Could changing culture affect attitudes toward pastors?

Could changing culture affect attitudes toward pastors?

Most of the time when Kevin Johnson meets people, he doesn’t tell them right away that he’s a pastor.

“I usually keep the pastor identity in my back pocket,” said Johnson, pastor of First Baptist Church, Florence, in Colbert-Lauderdale Baptist Association.

It’s not because he’s ashamed, he said — he just wants them to feel comfortable in hopes that he will get the chance to share Jesus with them.

“I usually hold the pastor card as long as possible so that they will not be intimidated or act different,” Johnson said.

When he finally tells them, he gets a variety of responses. Some are surprised, some withdraw and others open up more, he said.

“Unfortunately our culture has given preconceived ideas of pastors and therefore we often are judged before we are introduced,” Johnson said. “That is why I try to connect with them first so that it might dilute any preconceived ideas they have concerning a pastor.”

Johnson isn’t alone in knowing he’s got an uphill battle when it comes to public opinion of pastors. A recent study by Barna Group, titled “The Credibility Crisis of Today’s Pastors,” showed that American adults are varied in how they view the leader of the local church.

About a quarter have a “very positive opinion of pastors in general,” the study showed. A slightly larger percentage reported a “somewhat negative” or “very negative” view.

Another quarter didn’t give them or their influence much thought.

The level of respect that Americans have — or don’t have — for pastors is an important marker for churches in an age where church attendance is declining, Barna reported.

And Arnold Hendrix, pastor of First Baptist Church, Atmore, in Escambia Baptist Association, said he can see the change happening quickly.

“I remember as a child growing up in a Christian home, everything changed when the preacher was around,” Hendrix said. “His presence called for somberness and reverence.”

Even the unchurched would change the way they acted when the preacher was around, he said.

“I guess us kids behaved this way out of respect and maybe a little fear. I don’t see that at all happening today.”

That reality is both good and bad, Hendrix said — bad because it doesn’t seem pastors are respected as having a divine calling.

“Probably the media and the moral failures of some prominent preachers in recent times has contributed to this, as well as those preachers who do not live up to the biblical standard for pastors,” he said.

‘Regular people’

But the difference doesn’t have to be all bad, he said.

“It’s good because we get to see and interact with people as they are. We are ‘regular people.’

People don’t put on a show in the pastor’s presence any more — churched or unchurched people,” Hendrix said.

And pastors, he said, hopefully don’t put on a show either.

“This means that often we can make an honest connection with people, establishing a dialogue and a relationship with them not based on pretense or hypocrisy but on who they really are,” he said.

Johnson said living in that reality is a way pastors can adapt to the culture — not to become like it but to meet it where it is with the gospel.

“We must adapt to the changing times but stay true to God’s Word,” he said. “One thing I realize is that culture has changed immensely but God has not.”

And according to the Barna study, a large percentage of U.S. adults still believe pastors are of “some benefit” to the public. That number is even higher if they have a personal connection with a pastor.

“This leaves significant room for pastors to continue to make a positive difference, in spite of the seeming crisis of credibility plaguing their occupation,” Barna said.

Johnson said personal connection and positive difference is what he’s after.

“God expects the same from the pastors He calls today as He does from the ones He called in years past,” he said — and that’s to show the love of Jesus to people who need Him. (TAB)