Creative LeadershipEngaging Culture

Christian Leaders Continue to Lose Influence In The Culture

When it comes to Christian leaders, in my own lifetime, I’ve seen a staggering loss of influence. My father was a pastor, and back in the 50’s and 60’s it seemed like everyone in Charlotte, North Carolina respected my dad. Even people who would never darken the door of a church would come to him for advice – particular when it came to major life decisions. But today, not so much. We’ve all seen it creep down, but Pew Research just released new data that indicates only 15% of Americans would seek the advice of a religious leader today.

Even more surprising, the research indicates that even among highly religious Americans, only a third say they rely heavily on advice from religious leaders to help make major life decisions. There is some variation in that across denotations and groups, but among even the most highly religious evangelicals, only 40% are interested in their pastor’s advice about major life decisions.  With other groups, it’s far less.

What is your reaction?  Is it that as social media has made us more public, we’re keeping our private decisions to ourselves?  Perhaps when I was young, a local pastor was the only potential counselor most people knew, but today we find “experts” coming out of the woodwork.

The question is – if you were facing a major, life decision, would you go to your pastor for advice?  And if not, who would you prefer talking to?

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  1. I definitely think there would be value in doing so, but with 2000+ church members, it would be impossible. It would be more likely for me to take it to my small group or to my circle of trusted, Christ-following friends unless I were attending a smaller and more intimate church.

    1. No question that it’s easier in a smaller church because of the personal factor. In fact, we’ve worked with numerous large churches on how to make the connection with leadership stronger as the church grows. Great point, and thanks for posting Christine!

  2. I think it’s due to a perfect storm of four things: 1) Scandals in the evangelical ministry 2) A belief that pastors don’t have a handle on the “real” world (they know something about heaven, but not my problems here on earth), 3) A meteoric rise in secularism along with a strong sentiment of anti-institutional religion and 4) Those who regularly (let’s say 3 out of 5 weekends) attending church, falling to what probably is close 10% (2-3% here in Maine).

  3. I go to my church for counseling for life decisions because that’s what the bible says to do. Churches need to preach those verses to people.

  4. Would I? I don’t know since I look in the mirror and say, “What do you know about that life experience?” 🙂 Living in a small town (like I do) has its own unique challenges. Life is much the same as big cities in the moral aspect but being a pastor here does gain me some “notoriety.” Being on the board of the Chamber of Commerce has been a big plus. But in reality, most people who come to me for help are those who frequent the church. I would love for it to be different but it isn’t. All I can do is “be there” if needed.

  5. I grew up with all the tradition and culture of a tiny, sort of rural Pennsylvania Lutheran church…what caused a drift away in college years? Doubt thrown on traditions and Truths by the actions of “Church Officials.” (Lutherans seemed to retain a lot of the pre-reformation Organization principles)…There was some change for no good reason, accompanied by “just listen to your Bishop” authority.
    That was the 70s…now, Compromise and postmodernism is the Way. Like the Federal Secular Government, those in office are urged into compromise as a goal, not a means.
    There is a (the )Truth, and it is the Religious Establishment that has been dodging and weaving on that Truth to try to keep the pews full.

  6. There’s another question here: “Would you go to your Pastor for advice, and if not, why not?” If there is a compelling reason for the “why not” perhaps we need to be evaluating whether or not we should be submitting to that individual’s leadership in the first place!

  7. Ken Slater

    Two things from personal experience. First, a lot of pastors don’t take those kind of meetings any more. When I was in LA going to large church I found myself with a ‘pastor’ assigned to take those meetings who I’m pretty sure I had more experience. And his very religious pat answers made me wonder about exactly who I was submitting to and why.

    Secondly, I have found the small men’s groups that I have been submitted to with men older and younger in the faith, are much better sources of wisdom for advice on critical questions.

  8. Some do not go to their minister with problems/issues is because of a privacy factor…they simply don’t want the minster to know about their personal issues and fear that the problems may not be kept private.

    Yet another reason is that many ministers are not qualified educationally to help with some personal issues and some are aware of this. Seminaries should offer double majors so that the ministers-to-be would graduate as both a spiritual advisor and fully qualified mental health professionals. After all, people problems are one of the largest things that they will deal with in their careers.

  9. Pastoral advice has become somewhat of a sacred cow to pastors. Rather than help others give good advice, many pastors tend to see themselves as the end-all-be-all to advice giving. I helped promote local outreach and found myself sitting with a pastor and a local inmate in prison. When the inmate mentioned that when he got out he would like to get some mentorship from the associate pastor whom he knew personally, the pastor told him that he could get mentorship from himself. The inmate later told his family how much he couldn’t stand the pastor for those type of comments. Another former pastor I know has his doctorate counseling degrees – suffers from the same thing. He becomes overly attached to his patients and believes his advice (and basically no one else’s) is the best thing to help them. Advice giving is more complicated than many think. Try to help others get good at giving advice to avoid the trap of desiring the praise and status of being a great advice giver.

  10. There is no doubt that the term “pastor” doesn’t carry the same weight in today’s culture that it once did. But that isn’t all bad. In many churches today “pastoral” duties are handled more in small groups by everyday leaders rather than paid pastors. So of the highly religious evangelicals, of which only 40% would go to a pastor, I wonder what the percentage would be if asked in reference to seeking advice from a church friend (group leader or participant, teacher, fellow volunteer, etc.)?

  11. I have been in/around great churches and the Pastor’s who provide leadership. A few of those Pastor’s have been close friends and I would turn to them in a heart beat for advice and to act as a sounding board for important decisions. That said, I know of other Pastor’s who lack wisdom and insight both spiritually and experientially. In fact, I believe so many Pastor’s are out to “build their personal brand, get published and are sef-promoting” that they have given up their place in the lives of people who need them. Like many churches, they have become irrelevant because they no longer are unique and too far removed. I am a Christ follower and know my life decisions are between myself and God however I want a Pastor to help me connect my decisions to God through the bible – not sell me a book or sign up for a blog!

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