Dear Pastor, Why Should I Listen to You?

authority

(in this post I use authority and expert interchangeably)

If you have spent significant time in Evangelical churches, you know the pastor is considered the pope of the church. He is the go-to guy about everything. The pastor takes seriously Paul’s statement, “I became all things to all men.” Not only is the pastor an expert on the Bible and theology, he is also an expert on current events, history, archeology, politics, science, sports, medicine, sex, construction, child rearing, meal planning, and auto repair.

If the pastor doesn’t know it, it ain’t worth knowing.

Now here is the truth.

Most pastors are barely proficient when it comes to their chosen profession.  Many church members would be surprised to know how little actual Bible training their pastor received while attending an Evangelical college. It should never be assumed that any pastor is adequately trained in understanding and teaching the Bible.  Personally, I am of the opinion that it is almost impossible, due to their ideological bent, for a pastor to get a proper education about the Bible in an Evangelical institution.

Most pastors know enough Greek to make them dangerous. Few pastors know any Hebrew at all. A parishioner would be mistaken to accept the pastor as the authority on the Bible without inquiring as to WHY he should be accepted as an authority. Should he be accepted as an authority just because of the position he holds or because the Bible says he must be accepted as an authority?  Perhaps church members need to start asking their pastor, WHY should I listen to you?

No pastor is an oracle who knows everything. His office does not make him an authority. Becoming an authority on a matter requires work, hard work. There are some things I am good at. I work very hard to know what I know and to be able to do what I do. Granted, many of us are good at some things because they come easy for us, but no one should be faulted for that. For example,  I am very good at being a pain in the ass. It comes easy for me.

Early in the ministry, I was flattered that people would come to me for advice. I was glad to be the answer man. For many years, I even had a “Ask the Pastor” question time one Sunday night a month. Parishioners could ask me any question they wanted. I answered every question, no matter what the question was. I came off as a man with a vast knowledge of virtually everything. In reality I was like a fart in a forty mile per hour wind. I was  five miles wide and one inch deep. In other words, I was a pompous, arrogant know-little know-it-all.

In the latter years of my time in the ministry, I became less willing to answer questions that were not within the  range of my expertise. I’ve had to learn that there is a difference between having an opinion about something and actually knowing about something.  Since leaving the ministry and leaving Christianity, I have worked very hard to fill in some of the glaring knowledge gaps I have. As a pastor, I would pontificate about Darwin, creation,  and evolution, yet I didn’t know a damned thing about science. In high school I took earth science and biology. In college I took one science class, a biology class that had no lab and a teacher who had no actual science training beyond being able to read the textbook.  So science is an area where I am working very hard to fill in the gaps.

Years ago, a liberal Baptist pastor and I got into a discussion about psychology. At the time, I was an Evangelical.  He brought up Maslow.  I waxed eloquently about what I had read in a book opposing psychology.  The liberal  Baptist preacher could tell I didn’t really know anything, so he called my bluff and then he told me I was full of shit. He was right.

Pastors should stick to what they know. If their calling is to teach and preach then they owe it to their congregations to be educated about the Bible and to learn communication skills that will allow them to be the best preacher possible. Sadly, over the years, I’ve heard countless preachers preach that were illiterate concerning theology and who had little or no training in public discourse.

Want to talk about the Bible, church history, Evangelicalism, fundamentalism, tax issues in the ministry, photography, or Windows computers, I’m your man. If you want to talk about gardening, environmental issues, politics, or sports, I am “kinda” your man, depending on the specific subject. Most everything else, I am just a man with an opinion. An intellectual jack of all trades, master of none.

The next time someone speaks as an authority ask yourself,  WHY should I accept this person’s word on this matter?”  Each of us should think critically about the people we grant authority to. In the 1960’s young people were challenged to question authority. The pastors of the churches I attended  as a youth said,  submit to authority. Their authority.  I was raised in an environment that frowned upon, and sometimes punished, any challenge to authority. The college I attended had the same methodology.  Imagine where we would be today if no one ever questioned or challenged authority.

The internet has brought us a vast store of information. No longer do we have to take someone’s word for anything. We can investigate a matter and determine if a person is being factual.  Before granting anyone the vaulted position of an authority, it is always wise and prudent to fact-check their claims. Even then, a person we accept as an authority might not be equally authoritative on everything.

Here’s the bottom line. Be careful about who you allow to be an authority in your life. WHY should they be granted this noble position of authority?  No person can be an authority on everything. Be wary of any man, especially a holy man, who passes himself off as a know-it-all. Such a person can not be trusted.

At the same time, we should not be guilty of showing no respect for authority at all. When a man or a woman give themselves to learning a particular discipline they should not be dismissed without reason or cause. I am always amused when people dismiss Bart Ehrman out of hand without ever engaging or understanding what he writes. He’s an agnostic, an unbeliever, why should I listen to him, they say.  Regardless of his spiritual state, he IS an expert in the fields he writes about.  Since I am NOT an expert, I must determine if I can trust his expertise. I do. Others don’t. Such is the nature of choosing which experts we will believe.

The same could be said of the science surrounding climate change. Few of us are experts. We must choose which experts we will believe. Personally, my money is on the 95% of climate scientists who say global climate change is real. I am aware of the other 5%, but I don’t think they are right. Granted, I am not a science expert, and I am willing to even admit I am poorly trained in science, but I can read. I do have a rational mind that still has a modicum of sharpness that allows me to make an educated choice about which expert I will believe.

How do you decide who to grant authority in your life? How do you determine which expert to believe?  Have you ever been deceived by an  “expert”? Please share your thoughts in the comment section.

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5 Comments

  1. przxqgl

    i find it much easier and more fun to be a fool than an expert… as a fool, i get to watch the so-called “experts” fall all over themselves trying to explain stuff they don’t understand… and i like that old aphorism: an expert is someone who studies more and more about less and less until they know everything about nothing. 8)

    Reply
  2. Appalachian Agnostic

    Great question. I have a difficult time deciding who is worthy of trust. Sometimes I have the opportunity to listen to a given authority figure expound upon a subject that I know about first hand. If what they say matches up with what I have experienced, then I am more likely to trust them in other areas. Of course, the opposite is also true. I also look at their education and experience. It is kind of like hiring someone.

    Reply
  3. DarrenB

    Just a few thoughts.

    When we’re talking about experts, a fair question is, “What is there expertise.”

    One of my pet peeves with most pastors is that they while they claim to have some expertise in the Bible and understanding God, they usually have a pretty limited life experience. “okay you claim you were ‘called’ into ministry. have you ever had a real job?” it’s hard to speak about life, when you have so little experience living it. It seems like a lot of these professional pastor types like writing books and like talking about things they have not actually experienced.”

    Granted there are a fair number of pastors who need to work part time jobs and whose churches are struggling, but I wonder whether this is part of their narrative, because a pastor who is leading a church that is barely keeping its head above water, is likely not going to be sharing those struggles, because they’re not spiritual or godly

    Reply
  4. Brian

    My dad pastored his whole adult life in small Baptist churches, the type that tend to attract the farmers, not the city-slickers. He never got enough money to make life comfortable because the idea of prosperity was defined as suffering in joy rather than God giving you a better allowance. My mom (the daughter of a Baptist preacher) sustained our family by working part-time as a registered nurse as well as serving the church as a pianist when need be and being a wife and a mom. Both my parents were sexpert enough to have lots of kids and both had little experience in the world beyond Baptist. It truly shocks me how lost we learned to become and how we wander like lost cows to knock on the doors of experts instead of learning to endure and accept ourselves first…
    When one is suffering some somatic ailment, then by all means seek medical perspectives but then take the antibiotic for your own sake… It ain’t God’s job to fix you. God’s gone to help the Muslims resist Christian warmongers. (meaning snark…)

    Reply
  5. gimpi1

    I’ve had to learn that there is a difference between having an opinion about something and actually knowing about something.

    That’s one of the most important things we can learn. I actually will attempt (attempt, not always succeed) not to form an opinion about something that I know very little about. It’s OK to not have an opinion about something until you’ve had a chance to do your homework. One of the worst things about uninformed opinions is that, once we have formed an opinion, we feel obligated to defend it – even though we formed it with no real knowledge.

    There truly is a vast difference between knowing about something and simply having an opinion. Good on you for grasping that.

    Reply

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