Posts tagged ‘Pastors’

Is the Internet Replacing the Pastor?

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Credit: Ben White on Unsplash

A new survey finds that fewer and fewer Americans are seeking guidance from clergy.  According to a poll released last week by the Associated Press and the NORC Center for Public Affairs Research:

Three-quarters of American adults rarely or never consult a clergy member or religious leader, while only about a quarter do so at least some of the time … While the poll finds a majority of Americans still identify with a specific faith, about half overall say they want religious leaders to have little influence in their lives.

According to Tim O’Malley, a theology professor at Notre Dame, part of the reason behind the reticence to speak with a clergy person can be traced to technology:

In American life, there has ultimately been a broad rejection of “experts” apart from the person searching for the answer on his or her own.  Think about the use of Google.  You can literally Google anything.  Should I have children?  What career should I have?  When should I make a will?  How do I deal with a difficult child?  In this sense, there has been a democratization of information based on the seeking self.  You can find the information more easily through a search engine than finding a member of a clergy.

Professor O’Malley’s observations are not only true culturally, they are also true for me personally.  When I have felt ill, I have Googled my symptoms to see what I might have, which according to my searches, usually turns out to be a dreaded and deadly disease.  When I have needed to fix something around the house, I have Googled how-to guides to walk me through a project step-by-step.  It is not surprising that many people would do the same thing on issues about which they used to consult clergy.

And yet, this trend away from clergy consultations is not necessarily always beneficial, nor is it inevitable or irreversible.  This same poll also notes:

Nearly half say they’re at least moderately likely to consult with a clergy member or religious leader about volunteering or charitable giving.  About 4 in 10 say they’re at least moderately likely to consult about marriage, divorce or relationships.

There are things for which people still seek out clergy.

As a member of the clergy myself, this research certainly piqued my interest.  For those reading who are also clergy, this poll should serve as a reminder that we must be faithful, biblical, caring, and compassionate in our callings.  If we are sloppy in our pastoral care, distant in our conversations, theologically vacuous and trite in our comforts, or harsh and unsympathetic in our guidance, we can and will be replaced by a search box and some algorithms, which may or may not turn up good results.  For those who are reading who are not clergy, my plea to you would be to remember that the Church is not just a dispenser of information, but a place for conversation.  The value of sitting down with a pastor is that he may invite you to ask questions of yourself you may not think to ask if you’re just typing terms into a search box.  He is also commissioned to share with you not just his wisdom, but God’s Word.

One of the people interviewed as a part of this study, Timothy Buchanan, notes that the move away from consulting clergy is part of a broader trend:

People don’t know how to have personal communications with other folks when you need to ask questions or need to get help.  For instance, we’ve got some issues with our health insurance plan, so I spent an hour today Googling … instead of just picking up the phone and calling somebody.

This is keen insight.  As access to information on a screen becomes increasingly easier, reaching out to find personal interaction can feel cumbersome and burdensome.  But even if googling stuff is faster and easier, this truth remains:  we need each other.  Internet searches cannot fix real world loneliness.

As a member of the clergy, then, my invitation to anyone who needs a pastor is this:  a pastor would love to be able to love and care for you.  That’s a big part of what got many pastors got into this business.  So, if you’re in need, don’t just read a blog – including this one – pick up the phone and schedule an appointment with your pastor, or, if you don’t have a pastor, with a pastor who is part of a biblically-based and Christ-centered congregation.  Your struggle or question or grief is important – because you are important.

Google may be able to tell you that.  But it can’t show you that.  So, reach out to a person who will.

July 15, 2019 at 5:15 am 1 comment

Paying the Preacher – 1 Corinthians 9:3-14

It has become an all too well known story.  A renowned pastor with a gigantic ministry has more money in his personal coffers than Fort Knox hides in its vault.  A local news organization comes in to investigate the pastor’s lifestyle and what is revealed shocks believers and appalls non-believers:  private jets, sprawling mansions, excessive luxuries.  And the pastor at the center of it all seems to spend more time fleecing his flock than shepherding them into the green pastures of God’s Word.

With such scandalous abuses littering the history of the modern American Christian Church, it is no surprise that many people look at their pastor’s paycheck with at least a little bit of suspicion.  “What’s really going on financially behind the scenes?” someone may wonder.  Indeed, recently, I received a question from someone concerning 1 Corinthians 9, where Paul argues that those who preach the gospel should be duly compensated for their labor.  The apostle writes:

This is my defense to those who sit in judgment on me. Don’t we have the right to food and drink? Don’t we have the right to take a believing wife along with us, as do the other apostles and the Lord’s brothers and Cephas? Or is it only I and Barnabas who must work for a living? Who serves as a soldier at his own expense? Who plants a vineyard and does not eat of its grapes? Who tends a flock and does not drink of the milk? Do I say this merely from a human point of view? Doesn’t the Law say the same thing? For it is written in the Law of Moses: “Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain.” Is it about oxen that God is concerned? Surely he says this for us, doesn’t he? Yes, this was written for us, because when the plowman plows and the thresher threshes, they ought to do so in the hope of sharing in the harvest. If we have sown spiritual seed among you, is it too much if we reap a material harvest from you? If others have this right of support from you, shouldn’t we have it all the more? But we did not use this right. On the contrary, we put up with anything rather than hinder the gospel of Christ. Don’t you know that those who work in the temple get their food from the temple, and those who serve at the altar share in what is offered on the altar? In the same way, the Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should receive their living from the gospel. (1 Corinthians 9:3-14)

A few things are especially notable in Paul’s arguments in these verses.  First, in verse 3, Paul makes a “defense” of his ministry.  The Greek word for “defense” is apologia, a technical term for a legal defense in a court of law.  Thus, there are some who are questioning the very validity of Paul’s ministry.  Interestingly, however, his antagonist’s accusations seem to flow not from the fact that he’s being compensated to preach the gospel, but from the fact that he’s not being compensated!  Paul frankly admits that though he has a right to receive remuneration for his preaching, he “did not use this right” (verse 12).  The argument of his detractors, then, is this:  “You only get what you pay for!  And you’re not paying Paul anything!  Thus, you’re not getting good preaching!  So you should turn to us!  Our preaching is better that Paul’s because we’ll charge you for it!”  This, of course, is the reasoning of a charlatan.  Compensation or lack thereof does not make the message of the gospel any more or less true.  The gospel is the gospel, regardless of remuneration.

With this in mind, Paul continues by explaining that his free preaching of the gospel does not mean that all pastors should not be compensated for their work.  Paul quotes Deuteronomy 25:4 to prove his point: “Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain” (verse 9).  In ancient Israel, an ox, while he pulled a sledge around a threshing floor to separate the kernels of grain from their husks, would remain un-muzzled so he could eat some the grain while he was threshing it.  Thus, just as ox eats his grain as payment for his labor, so should a pastor be compensated for his labor.  Indeed, Paul concludes: “The Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should receive their living from the gospel” (verse 14).

So what does all this mean?  Well, on the one hand, Paul warns against those pastors who have a sense of entitlement because of their preaching of the gospel.  A pastor should never say, “My preaching is great and therefore I deserve an exorbitant paycheck,” as those who were disparaging Paul’s ministry were saying.  On the other hand, Paul clearly says that a congregation should faithfully support its pastors.  Indeed, one of the things for which I consistently thank God is the way in which my beloved Concordia supports me as a pastor – and not only me, but all of the pastors here.  I praise God for the faithfulness and generosity of Concordia’s members.  And it is my intention and prayer, by the Spirit’s power, to serve Christ’s Church well and faithfully all the days of my life.

I am one who makes my living from preaching the gospel.  And preaching the gospel is a weighty task.  But it’s also a blessed privilege.  I am thrilled beyond words that I get to do it.

Do you have a theological question you would like Zach to answer on his blog? Email him at
zachm@concordia-satx.com.

February 25, 2010 at 4:45 am Leave a comment


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