Baptist Press posted an article on Feb. 1 with a headline that made my heart ache. It read, “Public trust in pastors falls to record low” (see article in full at baptistandreflector.org).
According to the latest Gallup survey, about one in three (34 percent) rate the honesty and ethical standards of clergy as high or very high. That percentage is a two point drop from last year’s historic low of 36 percent, according to Baptist Press.
BP reported the highest level of trust in American pastors was 67 percent in 1985 and 64 percent in 2001, following 9/11. Trust in pastors has fallen 30 points since 2001.
The primary reason cited for the decline in trust of ministers is sexual abuse scandals first exposed in the Roman Catholic Church and have since been revealed in other denominations, including our own — the Southern Baptist Convention.
Throw in denominations that fail to heed the Bible’s teaching on major cultural issues such as homosexuality, the prosperity gospel and abortion, and it is no wonder the American public has little faith in ministers or the church. We can’t preach sin and righteousness on Sunday and live like the world the other six days of the week.
What bothers me most of all is that clergy of all denominations are lumped together and most of those opinions are based on a small sample size. We live in a world where we focus on the bad and forget that the majority of ministers are called by God and serve Him faithfully every day.
For every pastor that has had a moral failure, I can name a Mike Hensley, a longtime pastor in Dandridge and now director of missions at East Tennessee Baptist Association in Newport, or a Mike Dawson, pastor emeritus of First Baptist Church, Columbia, and now in his 80s, serving as transitional interim pastor trying to help revitalize a declining church in Nashville, or a Mike Mayo, a retired pastor who now serves at Indian Lake Peninsula Church in Hendersonville and who has been a “Barnabas” to me over the years.
The list can go on and on of men I know who truly are the dictionary definition of someone with “a pastor’s heart” who faithfully serve their Savior every day of their lives.
I was at the annual Bivocational Ministers and Wives Retreat last week and met dozens upon dozens of dedicated men and women who have given their lives to helping, for the most part, small, rural Baptist churches who might not have a minister were it not for their sacrifice to work two jobs and their love for the Lord and His people. These men should never be judged based on an opinion poll.
Does that mean all Tennessee Baptist pastors are perfect? Of course not. We are all sinners, saved by grace and we all make mistakes.
We have had pastors in our state who have betrayed the trust of their congregations at times. But those numbers pale in comparison to the hundreds upon hundreds of pastors I have met over the years who poured their hearts and souls into the churches they served. They cannot be defined by a Gallup Poll.
My prayer is that non-Christians will not read the results of this poll and decide, “Why go to church? Pastors can’t be trusted.” That simply is not true.
God does not judge pastors (or any of us for that matter) based on a poll. He judges us by our words and actions. And, when all is said and done, isn’t His opinion the only one that really matters?
Pray for your pastor that he will be the man God has called him to be. You might be surprised at how God will answer your prayers. B&R