Repost from 2015. Edited, rewritten, and corrected.
Several years ago, Scott asked:
More of a philosophical/mindset question. I subject myself to the local “Christian” Radio station from time to time and I’m curious as to why pastors preach on/think that they know “everything” once they become a pastor. I’ve heard a number blather on about science when I know 8-year-olds with deeper knowledge. One radio show seems unable to have A) hosts who read more than the “Drudge Report” and watch Fox “News” and B) Show absolutely no interest in wanting to learn science, even at the “Buck Rogers” level. I know that I, like you, have a voracious interest in learning new things, old things and different things. What kills the curiosity in them?
I doubt you can find an Evangelical pastor who will publicly admit he knows everything. In fact, most will likely strenuously object by saying that they are but humble servants of the Lord, and only God knows everything. However, in many Evangelical churches, the pastor is viewed as an oracle, a divine answer machine, always ready to spit out the correct answer to every question.
When’s the last time you’ve heard an Evangelical pastor answer a question with I don’t know? Church members expect their pastor to know everything. They expect him to be able to answer any and every question. Pastors routinely counsel church members on spiritual matters and beliefs. If they stopped there, all would be well. However, many pastors are quite willing to answer questions and give advice on virtually any subject. (Please see Why I Thought I was “Qualified” to Counsel Others, Beware of Christian Counselors, Questions: Should People Trust Christian Counselors with Degrees from Secular Schools? and Outrage Over Christian Counselor Post.)
How does an Evangelical pastor get to the place where he arrogantly thinks that he is some sort of super-duper, always-right answer machine?
Evangelicals believe the Bible is the inspired, inerrant, infallible word of God. The Bible is a supernatural book breathed out by God, and is meant to be read and understood by God’s chosen ones. When people become Christians, the Holy Spirit indwells them (lives inside of them) and is their teacher and guide. Indwelt by the Spirit, Evangelicals read and study the Bible, finding everything necessary for life and godliness. Some Evangelicals are called to be pastors. This calling — some sects call it an anointing — comes from God. Every God-called pastor has been gifted by God to preach, teach, and lead the church. While most Evangelical pastors will tell you that they are first among equals, in real life the pastor is considered the king of the hill. He is the hub around which everything turns. No matter how many elders, deacons, or boards a church might have, the pastor stands above them all. He is God’s man, chosen to lead the church.
Evangelicals value those who are successful, those who do great exploits for God. Go to a Christian bookstore and see how many books focus on success. Most church members don’t want to hear about their pastor’s failures. No one wants to hear their pastor confess that he looked at porn on Saturday night, drank two too many beers, or had a bitter fight with his wife. They want a man who is a pillar of virtue and righteousness, a man who is a shining example of what a successful Christian should be.
Having said these things, I want to now answer Scott’s question. The reason many Evangelical pastors think they know everything is because a supernatural God wrote a supernatural book and gave it to a man who has a supernatural calling to speak supernatural truth to Evangelical church members. The pastor is the mouthpiece of God, one chosen by God to speak on his behalf. Since congregants want assurance of belief, the pastor is quite willing to give it to them. Since doubt is of the devil, the pastor papers over the doubt with answers he finds in the Bible. As a pastor ages, reads more books, and studies the Bible thoroughly, he is more likely to answer a wider array of questions with “Biblical” answers. As the church sees he is capable of answering their questions, they continue to bring the pastor more and more questions.
Evangelical church members wrongly believe that because their pastors went to Bible college or a seminary, they are uniquely qualified to answer their questions. Rarely do they ask what their pastors studied in school. Members go to their pastors for counseling, not thinking for a moment about whether they are qualified to counsel them. Just because some men are pastors doesn’t mean they are qualified to counsel people having mental health issues or sexual problems. In fact, the average Evangelical pastor doesn’t even have a thorough education on the Bible. Let THAT sink in for a moment. Go take a look at a Christian college/seminary catalog and see what classes prospective pastors take. You will be shocked at how little they study the Bible before they graduate. Yet, when they start pastoring churches, they are expected to KNOW what the Bible says and be able to answer EVERY question church members might have.
Years ago, I preached several times for a friend of mine who pastored a Baptist church in Utica, Ohio. Every Sunday he would pass the offering plate, collecting an offering from the 20 or so people sitting in the pews. One Sunday he told me that when he didn’t have any money to put in the offering he would fold over a blank piece of paper and put it in the plate. He thought it was important to give church members the appearance of giving. As many former Evangelical pastors will tell you, perception is everything. My friend wanted to be perceived as a giver, even when he had nothing to give.
So it is with pastors and questions. They want to be perceived as knowing everything. Older pastors become expert question-answer game players, often giving shallow, bullshit answers to any question they don’t have an answer for. Sometimes pastors deflect hard questions by appealing to faith or saying God’s ways are not our ways. Most often though, Evangelical pastors are ready and willing to answer what questions come their way, even if they have little knowledge on that particular subject.
I am not saying that Evangelical pastors are not experts or knowledgeable about some things. They may be, but my challenge is to the breadth of their expertise and knowledge. Rather than worrying about perception, pastors would better serve their congregations by saying I don’t know or referring them to experts who do.
Scott asks, what kills curiosity in many Evangelical pastors? (Please see Curiosity, A Missing Evangelical Trait.) The short answer is . . . THE BIBLE. When a pastor views the Bible as the answer to every question, there’s no need to be curious. GOD SAID IT, I BELIEVE IT, AND THAT SETTLES IT FOR ME! No need to study science because God mapped out the creation of the universe in Genesis 1-3. History becomes HIS-story. Instead of trawling the depths of human knowledge and experience, many Evangelical pastors stick to a handful authors that reinforce their beliefs. This breeds intellectual laziness.
Granted, many Evangelical church members are lazy and can’t be bothered with searching things out for themselves. They view their pastors as a divine Google, ready to spit out the correct answer to any search input. No need to think. Just listen to Pastor Billy Bob, and all will be well.
Bruce Gerencser, 62, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 41 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.
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