As Pastoral Credibility Erodes, How Can We Respond?

As Pastoral Credibility Erodes, How Can We Respond? by Glenn Packiam for Christianity Today

Perhaps God wants to reshape our view of authority.

I squeeze into the middle airplane seat, politely apologizing to the person who got up from his aisle seat for me to get in. As I set my backpack down, trying to decide whether to grab my noise-canceling headphones, I greet the older woman in the window seat next to me. I opt for my book, kicking my backpack under the seat in front of me. Seat belt buckled, I settle in for my final flight of the day, hoping to making a dent in the chapter that awaits me.

“You from Nashville?” the woman asks.

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“No, ma’am,” I reply. “I’m from Colorado Springs. I’m heading to Nashville for
a conference.”

She smiles and nods. We both look away. I fiddle with my book; she returns to her crossword. I feel like I should return serve and ask her about where she’s from. She fills in the requested details, and I’m quite sure all the required talking is now complete.

Then she asks the question. “So, what do you do?”

I sigh, not audibly, but certainly in my heart. I should have grabbed my headphones, not my book, I think.

I briefly contemplate a generic answer, knowing the mere mention of my vocation can be a real conversation-stopper, but opt instead for the truth.

“I’m a pastor.”

She breaks out into a grin. “I knew it!”

“Really?” I am genuinely surprised.

“Yes!” she says with a knowing nod and a confident smile.

“How … ?”

“You just have the look.”

I laugh, briefly considering my wardrobe selection: blue jeans, high-tops, a black T-shirt, and an olive bomber jacket. Yeah, maybe I am a bit of a cliché at the moment.

As the smiles fade, I can’t help but wonder: I look like a pastor? Should I take that as a compliment?

Then I glance over at her crossword puzzle—it’s Bible trivia.

Ah. She meant it as a compliment. I think.

A bleak picture

Pastors do not hold the place of community esteem they once did. According to Barna’s State of Pastors report (2017), only about one in five Americans thinks of a pastor as very influential in their community, and about one in four doesn’t think they’re very influential or influential at all. The truth is, influential or not, many Americans don’t want to hear what pastors have to say. In 2016, Barna found that only 21 percent of Americans consider pastors to be “very credible” on the “important issues of our day.” Even among those Barna defined as evangelicals, the number only rises to slightly over half. Think about it: Nearly half of American evangelicals don’t see their pastors as being an authoritative voice for navigating current affairs.

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