Credibility of pastors waning as influence of Christianity loses cultural dominance: study
Fewer than half of American adults, including non-Christians, see pastors as “very reliable” when it comes to handling spiritual matters, and the share of pastors who believe the general public sees them that way is even lower, according to newly published data from Barna Research.
The research, which asks about pastors' general trustworthiness and credibility, was included in The Resilient Pastor, a book by the Rev. Glenn Packiam released on Feb. 15. It offers pastors and Christians a way to remain resilient in their calling as they contend with the challenges of a world where Christianity no longer holds a dominant place in culture.
"Pastors are no longer perceived as a credible voice or a trustworthy source of wisdom on much," Packiam explains in an excerpt of the book. "Churches don’t have much of a role in a community unless they can provide tangible help or practical care. And people aren’t likely to turn to a church for help when facing difficulties or crises. In fact, Christianity is just one way of making meaning of this world, and it isn’t really even a respected way. For many, it is archaic and outmoded, prude and rude.”
Packiam, who's a senior fellow at Barna Group, is also an associate senior pastor at New Life Church in Colorado Springs, Colorado, and the lead pastor of New Life Downtown.
The data show that when asked if pastors are a trustworthy source of wisdom, some 57% of Americans, in general, said pastors are at least somewhat wise.
When that data is further broken down, however, only 23% of all adult Americans agree that pastors are "definitely" a "trustworthy source of wisdom." Among Christians, the figure increases to 31% but drops to 4% among non-Christians. Larger shares agree that pastors were “somewhat” a trustworthy source of wisdom, with 40% of Christians agreeing to this assessment.
“Non-Christians have the strongest reaction against pastors, with 29 percent saying a pastor is ‘definitely not’ a trustworthy source of wisdom. That may be unsurprising in our present culture, but it is still telling and discouraging,” Packiam notes.
While a significant majority of pastors, 67%, were very confident that their own congregations considered them to be a trustworthy source of wisdom, only 21% expressed a similar level of confidence in how the general community where their church is located sees them. Another 62% felt that the general community was only “somewhat” confident in their role as a trustworthy source of wisdom.
Pastors were also not very confident in how the general population sees them as a reliable source of information on spiritual matters.
While 36% of all adults see pastors as “very reliable” when it comes to giving advice on spiritual matters, only 25% of pastors see themselves that way. A majority, 59%, said they were “somewhat reliable.”
Fewer than half, 44%, of Christians described their pastors as “very reliable” in this area, while another 39% said they were “somewhat reliable.”
Packiam, in his book, suggests that pastors need to examine themselves to see whether the credibility issues the profession is now facing have to do with the way they have stewarded power.
“If the mishandling of power has led to the loss of credibility, returning to the source and shape of a pastor’s authority is the way back home,” he contends. “I don’t mean that we can find a way to return to a central place in our communities. But we can once again become trustworthy people when we rediscover the source and the shape of pastoral authority.”