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Why Do Evangelical Pastors Think They Know Everything?

know it all

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, 63, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 42 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen awesome 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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10 Comments

  1. Avatar
    Karen the rock whisperer

    In the summer of 1980, just-married Husband and I toured the middle of the country to visit each other’s extended family. In rural northwestern Louisiana, we attended his step-grandmother’s church, a little hole-in-the-wall bastion of conservative Christianity. I listened to the sermon and thought, okay, I come from a Catholic background. I don’t know my bible that well. But I do know that preacher is absolutely Making Stuff Up. His church members all sat solemnly and nodded in agreement periodically as he preached utter nonsense.

    Coming from a very well-educated corner of California, a preacher in my home area simply couldn’t get away with that. People might keep their mouths shut during the service, but he’d be in for a whole lot of rather demanding questions afterward. He’d better know his bible and the more commonly-read apologetics or people would whip out their pocket/purse notebooks and bibles (this was long before cell phones and tablets), quote his sermon back at him, and point out right there that he was incorrect. And heaven help him if he made a scientific error in a church full of engineers.

    But in rural Louisiana, where the tiny churches seem to outnumber the houses sometimes, interesting things get preached.

  2. Avatar
    Lucas J Draeger

    I stopped attending Evangelical church shortly after I got a job working for a large company.
    I’d go to work all week and get pounded with messages about success and numbers, and Sunday mornings started to remind me a lot of my job.
    No thanks.

  3. Avatar
    Matilda

    ‘…he would fold over a blank piece of paper and put it in the plate.’ Two words that so many fundies fail to grasp. Hypocrisy and pretence. And that makes them unable to see the blindingly obvious (here in Wales anyway) that this is why churches emptied and are still closing by the dozen every year.

  4. Avatar
    Brian

    Ah, you tricky devil-worshipper! I see right through your devil eyes. When I scanned this title, Why Do Evangelical Pastors Think they Know Everything?, I immediately began to think on it and tell myself things. You devil! It only lasted a minute or so until I realized I had invited evil into my life by going ahead and thinking about your question. Then, thank-you Jesus, I shut it all down and called my pastor to see what the answer is…. I’ll be getting back to you with God’s answer. (Pastor’s phone is busy just now but I’m in the queue! You just wait!)
    Trust in the Lord (and his male pastor) with all your heart and lean not on your own most pathetic understanding…

  5. Avatar
    Cindy Freeman

    When I was in Christianity, it used to drive me CRAZY whenever I would question things taught by the church/pastor and would try to discuss it with other Christians and their response would basically be, “Well, he’s been to school for the Bible so he knows more than I do about it.” One day, I finally was able to say, “No, not necessarily. He may know more about what he was TAUGHT about the Bible than you do, but that’s not the same as knowing more about the Bible.”

  6. Avatar
    dale m

    Little educated, little read, isolated behind the iron curtain of religion from birth, never part of the American dream …. where do U turn ? Who do U turn to ? Socialism !!! And Socialist leaders !!! Jesus himself was a socialist. Irresponsible. Give all your money away B 4 U become baptized and FOLLOW the leader. And where does Jesus take us ? Into the gutter. Living off the avails of others. Surviving one day at a time. Living hand to mouth. No plans 4 the future (in this life). Abandon your wife and kids if they won’t follow U into self-perpetuated misery, Give up your real estate properties, your chariot, planting and sowing seeds 4 sustained food production.

    If Jesus were alive today, we would refer to him as a bum, ne’er do well, lazy and a squatter. Evangelicals refer to this kind of person as a prophet, a man of god, his ideals to be honoured and followed. So why do we refer to them as Right Wing Capitalists ? Who ever heard of capitalists acting like that ? ALL the FAILED capitalists R found in Marxism and Evangelical Religion. They R ALL left wing socialists practising different forms of communism under the guise of capitalism.

    Jesus was a PREACHER !!! That’s it !!! Nothing more.

    Yet, I know of Evangelicals who R absurdly successful, hard working capitalists to the core. Some would even give U the shirt off their back even if it were the last piece of clothing they owned.

    Sigh … lesson here ? Be a hard working capitalist with a social conscience …. not a capitalist with a Trumpian conscience. And Jesus ? Maybe it’s time we helped him instead. My 2 cents.

  7. Avatar
    Brian Vanderlip

    Good repost, Almighty! Basically, the preacher realizes he is the one with the weapon and the weapon is loaded. Look down that barrel and face The Truth. Being annointed, called, lets loose the beast of ego and Scripture confirms all the blind puffing-up! It is so clear once you have surfaced and breathed the air of free choice.

  8. Avatar
    ObstacleChick

    When I was in college and would go back to my home church over breaks, I really started to realize how anti-intellectual the evangelical church was.

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