is part-time work. A New York Times/CBS News survey this year found that 49 percent of mothers wished to work part-time, compared to 27 percent who wished to work full-time.

Our Post-Christian Society
John O’Sullivan, Editor-at-large of National Review, makes a helpful distinction here between a post-Christian society and a non-Christian society.

A post-Christian society is not merely a society in which agnosticism or atheism is the prevailing fundamental belief. It is a society rooted in the history, culture, and practices of Christianity but in which the religious beliefs of Christianity have been either rejected or, worse, forgotten. In other words a post-Christian society is a particular sort of Christian society.

He goes on to explain the abiding emotional, intellectual, and ethical influence of Christianity even where Christianity is no longer taught or believed. However, he also points out that there are consequences to forgetting truths.

One consequence is that while we instinctively want to preserve the morals and manners of the Christian tradition, we cannot quite explain or defend them intellectually. So we find ourselves seeking more contemporary (i.e., in practice, secular) reasons for preserving them or, when they decay completely, inventing regulations to mimic them.

After listing some examples of this, he lands on the family as the ultimate proof of his point:

Family breakdown is in fact the largest single social disaster plaguing the post-Christian society. The family is a natural way of regulating and disciplining us and our ambitions in the activities of everyday life. It makes us frugal; it encourages saving, wealth creation, and the deferment of gratification; it compels us to provide for the future; above all it ensures that children are brought up and taught to become self-reliant, and that the weak, the sick, and the elderly have others to succor them.

When the family breaks down, we get crime, drug-taking, impoverishment, psychological problems, and much else at the personal level; and we get a cycle of deprivation, the growth of an underclass, spiraling social-welfare costs, over-government, and severe budgetary problems at a national level. The result of family breakdown is that we have to replace the family with regulation after regulation. Our remedies — easier divorce, better financial arrangements for women after divorce, increased welfare for single mothers, bureaucratic agencies to compel men to make child-support payments, laws and regulations that disadvantage natural family relationships in court decisions on child care and adoption, and much else — never work as well as the stable families they replace. Indeed, very often they make the situation worse.

He closes with a couple of solutions, which, as is often the case with these kinds of articles, are nowhere near as persuasive as the analysis of the problem. He wants us (1) to join with atheists who still respect Christian values and culture, and (2) develop more skepticism towards the world’s principalities and powers – United Nations,  NGOs, and government in general.

I somehow don’t think that’s going to save the day.

How about preaching, prayer, and practical Christianity; preaching, prayer, and practical Christianity….


Book Recommendations

Some more book recommendations that might help you fill a stocking or two.

For the Caregiver in your life

The Caregiving YearsCaregiving.com is a one-stop shop for Caregivers. Its founder, Denise Brown is also author of The Caregiving Years: Six Stages to a Meaningful Journey. In it she defines the six stages of caregiving:

  • Stage 1: The Expectant Caregiver — In the near future, I may help an aging relative.
  • Stage 2: The Freshman Caregiver — I am starting to help an aging relative.
  • Stage 3: The Entrenched Caregiver — I am helping.
  • Stage 4: The Pragmatic Caregiver — I am still helping an aging relative.
  • Stage 5: The Transitioning Caregiver — My role is changing.
  • Stage 6: The Godspeed Caregiver — My caregiving has ended.

For the Pastor in Your Life

You-Lift-Me-UpYou Lift me Up: Overcoming Ministry Challenges
This book is Al Martin at his best, as he identifies three ministry challenges – ministerial backsliding, ministerial burnout, and credibility washout – and proposes various preventative and curative measures. As always with Pastor Martin, the book combines a deep spirituality, fine biblical exegesis, and huge doses of common sense. I loved the sections on the pastor’s humanity and the need to care for our bodies. If pastors don’t read this now, they will need it later.

pastors-familyThe Pastor’s Family
“Realistic…Honest…Transparent…Spiritual…Practical.” These are the words that sprang to my mind as I read this unique book that will refresh many pastors’ souls, rescue many pastors’ marriages, transform many pastors’ families, and revive many pastors’ ministries.

Anyone familiar with Brain Croft’s growing ministry at PracticalShepherding.com will know that Brian has a huge heart for pastors and their families. He doesn’t speak down from lofty heights of pastoral perfection, but speaks beside us in the trenches of the pastoral battlefield.

This book addresses the pastor, his wife, and his children, and contains a number of useful appendices including “Confessions of a Pastor’s Wife” and “My Battle with Depression” by Brian’s wife, Cara. It’s one of those books that pastors and their wives should probably schedule to read every year.

For the Small Group in Your Life

memoirsMemoirs of the Way Home
Looking for a new book to study in your small group? Are you up for exploring a rarely covered era and area of the Bible? Why not have a look at Jerry Bilkes’ Memoirs of the Way Home which looks at Ezra and Nehemiah as a Call to Conversion. Jerry has the great gift of teaching in such a straightforward and simple way that you hardly realize how much you are learning. Always with an eye to practical and Christ-centered application Jerry will take you back through the millennia and then return to our modern world with spiritual nourishment as you journey on towards eternity.

For the Kid in Your Life

Big StoryThe Bible’s Big Story
It’s great to see gifted theologians, who have written weighty theological tomes, coming down to the level of kids with the Gospel. Sinclair Ferguson has done it, R.C. Sproul has done it, and now Jim Hamilton does it with a great little kids book with a difference. Instead of telling one of the biblical stories, he tells the whole biblical story – in 24 pages – with just a couple of lines per page – in rhyme!

“Not possible” you say. Well it will only cost you $4.99 to check it out. Lots of memorable drawings too. I think it will be one of those books your kids will remember when they grow up. I can’t wait for my own wee Scot to be of an age that I can introduce him to the Bible’s Big Story.

For the Non-Theologian in Your Life

Clear-Winter-NightsClear Winter Nights
How would you like to learn theology without realizing you are learning theology. That’s what Trevin Wax accomplishes in this book, his first foray into Christian fiction. It’s especially helpful for young people as it narrates a young Christian’s struggles with doubts and disillusionment. Both my teenage sons read it in a couple of hours and enjoyed it greatly. They found it a refreshing change from the usual Christian books that they find in my study.

For The Counselor in Your Life

Finally-FreeFinally Free
This is biblical counseling at its best: full of sympathy for sinners, courageous confrontation of sin, accessible biblical truth, the power of Christ’s grace, and radical dependence upon the Holy Spirit. There are just so many texts I want to preach upon now, always a reliable guide to the quality of a Christian book.

I’m no longer dreading  the next phone call or email from someone who has succumbed to porn, because with this book I now have eight grace-based strategies to offer needy sinners. Finally Free will liberate many lives and revitalize many marriages.

Christ-centered-Biblical-Counseling-200x300Christ-Centered Biblical Counseling
This superb book that will benefit not just pastors and counselors but anyone who wants to learn how to help others with God’s Word. Chapters 1-14 provide a practical theology of biblical counseling and chapters 15-28 a practical methodology.

The aim of the book is to promote authentic spiritual growth among God’s people in ways that are:

  • Grace-based and gospel-centered: Not a system or a program.
  • Relationally and theologically robust: Relationship with God through His Word.
  • Grounded in the local church: Caring like Christ in the body of Christ
  • Relevant to everyday life and ministry: Speaking the truth in love to meet spiritual, emotional, and physical needs

TWO BOOKS FOR THE SKEPTIC IN YOUR LIFE

THREE BOOKS FOR THE PRODUCTIVITY GEEK IN YOUR LIFE

THREE BOOKS FOR THE THEOLOGIAN IN YOUR LIFE


Worldview

Christianity Beginning to Disappear in its Birthplace
Prince Charles has spent much of the last twenty years promoting respect for and dialogue with muslims. He’s beginning to notice that it doesn’t seem to be reciprocated:

It seems to me that we cannot ignore the fact that Christians in the Middle East are increasingly being deliberately targeted by fundamentalist Islamist militants.

In a reference to the Christmas story, he added: “Christianity was literally born in the Middle East and we must not forget our Middle Eastern brothers and sisters in Christ. Their church communities link us straight back to the early church as I was reminded by hearing Aramaic, our Lord’s own language spoken and sung just a few hours ago.

Yet today the Middle East and North Africa has the lowest concentration of Christians in the world – just four per cent of the population and it is clear that the Christian population has dropped dramatically over the last century and is falling still further.

In his address, the Prince urged Christians, Muslims and Jews to unite in “outrage” as he warned that the elimination of Christianity in much of the region in which it developed would be a “major blow to peace.”

“Good luck with that” as someone might say.

Judge Strikes down Obamacare Contraception Mandate
“Yesterday, Judge Brian Cogan of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York, not only struck down Obamacare’s contraception mandate as applied to religious non-profit organizations, but also sent a strong signal that federal courts were losing patience with President Obama’s many stitches of executive power.”

Judge Cogan forcefully rejected three key Obama defenses of the mandate and on the government’s claim that there was a compelling interest in uniform enforcement of the contraception mandate, Cogan noted: “Having granted so many exemptions already, the Government cannot show a compelling interest in denying one to these plaintiffs.”

Facebook Is A Fundamentally Broken Product That Is Collapsing Under Its Own Weight
When Facebook’s obituary is written, I believe one word will be written on its tombstone: COMPLACENCY.

In August, Facebook revealed that every time someone visits News Feed there are on average 1,500 potential stories from friends, people they follow and Pages for them to see, and most people don’t have enough time to see them all. These stories include everything from wedding photos posted by a best friend, to an acquaintance checking in to a restaurant.

Let’s say the average Facebook user is awake for 17 hours a day. To consume all that stuff, they would take in 88 new items per hour, or 1.5 things per minute. That’s just not possible.

The Stigma of Racism
Reobert Verbuggen sees a good side and a bad side to this game-based research:

Scientists had a group of white adult volunteers play a game of Guess Who? — where players start with a lineup of faces and try to find the correct one by asking yes/no questions — with partners who were either white or black. The lineup they were given was half-black and half-white, so asking about race was a great way to eliminate a lot of possibilities quickly. And yet 43 percent of the subjects failed to ask when the person answering the questions was white, and 79 percent didn’t ask when the person was black. Conducting the experiment with children revealed that this fear sets in around age 10.”

The bad side: “Many white people are so scared of being seen as racist that they’re not willing to talk about simple facts — and, ironically, they end up being seen as racist as a result.”

The good side: “The campaign to stigmatize anti-black racism — the most corrosive force in this country’s history — has been remarkably successful.”

Personally, I think he’s overstated the “good side” because every black person I know still frequently encounter prejudice and injustice. I think what it reveals is that people have learned to hide their racism in games and surveys, but when it comes to everyday life, latent racism often oozes out in relationships and decisions.

The Real Reason The Humanities Are in Crisis
The decline in humanities at our Colleges and Universities is usually traced to: (1) significant funding cuts to history, literature, and arts programs at public universities and (2) political criticism of the humanities (they’re not “practical” enough). But the real underlying reason is the change in women’s choices in higher education.

Instead of pursuing degrees in the liberal arts and education, women often chose pre-professional degrees such as business or communications….There’s still no concrete answer about why this happened, though theories abound. Perhaps it was a consequence of increasing equality that women turned away from degrees that seemed to funnel them into traditionally “feminine” occupations. Perhaps some women hoped that pre-professional degrees would seem more practical and applicable to potential employers and would prove their desirability over male candidates.”

If the aim was higher wages, then the statistics still show significant disparities between men and women. Heidi Tworek concludes her article by arguing that “more practical degrees are not necessarily the answer.”

A choice of a specific major matters less than the skills that students acquire. Polls of employers back me up on this. For nearly 95 percent of employers, a particular college major matters less than “a demonstrated capacity to think critically, communicate clearly, and solve complex problems.”


Check out

New Research: Americans Prefer In-Person Video to Video Preaching
Surely not too surprising.

Building a Theological Library
Danny Akin updates his extensive bibliography.

22 Productivity Principles from the Book of Proverbs
“The Book of Proverbs has a lot to say about productivity. Not only does it teach us how we can be more productive, it teaches how we can be more biblically productive.”

Preachers, Before You Preach…
Joe Thorn fears “that we put too much trust in the mechanics of “sermon prep,” believing excellent commentaries, classic writings, a good homiletic outline, and a strong conviction are all that’s needed to prepare to preach the word.

Modern Medicine v Biblical Medicine
Chris Bogosh, author of Compassionate Jesus, has started a through provoking blog that’s going to be looking at medical subjects, including Obamacare, from a Christian perspective.

What Joseph Can Teach Us About Biblical Manhood
“The story in Matthew 1 is about the birth of Christ, and we should honor it as such. But isn’t God kind to allow us to learn other truths along the way to Bethlehem? Joseph is a hero in Scripture who points us to the Hero of Scripture. May God give us the grace to follow in his steps.”


Three Seasonal Videos To Awe, Touch, And Cheer

To Awe You
I used to live in a place where this was quite common.

To Touch You
A man who’s been deaf for 50 years hears his daughter sing for the first time. There’s a lot of pain being unpacked from that beautiful voice. For a longer version of the song, watch here.

To Cheer You
And if #2 made the tears flow, have a good laugh at this.

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