The Pastor is a Phony

May 5, 2010

I’m not quite sure what to say to this…

…but, as is my style, I’ll try.

Baptist Press published a recent article about pastors who aren’t Christians.  As in, they’re preaching from the Bible, but they don’t believe it.  They aren’t just rejecting a few doctrines.  They’re outright atheists.  But their churches don’t know it. 

Being a pastor is different from most professions.  You don’t really hear about an astronaut who went into space, despite his hypocritical denial of gravity.  Or the bank teller who secretly felt that money is a complex and highly vulnerable illusion shared by the whole of mankind that has no intrinsic value.  No one cares what an astronaut or bank teller believes.

The article is anecdotal evidence.  There’s not statistics involved.  It’s just stories of five unbelieving pastors.  There’s the Methodist whose an atheist.  But he admits, most of his congregation doesn’t literally believe Jesus was born of a virgin, or was resurrected either, so it’s all good.

Or the Church of Christ pastor whose an atheistic agnostic, but goes to church to “play act” in front of his congregation, because he no longer sees hypocrisy as wrong.  Well, at least your conscience is clear.

Or how about the Presbyterian minister who rejects most Christian doctrine, but stays in the ministry for the money.  Or the Baptist who would “leave the ministry right away” if someone offered him $200 grand.

I’m speechless about that one…almost.

Since when is the ministry a sound financial strategy?

The Presbyterian blew me away probably the most of all of them.  I’d like to know just what kind of cash the guy is raking in that makes the ministry so flipping attractive that he just can’t pull himself away.  This isn’t the first time a pastor has somehow made me think of the fat little suckling piglets at the petting zoo.  And what’s with the $200,000 figure for the Baptist?  We have to assume these guys have a major financial incentive to stay.

I’d sure like to get a piece of that action.  Instead, I (and thousands of other pastors) labor as “bi-vocational” ministers, thank you very much.  That means we worked hard enough to make ourselves qualified for more than one career to support the ministries we love, because they offer us few financial rewardsAnd as of now, I’m still working to claw my way into a viable educational career that makes a decent salary.  I work two jobs and still make a fraction of what most fat-cat pastors make.  Being bi-vocational has absolutely changed my heart, and a lot more pastors should try it.  There’s nothing like working alongside your people during the week to give yourself some extra credibility.

And just for you pastors who don’t think you’d ever find the time to pursue a second productive career, just cut a few of the useless, unproductive business meetings you have every week.  Most of you, even in the mid-size churches would find the time to pursue at least part-time employment outside of your church bubble.  Trust your people to get stuff done without you, if it’s important to them.   But I promise, your church will not collapse without another frivolous meeting to discuss how to waste more money.

Who’s to blame?

That’s usually the best question to ask when something bad happens.  Actually, I think a lot of people are to blame.

The pastors themselves are to blame for abusing the ministry.  They should go into politics or something.  A couple of these guys sounded like they entered the ministry without even being believers.  But the rest of them let their faith deteriorate over time.  That’s probably years of neglect.

The denominations are to blame too.  Who is ministering to their ministers?  I’ll be making my second trip to a monastery for a few days this summer.  I do this to rest, study and meditate.  The monks don’t let me chant with them.  I saw a lot of priests up there last time.  Why?  To go to confession.  Not to hear confessions – to give them.  These guys spend hours, weeks, months listening to people air their dirty laundry and talk about their messed up lives, and no one is there to listen to them at the end of the day, not even a wife!   Pastors need therapy as much as anyone else…probably more.

I also blame the pastors’ church members.  Most pastors don’t go into the ministry because they were drama majors in college.  They aren’t great actors.  If your pastor is a thespian, I’d be suspicious.  It should be pretty tough to fake being a good pastor and a genuine Christian.  If a few hundred people can listen to a guy every week and have no suspicions that he’s a phony who hates his job and doesn’t believe a word he’s saying, then they’re probably all phonies too…which would make sense for a phony pastor to lead a phony church full of phonies.  J.D. Salinger would have a field day with these guys.

How many pastors hate their job?

Just a question I wonder about.  Even among the vast majority of pastors who have faith, how many of them don’t like the ministry?  Or better question: what percent of the time does any given pastor not like his job?  I’d imagine every pastor has his days.  Mondays usually aren’t very good.  What would it take to get them to leave?

I bet if you offered $200,000 to a bunch of Christians for them to never go to church again, a bunch of them would take you up on it, since a lot of people are just in church so Jesus will make them rich anyway.  Just cut the middleman.

What do you think of this?  It can’t be a new thing, but it’s disheartening.  Do you think you’d know if your pastor was a faker?  If you’re a pastor, do you have someone to mentor you?  How much of the time do you not like your job?  If you could take a second career, what would it be?  Or, what would your price be to leave the ministry?

39 responses to The Pastor is a Phony

  1. I know that my pastor is not a phoney, because I watch him over-work himself at least once a year. Who needs that?

    I have a few friends, some of whom studied theology with me, who left very succesful jobs to enter the ministry, so you know that’s gotta be a commitment and a half.

    I also have friends who work a second job and are classified as “self-supporting clergy” which just means that they don’t get paid by the church. Most of them had to pay their own way through a theology qualification and seminary. I suppose that is what you termed bi-vocational?

    So it really sickens me when people criticize the pastors for taking advantage of their flock.

    • Definately, and I don’t mean to criticize any pastor for taking pay for doing their job. They should be paid what the church is able to, while still meeting the church’s mission from God! The pastors who are ‘taking advantage’ are few and far between. Most are regular joes just trying to make it.

    • I’m a pastor, and I spent my first 5 years of ministry being bi-vocational. The church was very small and could not afford to pay much at all. I did learn a lot during this time. I learned what to expect from people as far as time goes. I know what it means to work all day in construction and then try to find the energy to get to a mid-week Bible study.
      But…there’s nothing romantic about being bi-vocational. It was very difficult, and I was so blessed when I was able to give my time full-time to the ministry.
      I was able to develop closer relationships with my church family. I was able to reach out more to unchurched people. I was able to spend more time with my family, because I had time to write sermons and do other ministry work during the day.
      I would be careful to be so cynical and condescending towards full-time pastors. I’m glad I had my time in bi-vocational ministry, but I’m so blessed not to have to do that anymore.
      I think the church needs both kind of ministers, and we should be thankful for the job both do for the Lord.

  2. On a lighter note….

    Three priests walk into a bar.

    They sit down in a booth, and the first says “You know. I listen to confession everyday, and I hear the worst things. Sometimes I feel like I would like to confess to someone for a change.”
    The second priest says “I feel the same way. I have so much I want to confess”
    The third priest says “I agree. Why don’t we confess to each other, then we have someone to talk to about our problems.”
    They all agree it is a good idea.
    The first priest says, “I have a problem with alcohol. I drink too much, and I cover it up. Sometimes I am even drunk when I do communion, and I once nearly drowned a baby during baptism.”
    The second priest say, “Mine is worse. I have a problem with lust. I have lusted after almost every woman in my congregation, and sometimes when I am doing communion, I use the opportunity to look down their blouses.” He hangs his head in shame.
    They both look at the third priest. He pauses. Looks around. Leans in closer and whispers….

    “I am a terrible gossip.”

    • Excellent – can’t wait to share this one!

    • While a highly amusing joke (trust me, I laughed), I would just like to add that Rome would defrock a priest who repeated anything he was told during the Sacrament of Reconciliation. That is why you sometimes get story lines in movies and t.v. shows were the police are badgering a priest (who sometimes is made to look guilty, sometimes just dopey) into telling what the suspect confessed to.

      • Uh… Yeah.


        1. I don’t think getting drunk in a bar counts as “the seal of the confessional”
        2. I don’t think Rome has jurisdiction over every priest. (RCC are not the only ones with confession and communion)
        3. It’s a joke. If they were ducks instead of priests, would we be arguing about how they talk.
        4. Someone is taking this way too seriously, and I think it might be me. 😉

        • OK Sharkie, I hear you. I did not mean to diss Anglicans, the Orthodox, or anyone else. And like I said, I laughed. I just figured some people might really worry about gossiping priests, and I wanted to assure them it would never happen…
          I hope we are cool!

    • Thanks Sharkbait, for the joke…good one.

  3. I think what most people fail to realize is that being a full-time pastor is a full-time job that comes with all of the ups and downs of being in said job.

    About four years ago, my mom decided to get her minister’s license with [Denomination Redacted] and I ended up being along for the ride in that I helped her a lot in her coursework and followed her to ministers’ meetings for some moral support as well as being a set of ears that catches things being said most people don’t pick up on. The one thing I immediately caught onto is the fact that pastors realize that whilst their job is one that generally requires a call of God to get into, it’s still a career with a corporate ladder, office politics, and the ups and downs of work.

    It’s easy to think that every man (or woman! Yay Mom!) in every pulpit is called by God to preach, but let’s face it; being a pastor is a career just like any other one to a lot of people. It’s why you have multi-generational lines of pastors, pastors who don’t believe in what they sell to their congregations, pastors who don’t like their jobs, pastors who feel locked into their career because it’s what their fathers did, pastors who feel burned out, and pastors who feel their career is going nowhere because their congregation just won’t grow, and they can’t get that raise that they desire.

    I guess starting to hob-nob with folks who have Rev. before their names really opened my eyes to this in a way that whilst I understood it was what people did for a living, it contains the same types of people with the same frustrations as any other job because it involves, well, people. We just think as congregants who only see our pastors on a handful of occasions a week that their job is the best in the world and assume it’s nice and perfect when it totally isn’t.

    • You have walked through the looking glass, my friend. After pastoring a house church, it’s hard for me to contemplate going back to an institutional church, with all the typical problems that come with it.

      • It’s weird to say, but it’s kind of kept me in the church. The de-beatification of your pastor in this manner is far better than watch it happen through some sort of ugly failure. You just shrug your shoulders and move on.

        Of course, what helps is the fact I work in a state-level leadership capacity in a ministry that has allowed me to observe machinations and make meaningful relationships with people that see the big picture and work to ensure we stay on task doing God’s work. The bonus is that when a church member sneered at me about something at a district event, and the district superintendent walked up to me right then, shook my hand, and started talking to me on a first-name basis. The look was priceless and I wanted to stick my tongue out at the guy. :^D

      • My pastor told me of a conversation he had with another pastor from a church plant. He said, “Why would you ever want to go back to driving a Chevette when you’ve been driving around in a Rolls Royce?”. I know this seems counter-intuitive. The big church should be the Rolls, but now that I’ve been in a church plant (which started as a house church) I can’t see myself going back to big church.

    • I am with Matt – althought I think some big churches “get it,” I am a fan of small groups. I am currently working with a pastor to plant some churches here in New England. We beleive in mentoring, training and equipping and releasing. We also beleive that not one of us has all the answers. As a group of 5, we are on to something – and God is opening door after door.

    • The whole calling/career issue is a tough one to navigate. I edit a magazine for United Methodist clergy, and that’s actually going to be the theme of an upcoming issue. Climbing the ladder, competition over better appointments, etc.

      As a pastor’s wife, I actually liken the clergy life (at least in the UMC) to a combination of being in the military and being in politics. The hierarchy has control over where you live, when you change jobs, etc., as in the military, but you are always being watched and judged, like in a political family.

  4. I get skeptical when people start accusing others of “not being Christian.”

    Whose standard are we using? If your answer is “the Bible,” please consider that it’s sometimes more complicated than that (not everyone brings the same experiences of God to their Bible reading that you do… and so sometimes different people see different things on the same page!).

    By your standard, they may not be Christians, but come on these are real people with real dreams and real lives… could it be that they just use a different standard? Or could it be that they see things in terms beyond rubrics and standards?

    Kindness people… not a license for oppression, but room to do good and help others flourish.

  5. Well, there are any reasons we fail as Christians. Sin is the big one though… Many would like it to see failure as flawed doctrine, but the problem for mankind is relationship – or the lack of it. Sure there are the guys that get into ministry with their own ideas – I was a young, idealistic and on fire Christian once. I rarely prayed for others, I studied the Bible to get head knowledge, and finally after tours of the Anglican, Independent Evangelical and Southern Baptist churches (they were all good and doctrinally sound!) I met a very mellow, but full of the Spirit, worship leader, and he sat me down and taught me to be led of the Spirit – scary stuff for a smart guy with Bible school, seminary and lots of opinions and good ideas about church. “The sheep know His voice,” he said, “and you’ll never live out your destiny on God without hearing from Him.”

    The deeper problem is in church structure – which is basically the same for most denominations as General Motors – and it shouldn’t be. If we are looking for a solution, we should spend some time in Ephesians chapter 4. We have become a pulpit centered, God entertain me church for the most part. What Paul said was that we were a body with gifts, training gifts, equipping gifts and other spiritual gifts that we coud use to show, and witness the power and love of Jesus both in an out of the church. If you read the book of Acts, it was not just what happened inside of church, it was outside as well. The church needs to be equipped to manage the ministry outside as well as inside.

    I have written a ton of blogs – well like 20 or 30 – about this at .

    I love pastors and when I was in Brazil I had a chance to minister to them and it was a great pleasure. What I love even more is a body of believers working to achieve their destiny in God, and be a functioning part of the body!

    If I had $200 grand, I’d be on plane after plane doing everything I could for the Kingdom of God. I’d speak, carry bibles for anyone that need my help, preach and minister until I was broke again.

    And you’re right, Matt, you might need some therapy. ;o)

    Thanks for another great message.

  6. I respect any bi-vocational pastor. We don’t have any of them in my church, but we certainly have TONS of people who work and volunteer, and a few who volunteer a lot. It really does keep people “grounded” when they have to do that and it more than likely keeps those pastors from falling into any of the problems (sins) we’ve seen with large ministries in the past. Wonderful post!!

    This is a link to an article by Craig Groeschel called “Full-time Pastor, Part-time follower of Jesus”. Part of the problem with being a pastor is that we forget that we are Christians first. We have to spend time with God and spend time in His Word or else we start to fake it. We point out the specks of dust without dealing with our own planks. Thanks for the thought provoking message this morning.

  8. Man, what a sad revelation. Thanks for the thoughts Matt. If only we’d stop worshiping the man on the pulpit. It’s the same thing every time I go to church, people gawk over the pastor like he’s a spiritual celebrity.

    Anyways, does anyone ever feel they’re not allowed to talk to their pastor honestly about an issue the pastor is doing for fear they’ll be labeled “disrespectful?” I bet some of these pastors Matt is referring to are total control freaks. It’s a way to glide by with all the sinfulness and stop the congregation from calling them out. I’m not sure. But most pastors I’ve met around my county have been very controlling.

    Me, if I was a pastor, I’d take $666 million to leave.

  9. I wouldn’t say that I’ve worked for a man that did not believe in God, but a reasonable argument could be made that my first boss probably wasn’t called to ministry. You name a characteristic, gift, or ability a pastor should have – according to the Bible – and he lacked it.

    As for me, I’m a full-time pastor now. I used to be bi-vocational, too, and I actually found it to be difficult, but then again, I was also a full time student and a married guy. I had a lot going. I feel very blessed, because I know a lot of bi-vocational guys, and I know it’s tiring at times.

    Thanks for the disturbing post. It was eye opening, even if it was a little depressing, and it makes me think about what I need to do for myself spiritually to make sure this story can’t be written about me in twenty years.

  10. I read the same article. I had trouble believing it myself. You would think that at least they would follow the Bible’s admonisions against lying and find some other type of work being that they are living a complete lie by remaining in ministry while not actually believing in it’s most rudimentary concepts.

  11. As the child of a minister of music/youth and one who is heavily involved in the ministry (on a volunteer basis) as an adult, while I see this as sad, it’s really not that surprising. I know I’ve been through times where I knew all the facts, but I just didn’t believe it anymore. I kept up my various ministries during that time, at first because I didn’t realize where I was (I was too busy!), then later because I knew I’d get over it eventually.

    Except for the one pastor who knew going in that he didn’t believe what he’d be preaching, I’d bet that each of these men started out believing everything they were supposed to believe with all of their hearts. Over the years, disillusionment with the church has gradually moved them from believing to just knowing, then finally to not even trusting the facts of Scripture anymore.

    While I absolutely agree that they should remove themselves from the ministry at this point (or be removed by their congregations/hierarchies), I can see how hard it would be too. The one who sees it as “play acting” is the most reprehensible of the bunch to me, but all of them have gradually taken on a role that is very hard to set aside. A pastor’s life (especially one who is paid by the church full-time) is completely wrapped around his pastorate, with very little of anything outside of it. To ask them to leave their job is to ask them to completely change their lives. And without a belief in God calling them to completely change their lives, I would see very little incentive to do so, especially since almost everyone would assume some sort of sexual sin being the “real” reason behind the resignation. Who wants to open their family up to that speculation, true or not?

    My pastor, fortunately, is not that great an actor. Well…either that or he’s the best actor in the world who consistently acts like a bad actor, but I think I’ll choose to give him the benefit of the doubt. :)

  12. Over the years, I have heard a homily (that’s Catholic for “sermon”) or two (maybe three….) from priests that did not conform to Catholic teaching. I gently confronted the priest after Mass. While I was just as gently dismissed, I did try in a respectful way, and believe that if more of us had done so, we may have at least wore him to think about what he was saying next time.
    Oh, and in case you are wondering, I have heard homilies that are convicting and have caused me to think differently and pray more, and I have mentioned that to the priests who have given them, too. I don’t know much how to “minister” to priests except to let them know when they have been particularly helpful and how much they are appreciated.

  13. I have to wonder about these pastor’s ‘flock’ if you will. If the pastor’s don’t even believe what they preach, are they really that good at acting that no one in their congregation has a little red flag come up?

    Makes me wonder how many people really know their pastor. But then people buy into Joel Osteen…

    • In the early 90’s I met a guy that was on fire for the Lord. He had come to faith in a crusade in South Africa some years before. He was really was converted – radical. When I met him he was a missionary to Romania ministering at our church as a guest. At one point he was in South Africa and looked up the man who had led the crusade. At his home he saw all sorts of black arts objects. Of course as a Christian he was pretty freaked out. So he asked the man, how can you do this as a Christian, have all these objects of witchcraft? He replied, I am not a Christian. I just do the crusades for money – and good money at that. If I can get a few thousand folks to an arena, give a sermon and altar call, I average about 3 dollars per person.

      As it turns out, he had studied videos of folks like Billy Graham and other televangelists.

      I know disappointing –

  14. A few years ago, I had a job interview for a youth ministry position in a mid-sized church. I was being interviewed by the search committee of about 8 people including the pastor. I was in seminary at the time and someone asked me about my plans to be ordained. I said I didn’t plan to be ordained. The pastor was incredulous. He said he would highly recommend I reconsider that decision because I was leaving a lot of money on the table available from the denomination available only to ordained clergy.

    Now, I was the one to be incredulous. This was an ordained clergy of my very large denomination advising me to reconsider being ordained because of the money available to me. And he openly said this in front of his congregants.

    The article you mentioned was very disheartening–but unfortunately not surprising.

  15. Philippians 1:16-18 (New International Version)

    The latter do so in love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. The former preach Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing that they can stir up trouble for me while I am in chains.But what does it matter? THE IMPORTANT THING is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, CHRIST IS PREACHED. And because of this I rejoice.

  16. I’m bi-vocational and I’m not going to lie, I’d much rather be only pastoring. I feel like there are so many missed opportunities and though I can’t do it all myself either way, I sometimes feel like I don’t even have the time to encourage others to get involved. For now, I am a full-time pastor and a full-time state worker, but I definitely wouldn’t take $200,000 to walk away…

    On an unrelated note, I think Fat-Cat Pastors sounds like a name for a sad swing-music cover band. I would totally buy their album though.

    • That would be an awesome band. And I’m with you, there are many days I’d like to just be a pastor. But there was a time when I did not think I could be bi-vocational, and it has been a transformative experience for me.

      • I was bi-vocational, but not as a pastor. I did short-term missions, and guest spoke about 3 Sundays a month. I did find it tough to switch gears, but the regular check made my wife much happier – well, except for the mega offering I got in Asheville – she really liked that too.

        I still would love to be full-time, but for now, the doors have not yet opened. It is humbling and a lot of Christians expect ministry folks to be a pastor of a “regular” church, whatever that is, or president of a para-church ministry.

  17. reminds me of the mother teresa story in which someone mentioned that they would not do what she did for a million bucks – to which she replied, me neither.

    love it.

  18. Our pastor is sincere, i believe. The problem is – i’m finding – that he is teaching a doctrine of bondage. Legalism has the result of tying the people of God up in knots – wondering if they are “really” saved, or if they can know they’re going to heaven, or is the next little mis-step going to knock them out of the running?

    This church, this pastor, REALLY love Jesus. They are friendly. They are concerned for folks & not just in a social-justice way. But they also think “we’re the only ones ‘doing it right'” – so that they cut themselves off from the rest of the body of Christ. They can’t possibly speak to those other churches because they’re not “doing it right.”

    There are other problems & i’m really torn as i have a heart for this congregation & see so many things they are doing right. The wrong things are only like a small drip from a drippy faucet. But those drips sure add up.

    I’ve tried to talk to this pastor about some of the issues. I try to be gentle in doing so. He hears what i’m trying to share. But he only sees me as being critical of him. I don’t want to be. I LIKE him & i believe he does mean well. But my heart hurts that what he is preaching doesn’t leave room for the freedom we should have in Christ, but bondage & (for me) despair.

    We’ve cut back on our attendance there. I don’t think i’ve said this well, for i do think it is a good church that loves Jesus, but my heart aches for what is being preached in addition to the love of Jesus.

    • Kathryn, using Matthew 18:15-17, I guess your next step would be “to take one to two other persons with you, so that ‘every accusation may be upheld by the testimoney of two or more witnesses,’ as the scripture says. And if he will not listen to them, then tell the whole thing to the church. Finally, if he will not listen to the church, treat him as though he were a pagan or a tax collector.”

      BUT…from reading what you have written, this would be very hard. I therefore suggest taking it to the Lord in prayer, and asking Him what He wants you to do. Whether stay or go. I pray He will make the way clear for you.

  19. So, so, so interesting. Kudos for the JD Salinger reference. Catcher in the Rye is one of my faves. That’s the most interesting thing to me, though… how does no one at the church know how phony the pastor is? Or are there a bunch of other people in leadership who feel the same was as the pastor?


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