Thursday, March 03, 2022

Why Your Pastor Won’t Help You Now

Michael O’Fallon, host of the very worthwhile Sovereign Nations podcast, says he’s perplexed.

Some time ago he discovered a very nasty kind of false teaching was creeping into the churches in his denomination, a false teaching prepared in the fires of Marxism but now channeled by respected evangelical sources. It seemed obvious to O’Fallon that the first people who would be concerned and who would have a stake in understanding the danger would be those charged with maintaining sound doctrine on behalf of the church.

Pastors, of Course

For him, that meant the pastors, of course. Who else would be urgently interested in maintaining truth in the face of rapidly-spreading falsehood? Who else would be sufficiently educated to quickly grasp the dangers of pernicious doctrine? Who else would be positioned to sound the alert to congregations everywhere, or at least to perform some proactive feeding of the flock so they would be fortified against the onslaught of error? Surely it would be the religious professionals, right?


Much to his dismay, what O’Fallon discovered was that almost to a man the pastors were uninterested in anything he had to say. Any interest they showed in the topic quickly dried up the moment he was finished speaking to them. Supplied with relevant books and materials, they did not bother to read them. In short, the near-universal response from pastors was indifference. Why would that be?

Michael O’Fallon does not venture a guess. But I think we can. It’s a product of the fact that they are pastors.

The Problems with Pastors

Why do I say that?

Well, first, we should consider what the modern-day job called “pastor” really is. It’s a career. However, it’s not an easy one. One church consultancy group took the time to prepare a full job description outlining what is expected of a new candidate for the pastorate: it amounted to a 123-hour-a week job. Think about it: the pastor does preaching on Sunday, which requires exhaustive study and prep every week. He is also supposed to marry, bury, and celebrate births. He’s to visit not just the sick, the elderly and the lonely, but the whole congregation at regular intervals. He’s to manage church affairs. He’s to sit on the leadership committee, and to do something to manage every board the church invents. He’s to oversee the Sunday School, the youth program, and the raising up of additional personnel. He’s to oversee the building, the grounds, and the various church outreaches. He’s to evangelize. And when any personal or theological fire breaks out, he’s to lead the fire brigade.

He’s at least to pretend he never gets tired or needs a break. He’s not to complain or offload his duties. He’s to remain relentlessly cheerful and moral under the scrutiny of all congregants. He’s to manage all the politics of the church. He’s not to let his personal life interfere with his duties. He may not even be expected to sleep if the occasion requires his presence. He’s to be chief visionary, leading the people into the future with a sense of purpose and spiritual momentum. He’s to campaign for the promotion of missions, advertise good causes, muster the congregation for social activity, and personnel-manage his staff, if he has one … all this, and much more. Oh, and while he does, he’s to keep his marriage exemplary and his children all behaving well … even if (effectively) they don’t have a father in the house anymore.

What a Pastor Is

That’s what a man signs up for when he signs on to become a pastor. Still, some men choose it as their career. In exchange, what they usually get is a modest salary with perhaps some benefits — more, perhaps, if they’re lucky enough to get a megachurch — maybe health insurance (maybe not), a very modest retirement plan (maybe not), plus the satisfaction of knowing that they are in one of the most meaningful and important roles they could possibly occupy … even if it does nearly kill them.

Job security is not one of the perks in this career. A pastor can expect little certainty amid the politics of church life. A political debacle of some kind, a personal crisis or a moral failure, a change in membership or accidentally stepping on some landmine of controversial teaching can end the pastor’s tenure very suddenly and in unpleasant ways. Every pastor knows this. If he doesn’t, he doesn’t last long.

The bottom-line fact is this: what career he has is entirely dependent on the goodwill of his congregation. They pay his salary — what there is of it — and their pleasure determines his longevity. Not only his own income but that of his family depend upon his continued popularity, or at least acceptability, as do the continued tenures of any under-pastors or administrators who serve on his staff. The few peers and friends he has outside his congregation are likely from the same general social group; and those who are pastors are likewise subject to all the political dangers he faces. If he messes up, he messes up for far more than himself. He can split or destroy his own congregation very easily. He can damage his own family. He can lose professional credibility and collegiality with his few trusted friends. In fact, his whole well-being hinges upon an unbelievably delicate balance of politics. He must guard his life and his speech with superhuman vigilance, or his career is dead.

That’s what a pastor is.

Maybe you don’t think about that because you’ve never been one, or wanted to be. But maybe it’s time you thought about what you’re asking and expecting of such a man.

The Pressure on Pastors

Who would want to be a pastor?

Perhaps nobody in his right mind. But some do. There can actually be fairly superficial motives for preferring a pastor’s life over life in the larger world, such as the desire for admiration and a following, or the inability to function in a regular job. Let’s not kid ourselves: there are such cases. But I think it’s fair to say that many pastors think more about the idea of being committed to God and working tirelessly for his kingdom in a role they recognize as materially unrewarding but spiritually significant. Fair enough.

But what O’Fallon has discovered is that pastoring is also a career … a very perilous career, one with little security, big consequences, and no end of politics in it. And when you look at it that way, you can understand very well why the pastors in question did not simply leap to the study of leftist social justice, Critical Race Theory and woke theology when O’Fallon pointed these things out to them. These trends are general social trends: they already have widespread approval and credence in secular society. And they come loaded with hot issues like race, gender and sexuality. Influential evangelical organizations such as The Gospel Coalition and The Southern Baptist Convention have already given official approval to these ideologies as wholesome theological alternatives. Charismatic media preachers — David Platt, Beth Moore, Al Mohler, Tim Keller — have come out in favor of such teachings. And congregations listen to these teachers and donate to these organizations. To speak contrary to them is to create, at least in the short term, hot controversy in a pastor’s own back yard. It’s hugely dangerous.

Pastors are practised in negotiating with factions, with pacifying controversy, in cutting deals, in pouring oil on troubled waters. They have to be. And as they must stand before politically-mixed congregations every week, they are obliged to give careful thought to how every word they say will hit the ears of their listeners. I’m not going to accuse them of compromise; at the same time, there’s no wisdom in fomenting controversy where none needs to exist, right? So, everything the pastor says tends to be delivered with grace and tenderness, a gentle hand. That’s just smart. If there’s a place for thunder-and-lightning preaching, it makes sense to reserve it for those issues upon which the congregation is likely to be, or to become, largely unified. Nobody pays you to smash the church with schisms. That’s not what they hire pastors for.

The Present Danger

The scary thing, though, is that O’Fallon is not wrong. While there are advocates of the new “woke gospel” springing up on every side, there are also very capable expositors and even secular philosophers who have become alert to the recent poisoning of the well of evangelical Christian doctrine. On the Christian side, Tom Ascol, Voddie Baucham and Douglas Wilson. On the secular side, psychologist Jordan Peterson and James Lindsay, the most famous and doubtless best-informed critic of this new theology, who has said, “If I was still an angry atheist and wanted to destroy the church, I’d make it woke.” (i.e. believing in the “theology” of social justice).

The intrusion of leftist social justice propaganda into the church is a thing of no small significance. I would suggest it’s the biggest case of outright false teaching I’ve seen in my lifetime … and maybe in any lifetime since the early church. It comes in with a smiling face of “love”, “tolerance”, “openness”, “anti-racism”, “fairness”, “inclusion” and “dialogue”, while seriously undermining every major doctrine the evangelical church has, from ecclesiology to morality to salvation. There isn’t a single important belief the Christian church has historically held that is not seriously subverted by collusion with the Neo-Marxist teachings of our broader social ethos, now baptized into the church as a new theology of social justice.

So why won’t your pastor help you with this? Because you’ve made it nearly impossible for him to do so. You’ve paid him off, and you’ve warned him off. You’ve made it far too potentially costly for him personally if he were to take up the word of truth against the tide of politically-correct babble that’s now rushing into evangelical churches from all sides. You selected him for his people skills, his management style, or the popularity of his oratorical delivery, and you put him in a singular place of vulnerability to popular opinion. It would take a Hercules of moral integrity to stand for truth in the face of the consequences he’s likely to have visited on his career, his reputation, his social circle and his family.

Maybe you hired a man of that stature. Maybe. But what do you think the chances are?

You’re Not Going to Like This …

Now let me come after you. You’re not going to like it, I warn you. I’m going to be blunt, because that’s what the times require; and if we had not been pussy-footing around with political correctness for the past few decades or so, we would not be in the mess we’re in right now. And if you are a moderately well-taught, Bible-believing Christian, you’re already going to know that what I’m about to say is the truth. So take it or leave it.

You did this.

When did you do it? You did it when you hired a man to be pastor. If you know your Bible, you knew that scripture always refers to “pastors” as elders, and mostly as unpaid folks who are mature, well-taught, sober, of good reputation and upstanding moral character and with a heart for God, to impart strong leadership to your local church in a time of need. You know the Lord also intended you have actively-growing young people standing for truth alongside you, and it was your job to raise them. You know that God intended every church to have a good supply of such people.

But you didn’t want that. You wanted a hired man. You wanted a professional. You wanted to be like the denominations. You didn’t want to BE the solution; you wanted to BUY the solution. So you made excuses for disobeying scripture, and you bought yourself a man. And now you get what you paid for.

Look Somewhere Else

Well, as for the men who have taken the office of “pastor” and are not up to the challenge, now we’d best let God deal with them, because you and I have been complicit in putting them in a position that makes it much harder for anyone to defend the flock. I suspect you’ll find that the congregation will continue to look for guidance to that pastor of yours, and you will seem like an irritating theological amateur, complaining about things they don’t really understand: “If there were a problem, wouldn’t the pastor know it?” people will ask. And they’ll give you an especially hard time if the pastor you’ve hired has refused to inform himself (as O’Fallon’s experience suggests is happening) or has actually joined himself with the worldly masses and the various nominal Christians pursuing social justice theology down the broad road that leads to destruction.

So, don’t look at your pastor to protect you from what’s coming. Chances are he won’t. He never really could, anyway. Your spiritual life and health always depended on you. If you can’t be bothered to be sound in doctrine yourself, don’t expect you’ll even know if your pastor isn’t.

So what now? It’s late. But you’ve got to protect yourself — and your own loved ones, your own congregation. There is no alternative. That means getting yourself informed about things that even your pastor doesn’t want to know. It means reading about and understanding the philosophical and theological dangers that are presently at our door, and alerting other Christians to them. And it means speaking up instead of letting a hired professional do your spiritual watchdogging for you. Time to man up, think up and speak up.

And if you don’t, then don’t expect anybody will. There’s nobody left to do it.


  1. "I would suggest it’s the biggest case of outright false teaching I’ve seen in my lifetime … and maybe in any lifetime since the early church."

    The first part may indeed be correct. The broader latter clause would take some historical analysis to evaluate. I've been reading of late "Dominion" (Tom Holland, 2019, Basic Books, NY) which in a very readable format traces the history of Christian thought and action starting with Greece, the Jews of the OT, the apostle Paul and onwards. His thesis is an interesting one and the work I highly recommend. But I digress...
    Throughout the history of the confessing Church there have been a lot of whacky ideas which generated horrific and horrendous acts.

    On the whole idea of wokeness, and Marxist social justice ideas and agenda which has entered the church, I think it's worth considering this in a larger framework of: the effects of culture on the church, which is true everywhere and at all times. This is a massive topic in and of itself. Like the other giants of postmodernism I think the church should be aware of such dynamics and engage with them, demonstrating e.g. their fundamental fallacies w.r.t the gospel of Jesus Christ, and the places where perhaps some of the seminal ideas were good but have gone off track. I think the likes of Tim Keller on the pastor side of things and Kevin Vanderhoozer on the theological side have made worthy efforts to do so.

    Blessings to you and yours,

    1. Well, on the subject of Tim Keller, perhaps we'd better let the man speak for himself, I think.