The Loss of Pastoral Credibility in the Age of the Internet

Rockwell - Freedom of Speech

The Internet has introduced a new level of visibility to areas of our social life, exposing certain uncomfortable realities. Rod Dreher recently wrote a perceptive and troubling piece on the way that the Internet reveals corruption and abuse within the Church and other institutions, provoking a reaction of distrust and a loss of these institutions’ effective authority. While the dramatic collapses of trust in the institutional authority of the Church following the exposure and scrutiny of cases of abuse may receive the most attention, there are other ways—albeit slower and more gradual—in which this trust is being eroded. Perhaps the most significant of these in my experience has been our greater exposure to Church leaders and their thinking.

On Twitter earlier today, I remarked that the Internet exposes the fact that most people were never trained to function effectively in the context of an argument. As forms of discourse such as debate, disputation, and oral cross-examination are largely absent within people’s education, relatively few have the ability to keep a level head in an argument, to have a close rein on their passions, to spar with opposing viewpoints, to open their strongly held beliefs up to questioning and challenge, or to operate well in contexts that allow for the expression of many different perspectives and arguments.

Many contemporary forms of education privilege non-agonistic modes of discourse, seeking to avoid confrontation, combat, and threatening challenge, and to foster an inclusive, egalitarian, affirming, and safe community. People trained within such contexts are affirmed and protected from exposure to direct, forceful challenge and opposing voices. The modes of discourse privileged and taught within such contexts are heavily weighted towards the non-oppositional and involve little direct disputation or interaction between opposing voices. As Walter Ong has observed, the individual voice of the essay displaces the conflicting voices of the disputation. While other voices may be represented within the essay, they are much less directly engaged.

All of this leaves people singularly unprepared for the world of the Internet, where they are exposed to opposing viewpoints and have to engage with them more directly. People who can appear to be brilliant in non-oppositional forms of discourse can crumple when subjected to critical cross-examination or manifest themselves to be emotionally incapable of interacting in a non-reactive manner with contrary perspectives. No doubt we can all think of many instances of this online. However, my concern in this post is to draw attention to how commonly I witness this failure in pastors and church leaders.

On the Internet, one soon discovers that many respected church leaders are quite unable to deal directly with opposing viewpoints. In fact, many of them can’t even manage meaningful engagement with other voices. Their tweets may be entirely one-way conversations. They talk at their audiences. They can talk about other voices, but fail to talk to them, let alone with them. Their representations of opposing viewpoints reveal little direct exposure to the viewpoints in question. They may talk about ‘postmodernism’, but one has good reason to believe that they have never read any postmodern philosopher. They make bold generalizations about ‘feminism’, but you can be pretty certain that they don’t know their Butler from their Greer or their Irigaray. When they are actually exposed to an intelligent and informed critic, they reveal themselves to be reactive and ignorant. Their views are quite incapable of withstanding the stress-testing of disputation.

Around this point, it can start to dawn on one that many church leaders have only been trained in forms of discourse such as the sermon and, to a much lesser extent, the essay. Both forms privilege a single voice—their voice—and don’t provide a natural space for response, questioning, and challenge. Their opinions have been assumed to be superior to opposing viewpoints, but have never been demonstrated to be so. While they may have spoken or written about opposing voices, they are quite unaccustomed to speaking or writing to them (not to mention listening to or being cross-examined by them). There are benefits to the fact that the sermon is a form of discourse that doesn’t invite interruption or talking back, but not when this is the only form of discourse its practitioners are adept in.

Many church leaders have been raised and trained in ideologically homogenous cultures or contexts that discouraged oppositional discourse. Many have been protected from hostile perspectives that might unsettle their faith. Throughout, their theological opinions and voices have been given a privileged status, immune from challenge. Nominal challenges could be brushed off by a reassertion of the monologue. They were safe to speak about and habitually misrepresent other voices to their hearers and readers, without needing to worry about those voices ever enjoying the power to answer them back. Many of the more widely read members of their congregations may have had an inkling of the weakness of their positions in the past: the Internet just makes it more apparent.

A system is only as effective as its weakest component in a particular operation. The same is true of the human mind and the communities formed around thinkers. Where the capacity of agonistic reasoning is lacking, all else can be compromised. If one’s opinion has never been subjected to and tried by rigorous cross-examination, it probably isn’t worth much. If one lacks the capacity to keep a level head when one’s views are challenged, one’s voice will be of limited use in most real world situations, where dialogue and dispute is the norm and where we have to think in conversation with people who disagree with us.

The teachers of the Church provide the members of the Church with a model for their own thinking. The teacher of the Church does not just teach others what to believe, but also how to believe, and the process by which one arrives at a theological position. This is one reason why it is crucial that teachers ‘show their working’ on a regular basis. When teaching from a biblical text, for instance, the teacher isn’t just teaching the meaning of that particular text, but how Scripture should be approached and interpreted more generally. An essential part of the teaching that the members of any church need is that of dealing with opposing viewpoints. One way or another, every church provides such teaching. However, the lesson conveyed in all too many churches is that opposing voices are to be dismissed, ignored, or ‘answered’ with a reactive reassertion of the dogmatic line, rather than a reasoned response.

I believe that there are various problems in the Church that are exacerbated by this. Where they are led by voices that can’t cope with difference or challenge, churches will tend to become fissiparous echo chambers, where people are discouraged from thinking critically about what leaders are saying and doing. The integrity of the Church’s theological conversation will not be tested through criticism and challenge. Churches that are led by such leaders will habitually develop polarized oppositions with their critics.

Growing attention is being given to the problem of engaging men in churches. I suggest that developing contexts of dispute, debate, questioning, and challenging dialogue in churches is one of the solutions to this. It has often been recognized that men have a particular affinity and appreciation for oppositional and agonistic discourse. An over-reliance upon the pedagogical form of the sermon leaves persons who learn and think best through sparring in dialogue without a good context within which to learn, or to develop skills of thought and argument that could be of immense benefit to the Church.

Finally, as many young people leave our churches, claiming that their questions were never taken seriously, it seems clear to me that the incompetence of church leaders when it comes to interacting with opposing viewpoints is a crucial dimension of the problem. Young people are less shielded from opposing viewpoints than their parents, especially given the role played by the Internet in their lives. They are more likely to realize just how incompetent church leaders are in their attempts to deal with critical and dissenting voices (to whom the Internet has granted a voice) and how heavily their credibility has formerly rested upon the absence of the right to talk back to them.

The crisis of moral authority that Dreher identifies is thus accompanied by a crisis of theological authority. In both cases the only answer will be found in the formation of new patterns and structures of leadership and the raising up and training of leaders who can survive this new level of scrutiny. While difficult in the short run, in the long run this could be of great benefit to the Church.

About Alastair Roberts

Alastair Roberts (PhD, Durham University) writes in the areas of biblical theology and ethics, but frequently trespasses beyond these bounds. He participates in the weekly Mere Fidelity podcast, blogs at Alastair’s Adversaria, and tweets at @zugzwanged.
This entry was posted in Controversies, Culture, On the web, Society, The Church, Theological. Bookmark the permalink.

197 Responses to The Loss of Pastoral Credibility in the Age of the Internet

  1. whitefrozen says:

    To be fair, disciplined methods of study don’t solve everything – the scholastics would break out in riots in the streets from time to time. Which is a pretty funny thing to think about.

  2. Bill Smith says:

    I think that you are on to something here. How can we begin to train leaders to interact with those who have different views? I would also add that I don’t see the situation being any better with what goes on outside the church,

    • The situation may even be worse outside of the Church. However, when a view is in the cultural ascendency, those who hold it can much more easily get away with misrepresenting and failing to engage with others.

      The first step is to teach people to be attentive to other voices, to learn the importance of questions, and to be less precipitous in rushing to answers. This starts with close attention to the biblical text itself. In a Sunday school setting, for instance, rather than jumping to the interpretation, get people to reflect upon the text. To listen to it. To listen to it again. To listen to it yet again. Get them to think primarily about what questions arise from the text, rather than the questions that they bring to the text. As you start to move towards answers, encourage people to raise questions about the answers in turn. Many questions will be settled along the way and many false positions dismissed. However, the point is not to reach a position beyond all questions, but to create a biblically and theologically normed conversation that has integrity.

      People need to learn what healthy and faithful Christian questioning looks like, in contrast to the uncommitted scepticism that often passes for questioning. They also need to learn the psychological process that this entails: such skills as the ability to live without immediate answers or to cope with cognitive dissonance, without jumping to the first ‘solution’ that presents itself. They need to learn to hold themselves and their perspectives in question as part of the questioning process.

      From this foundation, I would start to expose people to opposing viewpoints, teaching them the importance of honest engagement, of tarrying with people’s questions and feeling their force before giving answers, of giving truthful answers, rather than easy ones (‘I don’t know’, for instance), etc. This might begin with playing devil’s advocate from time to time. I would also try to teach the value of choosing good interlocutors and, where possible, to work towards engaging with opposing viewpoints at their best.

      • Bill Smith says:

        Very helpful. You comments confirm my experience. I think that you should expand on this topic in writing. Do you know of anyone else who has reflected on this topic and is a good communicator. It should be a person who has practiced it.

      • I don’t, unfortunately. I wonder if anyone else who has commented does?

      • Ellis Potter, who was a Zen Buddhist before becoming a Christian, has a very good talk on The Importance of Asking Honest Questions which fits very well with the issues raised here. The talk can be downloaded from

        I’m also reminded of James K A Smith’s discussion of Charles Taylor’s A Secular Age – our age is secular not in that “we are a-religious or no longer believe, but that we live in an age in which no belief system is axiomatic. Our beliefs are contestable, and we know it.”

        The Information Age we live in contributes to that contestability of beliefs by exposing us to a multiplicity of different voices. Neil Postman in his book Technopoly has many insightful things to say about the effect of the information glut created by modern technology, not least the breakdown of traditional structures of information control, such as the family, religion and the state. He argues that to make sense of the world, especially moral sense, we need structures for deciding what information we admit as relevant and useful.

        Postman says: “the function of theories [is] to oversimplify, and thus to assist believers in organizing, weighting, and excluding information. Therein lies the power of theories. Their weakness is that precisely because they oversimplify, they are vulnerable to attack by new information. When there is too much information to sustain *any* theory, information becomes essentially meaningless.” (Kindle loc 1097).

        It’s a big challenge. I do think that Christian leaders need to be better at engaging in discussion and dispute, but it’s not enough simply to offer up additional competing information – it needs to support the presentation of the Christian story as a framework for meaning, as a compelling way of interpreting information in a way that makes sense in our lives. We don’t just need to be better listeners and arguers, but better storytellers.

      • Very helpful comments, Caleb. You raise some important points. I first read Technopoly in my early teens. It was a very formative book in my thinking, especially after subsequent re-readings.

      • truthunites says:

        “The situation may even be worse outside of the Church.”

        I was thinking that the phenomenon you write about might also apply to high school teachers and college professors. These folks traditionally give lectures that are uni-directional. The rise of the internet (or google) will, should, or has given rise to skepticism towards these traditional authoritative teaching figures. So it’s not just pastors or youth ministers who have to think and engage in disputatious discourse in gracious ways.

      • Thanks for the comment.

        As college professors will typically be involved in conferences and debates with their peers and will have to engage with other voices in publications, I suspect that the problem is mitigated in certain of their quarters. Unfortunately, there are other problems here, as the college context becomes more ideologically homogeneous and closes out ‘objectionable’ voices, for instance.

        The problem is particularly keen among Christians, who are definitely not in the cultural ascendency. Liberals may be able to get away with misrepresenting and misunderstanding Christians more than vice versa.

      • Mark Breese says:

        Well said (written). Spot on. We in the church and humanity in general must learn to discourse or enter into an age of darkness.

    • Michael Kreger says:

      The biggest problem I have seen is the arrogance that is inculcated into seminary students by people who should know better.

      “Our preacher boys are the best students in the entire school! They are the leaders of the future! The godly ones, sold out for Christ!” [unlike the rest of you maggots, who are slaves to filthy mammon of unrighteousness, except when we want your money for our building projects].

      Meanwhile, the rest of us recognized that many of these preacher boys couldn’t find their way out of an empty room, and we shuddered to see such an entitled, superioristic mentality being poured into the ears of these poor, unfortunate souls. “Momma-called and Daddy-sent” is how my grandfather, a pastor of 50 years, used to describe far too many seminary students.

      “We teach our ministerial students that they answer to the BIble, to Jesus Christ, and to a small group of their peers.”

      I actually read this absurd declaration on the website of a seminary. Ministerial students are taught that they do not answer to their own congregation. Is it any wonder, then, that they act so arrogantly toward anyone who doesn’t approach them with the proper degree of fawning reverence? “Come back and talk to me once you have earned YOUR seminary degree,” they say, sneeringly.

      Seminaries should focus on several passages in an effort to correct the flawed philosophies and attitudes of the past and present:

      Jeremiah 23:1-4

      Matthew 20:20-28

      Mark 10:35-45

      And, if the point still hasn’t sunk home,

      Luke 22:24-27

      Two of the greatest figures in history, Jesus Christ and Moses, were noted for their meekness; their humility. Too many “preachers of the Word” are noted for their arrogance – their hubris – in their dealings with others.

      As has been said,

      “That man sure is humble.”

      “Yes, but then again, he has so much to be humble ABOUT.”

      • Thanks for the comment, Michael. Definitely a warning to each of us not to think more highly of ourselves than we ought. Knowing the limits of our knowledge and competence may be humbling, but it is so important.

      • John S says:

        Michael, I agree with the premise of your comment, but in my personal take on your communication it does not come across that your call to humility is much accompanied by it. For example the use of personal anecdotes that it seems to me you are applying nearly universally to seminaries and pastors. The use of all caps, and terms like maggots, superioristic, absurd, sneeringly etc. creates a certain perception.

        Which brings me back to the question at hand. And makes me wonder if my response to your response is even appropriate, if i should engage or just close my mouth, err, keyboard and be concerned with folks in my own sphere (ie personal, real life relations) rather than exert time and energy in the cyber world which is, frankly, a whole lot easier to do.

        Which is another aspect to consider in this whole new realm of living. Pastors may need to learn to engage more effectively but the more pastors (and any people) are engaging via cyber space the less we are engaging real life. Which probably means the less we are engaging the local church and getting our hands and lives dirty with real issues not just doctrinal debate. Is there more pastoral (and church) credibility to be gained through humble, gracious discourse or humble, self-giving servanthood? What I experience in the world is less personal relationship as cyber life grows. I think we have to fight for the proper balance in the church or we begin to lose fellowship, hospitality, evangelism and the like.

      • “Is it any wonder, then, that they act so arrogantly toward anyone who doesn’t approach them with the proper degree of fawning reverence?” BINGO.

  3. Will Dole says:

    Very much agreed. I have noticed in youth ministry the quickness of many leaders to attempt to snuff or stiffle questions from students, rather than grapple with how God’s word applies to them or would answer them.

    Curious though, what do you think this would actually look like in a church? What sort of forums might be created where this sort of learning might happen?

    • I started an answer to this in my response to Bill Smith. It could begin with the way that the pastor reveals a healthy and circumspect thinking process in his sermon. A Sunday school or Bible study setting presents more possibilities.

  4. mnpetersen37 says:

    You do know that the rhetorical force of a comments box pales in comparison to the rhetorical force of an unending blog article? (/joking)

    Though I wonder if what we need is not so much pastors who have considered everything–since most pastors are average, and half of them are below average–but a lived and embodied commitment to Word and Sacrament (and sacramentals), so that our appetites, physical and rational, desire and will, are moved by love, as in a circle, around the Bread and Wine, and the Word.

  5. Peter Jones says:

    Alistair, as a pastor, this was a great and convicting post. Thank you for posting it. I think part of the key for me, as I have tried to overcome those weaknesses you described, is understanding what I do and don’t know. I cannot spar on every issue. At this point in my ministry (at the age of 37) there is still much I do not know. I think many pastors and other church leaders can end up getting in over their head by debating topics they feel strongly about, but have not researched thoroughly enough to debate with accuracy. This is not an excuse to be lazy in either research or methods of debate. A pastor should be able to defend his conclusion, help his flock process how he arrived at the conclusion, and deal competently and carefully with objections. But it is reminder that we cannot be experts on everything. Sometimes it is better to just stay out of the internet debate instead of jumping in and playing the part of the fool.

    • Thank you, Peter. Yes, that is exactly right. I entirely agree.

      Credibility is built in no small measure upon knowing when to keep one’s mouth shut. Exposure to opposing voices is a great way of acquainting us with the limits of our knowledge and competency and protecting us from the Dunning-Kruger effect, which can be especially common among pastors. If we are prepared to put the weight of our words behind demonstrably uninformed opinions, our words will no longer carry much weight with our hearers.

  6. Hans says:

    Thank-you for the thoughtful article. This subject is begging for an entire book to be written on how to integrate this commitment (to rigorous engagement) into the life of the local church.
    In my own experience, I’ve found that volunteering to lead interactive Bible studies at a local jail can be an helpful context by which an aspiring pastor can sharpen his debating / apologetics / interacting skills. Following is a brief summary of the benefits that I’ve discovered through volunteering as a chaplain:
    1) Doing this regularly can provide a future pastor with 10-20 times the amount of apologetic engagements than they would’ve had if they had simply waited for these engagements to happen in the course of their life / studies.
    2) If a person serves regularly, they will begin to see the same family of questions show up again and again. This repetition can truly be helpful – as it enables the future pastor to sharpen their responses to common objections.
    3) If given the freedom to do so, inmates will often poke their hand up right in the middle of a study and ask for clarifications, offer helpful insights, or attempt to run off on an occasional rabbit trail 🙂 This constant engagement can help the aspiring pastor learn to handle debates, interruptions, and deal with push back.
    4) The context itself is not overwhelming, and one does not need to be an apologetic / theological Ferrari to personally grow and have an impact in the lives of others.
    Anyway, thank-you again for the insightful article. I long to experience further growth in the areas you have raised.

    • Thanks for sharing your experience in this area, Hans. What you are describing sounds like a great way to develop the sorts of skills, ways of thinking, and forms of teaching that we need.

    • mark says:

      I guess jails are the same everywhere. I also do a jail ministry and have found the same to be true. Good insight, and good recommendation. For most people the jail is a dangerous box to be in, but as you know it really isn’t. Its a great class room, and a wonderful opportunity to impact the lives of truly needy people. Keep up the good work.

  7. Andrew says:

    ‘People need to learn what healthy and faithful Christian questioning looks like, in contrast to the uncommitted scepticism that often passes for questioning.’

    What, would you say, is the difference between the two at the level of the questioning?

    As you go on to say, it is important to learn how to deal with not having answers. That’s not an easy thing do. General scepticism, of the rationalist variety, is one way to do it, and I would say an easier way to do it than a questioning Christianity. Mostly because, psychologically, and at face value, the sceptic believes they have nothing to lose – they are cast upon the open world of free enquiry. Theirs, in principal, is a position of indetermination towards the world or, further still, there even being a world. In this sense, there are no answers. For the Christian this is not, and cannot be, the case. Questioning is an act of faith.

  8. Bill Smith says:

    I must confess that I benefited from every comment on this blog. This is very unusual. Alistair, I think you found a hot spot.

  9. keithp says:

    Thank you very much for this well-thought-out article, Alastair. Not only did I profit from your reflections, I came away having added a new word (fissiparous) to my vocabulary.

    What you say about pastors being trained in discourse that favors one voice has implications for pastoral counseling (an area of particular interest to me) as well. Over the years I have met numerous ministers who love to preach in a large public setting, but who feel ill-equipped to address the particulars of individuals’ lives with the same biblical truth in a one-on-one setting. I think this is in part due to what you say about their being trained in discourse that lacks “a natural space for response, questioning, and challenge,” all of which are elements of counseling. Sermonizing gives us control because it is free of surprises. Conversation requires, among other things, the ability to listen and respond in a much more spontaneous manner.

    On another note, it has long puzzled and frustrated me that most seminary programs I’ve seen lack a class in argumentation or informal logic. While it certainly isn’t the panacea for the ailment you’ve identified, I think the inclusion of such would certainly be another small step toward equipping pastors to not only better engage in disputation, but be more adept at recognizing and avoiding fallacious reasoning in their own preaching and teaching.

    • Thanks for the comment, Keith. The points that you raise are really important.

      I’ve noticed that many seem to approach conversations in apologetic or evangelistic contexts in a rather ‘scripted’ manner, in a manner that denies people the possibility to speak with a voice that is distinct and truly other from our voices: they must speak the part that we have established for them. There is the underlying expectation that the other person’s perspective, questions, identity, or situation shouldn’t be allowed to disrupt what is essentially a unilateral conversation, where we present our message. Anything that they bring to the conversation must be forced into the mould of our script. If they don’t hold the unbelieving position that they are ‘supposed to’, we must push them in that direction, or distort their position to make it fit. What is lacking is any real listening or attention, any sense that we might have something to learn from them. I can’t even begin to list the many problematic ways in which this fundamental posture works itself out.

      • Philipp says:

        You have an interesting point, Keith, but I think we must be careful not to assume that perceived inadequacy is necessarily reflective of actual weakness (the Dunning-Kruger effect again, perhaps?). I have known a pastor who thought himself best at leading bible-studies, good at preaching, and really quite bad at providing spiritual counsel, when his actual strengths (to judge only from my own experience of him, of course) were the reverse: his bible-studies tended to be hampered by excessive dogmatism, his sermons were indeed good (though limited by the homiletic tradition to which he belonged–he tended to find it difficult to actually give moral instruction to his congregation), and he was a sympathetic and often wise counsellor. He was a naturally ebullient and strong-willed man, and I think that the humbler position that the uncertainties of counselling forced him to adopt actually stood him in better stead. In sum, then, I suspect that further training is not always the solution: greater humility is.

        A (perhaps) related point (forgive me for hijacking this sub-thread, but I would prefer not to force Alistair to respond to too many comments): I think we should be careful not to demand too much of pastors, who are often busy and (as another poster has pointed out) average men. Yes, it is true that one should have some knowledge of (for example) feminist theory, if one is going to write a serious critique intended to warn academics or other intellectuals of the dangers one perceives in modern feminist thought. The lack of such specialized knowledge is a real deficit in a lot of apologetic literature, which tends to deal only at a popular (and thus often at an erroneous, or at least oversimplified) level (an unwillingness to engage in serious dialogue has, incidentally, always been a feature of apologetic debate, as even a casual look at a work like Jerome’s ‘Against Vigilantius’ would show). However, most people are never going to have more than a popular understanding of the issues involved, and there is no reason, so far as I can see, that someone who is writing for such an audience needs necessarily to know more: to use one of your examples, Alistair, talking about Butler or Irigaray when your audience has never heard of either and couldn’t care less about the details of their thought may itself be a major rhetorical blunder (and, incidentally, it might be more effective, in writing against Irigaray, for one, simply to play up the very real stupidity of some of the things she has said, especially when she has blundered into scientific matters). A great deal of modern ‘feminism’ or ‘postmodernism’ bears no resemblance to any kind of carefully thought-out philosophy, and it may well be desirable to build a polemic against it that operates on a similarly simple level. I might not find such a critique satisfying, but it still has its place.

      • Thanks for the comment, Philipp.

        You are absolutely right that we should not expect too much of pastors. I don’t expect my pastor to be aware of the latest developments in philosophy or equipped to converse with them. However, what I do expect is a knowledge of his own limits and a refusal to speak dogmatically to issues that he doesn’t know much about.

        The point you make about Irigaray is actually a good example here. By blundering into the realm of physics and questions of the theory of relativity and fluid dynamics, about which she clearly knows little, she devalued her voice in many people’s minds, which is a great pity, because she actually is a valuable interlocutor in many other areas. My concern here is that pastors don’t fall into the same trap.

      • bonnielin says:

        This is so true. There is a tendency to immediately pigeon-hole the other person and assign him to some opposing camp. He is snap-judged and written off, out of hand. When he protests, he is viewed with cynicism and distrust. He is regarded in a reductionist manner (at best) or considered an equivocator.

        BTW I am enjoying this discussion. The tendency to avoid question of one’s views is part of prideful human nature, so it’s no surprise that it becomes institutionalized. We would do well to rediscover the Socratic method as a teaching method, not just to help pastors and other leaders learn to respond to opposition, but to encourage strong, independent thinking to begin with.

      • Thanks for the comment.

        Your point about ‘strong independent thinking’ really is crucial and I don’t think that people appreciate just how important it is. Non-agonistic forms of training tend to make people dependent upon social or some other form of affirmation. They tend to produce more conformist modes of thinking and the inability to handle dissent.

        By contrast, a more agonistic or dialectical way of learning trains one to be more independent in one’s thinking, more capable of handling difference, and more equipped to fight one’s corner. It also develops a healthy confidence. Non-agonistic thinkers are always at risk of depending upon external affirmation and group approval for their confidence. They will need to surround themselves with like-minded people, because without being part of an approving ‘herd’, they may be afflicted by self-doubt. Agonistic thought trains one to develop an understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of one’s own thought that doesn’t depend so heavily upon external approval and affirmation, enabling a greater degree of independence and non-conformity.

  10. Tim McMeans says:

    Wow. This article was linked by a FB friend and I didn’t expect much. I was wrong. This is a brilliant piece. How interesting that so many of the early church leaders, were brilliant men of unquestioned intellect. They could reason and defend their faith clearly and thoroughly. Thanks for the reminder that since God is the Author is all wisdom, we would be wise to equip ourselves to explain and defend what He has entrusted to us with great care and reason.

  11. Raoul Kingma says:

    Thanks for another insightful piece. I think that your points have a great deal of import for parenting as well, where similar issues arise, such as talking at your children instead of with them.

    Any thoughts on how to make church leaders and pastors more aware of this problem? I think many don’t even realize that they are such a factor in the demise of their own credibility, but I’m not sure how to go about showing them this in a way that doesn’t prompt a reactionary response.

    Raoul Kingma

    • Thanks for the comment, Raoul.

      When it comes to approaching such issues with Church leaders, I think that a lot of humility, grace, and wisdom is required. Church members directly and openly calling into question the approach of Church leaders can be very problematic and be perceived as a threat to their authority. For this reason, it needs to be clear that one is not seeking to undermine, challenge, or oppose their authority. If someone has been placed in leadership over us, we honour and submit to that leadership. The way that particular issues are approached within this framework will vary from person to person and situation to situation. Framing things much less as an accusation than as a positive suggestion accompanied by affirmation of what they do well and submission to their leadership is a good place to start. Leadership can be a thankless task and leaders will always be more receptive to the thoughts of those who naturally notice, appreciate, and praise what they do well. Like any matter of interacting with people effectively, it is more of an art than a science.

  12. Glad to read a fuller version of your thoughts on this after following your tweets. In my experience UCCF was a great context for robust listening and dialogue. In part that was due to the kind of evangelical diversity between staff that invited mature and maturing discussion in a context of collegiality and clear ministry focus. There was also a pedagogical environment where iron sharpens iron, very capable and motivated people who were a privilege to work with. Finally there was the nuts and bolts of campus ministry, of engaging with world views, of discussion, debate, of working with an age group where learning and development and wrestling with new ideas was natural. I look back on that now and realise just how privileged I was to be involved in it all, and how positively formative it was in the very areas that you highlight in the post.

    • Thanks for the comment, Martin. The experience that you describe with UCCF sounds incredibly helpful. My own passion for theological study was primarily born in the context of theological debate with a particular cult like group that were trying to make converts in my friend’s student group. Learning theology in the context of hostile dialogue forced me to think things through in ways that I might not have done otherwise.

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  14. Paul Kingman says:

    That is a very thought provoking article! I mean that in a helpful way. Would you recommend anyone else’s writings on this? Also, what value does preaching have? if pushed further would it take you down the lines of saying it has had its day or that the day requires more of the preacher?

    • Thank you, Paul. There are various avenues of discussion that could be developed here. My friend Matt Lee Anderson recently wrote a helpful book on the subject of questioning, The End of Our Exploring, which is one example of a worthwhile read on some of the issues raised here.

      Preaching has considerable value and the sermon has definitely not had its day. First, not every form of discourse needs to have the character of the discourse I describe in this post (the post itself probably doesn’t have such a character). Rather, what is important is having minds forged by such forms of discourse, having contexts where such forms of discourse occur, and communicating such habits of thought to congregations. The value of the sermon doesn’t rest on its capacity to perform this task: there are various contexts of Christian pedagogy in the life of the Church. Perhaps our primary task lies in developing the other forms of Christian teaching that complement the form of sermon.

      Second, the sermon can be a place where the thinking process of the preacher is seen. One of the points I touched upon in the post and which I have discussed somewhat more in the comments is the value of demonstrating the process of biblical interpretation and theological reasoning. This is something that the preacher can show from time to time in the sermon, in a manner that equips hearers to follow the same pattern.

      Thanks again for the comment and questions.

  15. Eddie Arthur says:

    Thanks for this Alistair; it’s a challenging and thought provoking piece.

    That being said, I can’t help but think that we have been down this route before. William Carey made very similar discoveries when he started ministry in India; he had to learn to listen to and understand his Hindu interlocutors rather than simply give packaged English answers to their questions. The specifics of our situation in the UK today are different to those faced by Carey (or any one of a host of other cross-cultural missionaries), but the disciplines of understanding, dialogue and gracious communication are the same.

    I realise that pastors are busy people, but I believe that there is much to be gained from a serious engagement with some of the literature that has emerged from the world mission movement. Newbiggin isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but he has a massive amount to say about how we should go about communicating the Gospel in a relatively hostile environment. Likewise, I reckon that David Smith’s Mission After Christendom should be compulsory reading for pastors as well as for missionaries (if you don’t know the book, I quote from it here:

    I would also argue that pastors in the UK need to actively engage with those who have experience working across cultures. Why not invite a church planter from Asia who is home from on furlough to your next minister’s fraternal?

    • Very helpful comments, Eddie. Thank you for sharing at length.

      I think that you are quite right and I also think writers like Newbigin have much to teach us. There is a quotation from Newbigin that I have long found very interesting on this particular openness to dialogue on the part of the church:

      The church, therefore, as it is in via, does not face the world as the exclusive possessor of salvation, nor as the fullness of what others have in part, the answer to the questions they ask, or the open revelation of what they are anonymously. The church faces the world, rather, as arrabon of that salvation — as sign, firstfruit, token, witness of that salvation which God purposes for the whole. It can do so only because it lives by the Word and sacraments of the gospel by which it is again and again brought to judgment at the foot of the cross. And the bearer of that judgment may well be and often is a man or woman of another faith (cf. Luke 11:31-32). The church is in the world as the place where Jesus, in whom the fullness of the godhead dwells, is present, but it is not itself that fullness. It is the place where the filling is taking place (Eph. 1:23). It must therefore live always in dialogue with the world, bearing its witness to Christ but always in such a way that it is open to receive the riches of God that belong properly to Christ but have to be brought to him. This dialogue, this life of continuous exchange with the world, means that the church itself is changing. It must change if “all that the Father has” is to be given to it as Christ’s own possession (John 16:14-15). It does change. Very obviously the church of the Hellenic world in the fourth century was different from the church that met in the upper room in Jerusalem. It will continue to change as it meets ever new cultures and lives in faithful dialogue with them.

      In another comment, I remarked upon the overly ‘scripted’ character of much Christian evangelism and the unilateral character of a pseudo-dialogue with the world. I think that developing a principled openness to learning from engagement with the insights and questions of others is tremendously important. I recently quoted Oliver O’Donovan making similar points about the value of arguing without changing our minds here.

      Thanks for the helpful comment.

  16. oneofthem1s says:

    Just going to throw this one out there… I think many church leaders would be worried about encouraging this kind of critical thinking and engagement even within themselves because they feel it could lead them – and their flock – to doubt themselves and their faith. In a sense they feel they must protect their beliefs at all costs, and not allow themselves (or their congregation) to be influenced by opposing views outside of their insular belief system. Therefore best to promote the idea that ‘what we believe is undoubtedly correct, and we must be careful not to give other views equal attention because the enemy wants to deceive us’. Of course, as you say, I too think the internet is fast negating this effort.

    • Thanks for the comment.

      I think that you may be right and it is a pity. That isn’t to say that there aren’t genuine dangers here. First, part of healthy questioning involves the development of the nerve necessary to avoid jumping too precipitously to new positions, the nerve to tarry with cognitive dissonance for a time. Second, it would not be healthy were this approach to be practised in a manner that atrophied commitment, leaving us with some form of a sceptical relativism. The Jamie Smith article I linked on the difference between orthodox doubt and liberal scepticism draws an important difference here. Third, such processes of critical thinking are extremely important for a healthy Christian faith, but only as one of several elements, most of which are less immediately about thinking at all. Our critical thinking must be practised within the broader context established by these practices.

  17. Jonathan says:

    This might be the most relevant set of thoughts on the present state of church leadership culture. It is especially accurate concerning what is happening among conservative evangelicals in North America (and yes, I know you’re reading this from the other side of the “pond”).

    We’re seeing a steady decline in attendance, giving, mission sending, etc… and the leadership response remains along the lines of “more preaching!”

    • Paul Kingman says:

      So, what is your take on the situation Jonathan? there are some who have argued that evangelicalism doesn’t provide a robust spirituality and so people will inevitably graduate to other forms. I personally think that we have settled for too little as the norm and that only a few have skillfully ventured better application eg Langham ministries here in uk, Tim Keller in the States. The missional network has provided more stimulus on gospel change while the approach has been set out by Powlinson & Tripp. Further, it could be that thus is a particularly Western problem with its taste for new things outweighing treading the old paths – something that Packer has brought through advocating a rediscovery of the Puritans.

  18. garryg68 says:

    On a side note, I would say that current American evangelical culture unintentionally discourages this type of interaction because it hampers the drive to create a “brand” or build an audience. The average pastor is pushed/encouraged to create an environment in which numbers define success.
    If a pastor chooses to nurture the necessary relationships needed to enter into these type of dialogues in an equitable and Christlike manner, he must, by necessity, devalue an infrastructure that partakes of the well-oiled machine of our Church age.

    Great article.


    • Thanks for the comment, Garry. You raise an important dimension of the issue here. I wonder whether the centralized structure of churches that comes with the ‘big man’ approach to ministry necessarily militates against the more diverse contexts and the development of more independent voices that such forms of discourse require.

  19. Sean says:

    Thank you for this excellent, thoughtful post. I definitely noticed areas of weakness and ways in which I have contributed. There have even been times when I feel if someone poked, even gently, at a certain line of reasoning in my own mind it would crumble. The comments about limiting ourselves to areas we do know is sound advice.

    Another recently convicting comment I heard in a lecture was the tendency for pastors to absolutize everything that they say. In areas where there can be nuance (secondary and tertiary issues) black and white statements are made. When church members learn there are differences of opinions on secondary and tertiary issues, they may begin to wonder if there are also differences of opinions on primary issues. This is a dangerous trajectory.

    Interestingly, as a group of pastors in a church, we have tried to provide Q&A nights during our evening services, inviting our congregants to submit any questions they wanted us to interact with. We didn’t get any. Not sure the reasons for that. Perhaps it is because they have been so used to an environment where they are not encouraged to do so. A seminary professor recently commented to me that he is surprised, when interacting with pastors one on one, how seldom they asked questions. He encouraged me to consider sermons of the likes of Whitefield and Lloyd-Jones whose sermons are peppered with questions throughout.

    On the other hand, I just came home from speaking at a camp with 30-40 teenagers, mostly from a non-Christian background. Over the course of 5 days they were given opportunity to ask questions, submitting 20-30 of them. This provided an environment where there questions were weaved into messages, and morning devotion times were spent addressing what was on their minds. Wonderfully, this also led to more one on one interactions because, I would surmise, it was more of a two way dialogue than a one way dialogue. I’d love for this to happen more in my local church, just not really sure how to go about it…

    Anyways, those are ways your post is intersecting in my own thinking (as coherently as I can articulate them with little ones ambling around me!). Thanks for the thought provocation!

    • Thank you for a really thoughtful comment, Sean!

      Your point about the absolutization of everything is an important one. Persons who speak with dogmatic force to issues that they clearly know little about, will soon find that their voices are devalued by others. Part of gaining and retaining credibility as a pastor is knowing what subjects to speak to and which to remain silent upon. No person can realistically be qualified to give an informed opinion on everything. This is where a knowledge of our limitations and delegation to people with relevant knowledge is key.

      You mention pastors asking questions. This is really worth thinking about. Listening to sermons is so often a passive task, a matter of being fed answers to our supposed questions. Why don’t preachers take the opportunity to put some fascinating unanswered questions into their sermons, questions that will get the congregation thinking about the text and the sermon after it has finished and which will make them more active in their listening?

      We are also seldom taught to tarry with our questions. The passage is raised and immediately interpreted. As a result, we are not so used to wrestling with the questions of a passage as congregations, while answers are delayed. Reading passages that aren’t commented upon and highlighting unanswered questions of the text might be a good habit for preachers to get into.

      Even if no one is asking questions at the end, something that you could do is to have a panel debate among the pastors themselves, modelling what thoughtful wrestling through issues in conversation looks like. This may or may not involve someone playing devil’s advocate, but it could help the congregation to learn to think in these ways. It would also keep the pastors themselves on their toes!

      Thanks again for a great comment.

  20. Thank you for the excellent content. I have to admit I was with you until the end where you made what I think was a mistake of saying that men need and prefer “contexts of dispute, debate, questioning, and challenging dialogue in churches is one of the solutions to this. It has often been recognized that men have a particular affinity and appreciation for oppositional and agonistic discourse.”

    On behalf of the many, many women who need and prefer this, please do not assume that our needs are being met. This is not just a men problem. It’s a thinking person’s problem.

    • Thank you for the comment, Sallie.

      Re-reading my remarks, I see that I could have made my point here clearer. You are absolutely right: this is a problem for people of both sexes. I was not meaning to argue that this problem is exclusive to or even generally felt among men. I also know many women who, like you, feel keenly the lack of this in their Christian contexts (and the contexts where such discourse does exist are sadly often considerably harder for women to access). My point was rather that, as a group, men are more commonly drawn to this form of discourse in their typical forms of interaction and are the more likely to feel the lack of it.

      Thanks again for the comment and for the helpful push back.

      • Thank you for your kind comment. After I wrote it I wished I hadn’t used the word mistake. Thank you for being gracious and understanding my intent. 🙂

  21. Brian Watson says:


    You write, “I suggest that developing contexts of dispute, debate, questioning, and challenging dialogue in churches is one of the solutions to this.” How do you suggest developing such contexts? What would would this actually look like in the context of a local church? I have been in full-time ministry for six years as an associate pastor and I’m talking to a few churches about being their senior pastor. A common thread among these churches is declining attendance, particularly among younger generations. One of my thoughts as to how to engage younger generations would be to foster such “dispute, debate, questioning, and challenging dialogue.” I’m still thinking about how to develop such an environment and I would invite your recommendations.


    • Thanks for the comment, Brian, and for raising such an important practical question.

      A number of practical suggestions have been raised by various people in the comments already. I made a few points here, for instance.

      Much of what needs to occur is a fairly basic shift from a purely ‘answer-based’ approach to teaching—the attempt to give people the right answers to presumed questions—to an approach that places a higher emphasis upon learning to question well. In a classroom setting, one good practise is to devote an entire class to the task of formulating good questions about a given text. It will help the class to learn just how important the questioning task is, not least because it must arise from a deep attentiveness to the things that we are questioning. Fred Sanders has written one of the most helpful posts I have ever read on this, or any other subject, here. It isn’t a bad starting point.

      This greater valuation of questioning can be embedded in sermons. Congregations might benefit from sermons that left them with fruitful questions. They also need to learn the process of questioning a text. A pastor can describe his exegetical reasoning process as a regular element of his preaching. In these sorts of ways, this more questioning approach becomes constitutive of our engagement with Scripture itself, teaching us in the process to be much more attentive and alert to it.

      In adult Sunday school or catechetical situations, more opportunities present themselves. The teacher in such a context can question, cross-examine, temporarily play devil’s advocate, model debate with other teachers, etc. Churches can host debates, or have theology and apologetics classes within which these skills are taught.

      Like most things, these skills are best learned in practise, so church members always need to be encouraged to have conversations with their friends, colleagues, and others.

      These are just a few starting suggestions: I am sure that others who have left comments could add further thoughts.

      • Brian Watson says:


        My question was more along the lines of, “Should a church create environments in which doubting Christians or doubting non-Christians can ask questions?” I suppose there could be a question and answer time following the worship service, so that people could ask questions of the preacher. Or a church could host discussions on various topics that are being discussed in the world. I can imagine various possibilities for creating room for dialogue, but I wonder how many churches do this and, more pertinent to my own situation, how a church could begin to offer avenues for fruitful dialogue with others.


      • Thanks for the follow-up, Brian.

        At the outset, I think that it is important clearly to distinguish questioning from doubting, which is one form that questioning can take and not the form that I have most in mind. I believe that asking and exposing ourselves to questions is of great value, even—and maybe especially—when it is highly unlikely that we will change our minds. Continual questioning sharpens our thinking and understanding and it is important that we don’t think of it primarily as a state of troubled uncertainty or relativistic scepticism. The questioning that I have most centrally in mind here is a socially practised discourse through which we test the mettle of our beliefs and improve our arguments, acquainting ourselves with other viewpoints and honing our positions in response. There is also a difference between modes of questioning that are corrosive of Christian confidence (e.g. ‘has God really said…?’) and modes of questioning that enable us to deepen our confidence.

        In the case of doubting Christians, I think that it is important to address doubts. However, merely focusing upon answering doubts would be akin to trying to maintain a person’s health by feeding them entirely on medicine. It often isn’t helpful to give public airing to doubts, which can be unedifying, sapping people’s confidence in God’s truth. Typically the best place to address doubts is in private conversation. Also, when people know that their leaders have privately wrestled with the tough questions that they are asking themselves and their faith has remained intact and indeed been strengthened, they will be given renewed confidence in their own wrestling. Sometimes we can live with unanswered questions when we know that people whose intellectual honesty we respect have stood up to them in their full force and remained undaunted. When they see that their pastors haven’t truly wrestled with their questions honestly, however, the effect can be the opposite. The process of questioning that I am advocating is generally a much more positive matter, though.

        The art of asking questions is something that we need to grow into and it is not healthy to throw people in at the deep end, not least because a lot of psychological and intellectual maturity is required. We shouldn’t expect this maturity of all members of our congregations, although all should be trained towards such maturity. The people that we really should expect this maturity from is our pastors, which is why I believe that their questioning is crucial. They are the ones who must show the capacity to stand for Christian truth on the ‘front line’ of the church’s life. Not only do pastors and teachers of the church have a particular responsibility to be mature in this area, they also need to manifest this maturity as an example in order to train others.

        Thus, the primary ‘dialogues’ may often be such things as the pastors’ reading of a wider range of Christian and non-Christian thinkers, the theological depth and intensity of the elders’ discussions and debates among themselves, the degree to which they are exposed to and listen to the voices of other groups in society, etc. For instance, today I was having a discussion with a friend who observed the embarrassment of many Christian arguments against Islam (and vice versa), largely because far too many Christians have attacked Islam without first demonstrating a knowledge of its teachings. Similar things could be said about the credibility that Christians have lost in their response to LGBT groups.

        In some respects, the pastor is like the helmsman and skipper of a vessel in a larger fleet. His crew needs some degree of competency in knowing the ways of the sea, but they also need to trust their skipper’s to navigate. They need to trust his knowledge of the vessel and the sea. They need to know that he knows his limits and that he will ask for the assistance of and follow the instructions of a pilot when he is navigating unknown and dangerous waters. When the crew and passengers of a vessel lose trust in the person at the helm, as I am suggesting is the case in many churches, there is a serious problem. In such a situation, people will cease to follow leadership and will set their own course.

        All of the above is meant to underline the point that, although everyone in the church needs to be trained to engage with challenging and opposing viewpoints, the leadership of the church needs to exemplify this in a very particular way.

      • Brian Watson says:


        Thanks for the additional thoughts. I agree completely with your principles; I was just wondering how those could play out in the church.

        You may or may not have read John Stott’s book on preaching, Between Two Worlds. In it, he mentions two things that are very important. One is the importance of teaching the congregation to think Christianly. In other words, his aim was not simply to say, “Believe this!” but to teach people who to come to their own conclusions based on what God has revealed in the Bible. To that end, he mentioned the importance of knowing what is happening in the world. He even mentioned that he met regularly with university students to watch and discuss current films, or to read non-Christian books that were making waves. The second practice he encouraged of preachers was to ask questions. He said that preaching could be more dialogical if pastors could anticipate objections and clarifying questions. I think the idea of raising important questions can create a sense of dialogue within a sermon, and it can also help people to think well. I always try to help people think well when I preach, but I must admit that I don’t ask enough questions. I will try to keep that in mind.

        Thanks for the exchange,

      • Thank you for the stimulating discussion.

  22. Reblogged this on Blueprints and commented:
    The title of this post is a little misleading, but its main idea is spot on. The author exposes our growing inability to engage opposing viewpoints, which was not a huge liability when many in the church were not exposed to them.

    However, now that we have grown accustomed to wading through a torrent of information every day, we may more easily be swept aside by conflicting ideas if we cannot keep our feet firmly planted. This article exposes the problem and offers some solutions for those of us who desire to teach and extend the Christian faith to current and future generations.

    I strongly recommend teachers, pastors, preachers counselors, etc. to read and consider these ideas.

    Consider the article a cousin to my recent “How to Have an Intelligent Discussion with Anyone About Anything”

  23. Mary Bogan says:

    Is your comment that “it has often been recognized that men have a particular affinity and appreciation for oppositional and agonistic discourse” based on yours and others observations or have their been studies done on the subject? Just curious.

    • There is a body of literature, theoretical, experimental, and observational, around the subject. The work of Walter Ong and Deborah Tannen will perhaps be the most familiar to most on the subject of agonistic discourse (Ong is highly in favour, Tannen more wary). Tannen’s approach, for instance, is mentioned in this recent article. Ong makes the case for this position most strongly in his book Fighting For Life: Contest, Sexuality, and Consciousness. I have reservations about Ong’s approach (which doesn’t pay enough attention to the problems that can be raised by agonism), but I think that he and others who argue that men have a particular affinity for a more confrontational mode of discourse are broadly correct, and not just because it resonates strongly with my own experience. In terms of a more detailed articulation of the sort of culture of agonistic discourse that I would favour more generally, this article by Patricia Roberts-Miller on Hannah Arendt’s approach is a great place to start.

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  25. Jim Peet says:

    Used on Sharper Iron here. Thanks

  26. David Sims says:

    your an idiot

    (Somebody had to. Great article, thanks.)

  27. What an interesting thought! I have always heard that in order to defend one’s own beliefs, one must be able to argue against them better than any opponent. Today, people are so far from understanding their opponents’ arguments that they barely even respond to them. Often when I find myself in a dispute, the other person winds up a) repeating themselves or b) introducing irrelevant material, neither of which is a response to me.

    In addition, I agree that a more active discourse in church would attract men. It has been my experience that men generally take greater relish in a debate than women do, but I never connected this idea to anything pastoral before. Good idea!

  28. RobD says:

    Nice piece.

    This may also explain why most attorneys have difficulty interacting with non-attorneys. Whether it’s in the course of a civil litigation (my former job) or a licensing negotiation (my current job), I spend the better part of my day in adversarial settings. Even though I’m a fairly low-key person, I generally enjoy the adversarial nature of my work. I think it helps people get to the truth faster. In that sense, I tend to see the adversarial process as a truth-seeking process, and not as fighting. So, I don’t take it personally when the other side has a stronger argument. In many such cases, they actually may have better facts on their side.

  29. matdvor says:

    One way that a spiritual leader/writer loses credibility with me quickly is when one writes an article about something like “Pastoral Credibility” without using the slightest hint of a reference to scripture.

    • Michael Kreger says:

      Pay him no mind, Mr. Roberts.

      He cited no scripture in his comment, which means he has no credibility.


    • In an attempt to correct an earlier text prediction problem while swiping a response on my phone, I accidentally published an incoherent response too soon. Take two!

      Thanks for commenting, even though we clearly disagree here. I think that my arguments have a strong implicit bearing upon pastors’ handling of Scripture, which is clearly of crucial importance for their credibility. The importance of Scripture in my understanding of pastoral leadership is made more explicit in various of my comments below the line. As for my views of Scripture more generally, you won’t have to look far on this blog to find deep and extensive treatments of the biblical text, or arguments about Scripture’s importance in pastoral leadership and teaching.

      The argument above was not a comprehensive study of pastoral credibility, but a very specific point, for which explicit reference to Scripture was quite unnecessary. If I had wanted to, I could have made my points with reference to various biblical texts, particularly from the pastoral and catholic epistles. However, to do so would risk mischaracterizing my argument, presenting it as resting upon the interpretation of key biblical verses and passages, rather than more general principles of wisdom.

      It is important to recognize that, although I don’t make extensive reference to Scripture in my arguments, I make them in service of Scripture’s authority within the Church. The scriptural teaching of pastors is one of the primary practical means of the authority of God within the church. When pastors lose credibility through their failure to control their anger or their failure to recognize the limits of their knowledge, the practical authority of Scripture itself in the church is undermined by their actions. Likewise, when pastors are protected from the challenge of dispute, it is their private opinions that tend to be elevated over the authority of Scripture itself. Exposing ourselves to sharpening theological and biblical dispute is a means by which the authority of Scripture is continually prosecuted against our private opinions and thus is established in authority over us.

  30. Excellent Article! I think you are right on in your observations brother. Personally, my mother, father, and brother are all lawyers. They still urge me to leave the ministry and go into law school lol. From my earliest memories (4-5 Yrs old) my parents began training me and my brother in the skills of debate and rhetoric in hopes that we would both go to law school and continue the family practice. I am now about midway through Seminary, and I have been very disappointed with the communication skills of many fellow students. I think you are exactly right, and many come from backgrounds where their views have never been challenged, and they are trained to be preachers which reinforce their one-sided perspectives. My wife and I are both 1st generation Christians, which places us in a situation where we are surrounded by lost people all the time. Our entire families are lost and so as much as I love preaching, we still spend a lot of time engaging with secularists on my side and devout Roman Catholics on hers. I have already seen many young men leave seminary and go pastor only to find themselves without a job shortly after. Several times I have heard these men accuse the congregations of not loving the truth when in reality, many of these men go and shove their opinions down their parishioners throats. Great article!

  31. Susan Raber says:

    Something I’ve learned over the years is that when a pastor is challenged, his reaction tells me about his heart, and how confident he is in what he believes. The compassionate and studious pastor sees a challenge as an opportunity to teach and minister, and his Biblical foundation results in a gracious and long-suffering response. The hireling, however, feels threatened by questions because he is guarding his territory and vying for a position.

    • That is very true, Susan, thanks for commenting! Also, when a congregation sees that their pastor is threatened by questions, those questions become more threatening to them. Leaders who can hold their nerve and keep a level head when faced with tough questions help everyone else to do the same.

  32. Nell Parker says:

    Any pastor whose immediate response to difficult questions or disagreements is concern for his authority, should not be a pastor. It is more about him than Jesus. Camp Kanakuk has an “I’m third” award. Christ first, others second and me third. Pastors(and all Christians) should think the same way.

  33. Alastair – excellent post – and brief to! – thank you! Lots of comments too – afraid I haven’t read them all…

    Very much in agreement. Just one point I would like to probe. Do you think it really is the case that “dialogue and dispute is the norm” in “most real world situations”? I’m thinking through a few real world situations, and I don’t think many of them involve more than a trivial amount of real debate. Any thoughts?

    • Thanks for the question, Anthony.

      I could have expressed myself more clearly on that point. My claim is that most real world situations involve us directly with a variety of different people’s voices and perspectives. Much of our reasoning in our day to day lives occurs in conversation with friends, acquaintances, colleagues, and family members, not in solitude, or in a form that especially privileges our voice and limits the direct involvement of others, such as the sermon.

      While few of these contexts involve real ‘debate’, they involve a lot of dialogue and dispute, often handled very poorly. We need to learn to think and operate within such contexts. The practice of debate is a good place to gain relevant skills. Online interactions on Twitter or in comments can also serve the same purpose, if we are prepared to approach it mindfully.

      • I still suspect that, for most of us, most of our encounters do not require us to be challenged, to listen attentively, or to engage seriously with views that are contrary to our own. There are few contexts in which we can’t easily dismiss opposing views. Perhaps: politics, academia, education, or dealing with close family members who are very different from yourself. And also personal evangelistic conversations. But even in those contexts, as you say, the dialogue and dispute can be handled very poorly. Online, it’s even easier to avoid real engagement with the views of others – we “follow” or are “friends” with people similar to ourselves, we pick and choose what we read, often choosing those sources that quickly dismiss the views of others (political, religious, etc). And we generally try not to venture “below the line”, because it’s a truly horrible place (with one or two notable exceptions!).

        I suppose my suggestion is that the trend you observe among pastors is perhaps more of a universal trend. Of course, in a sense, pastors are more culpable than the rest of us. But I’m not sure they are really very different, or much more cut off from real engagement than the rest of us are.

        Not disagreeing with your post though – pastors should be modelling that kind of serious interaction with the views of others, in a way that helps the rest of us to do so too.

      • Yes, it is a more general trend. However, as pastors have the particular responsibility of leading and shaping the Church in its thought, modelling and ensuring thoughtful, confident, and level-headed Christian engagement with the biblical text, the wider Christian Church and tradition, and the surrounding culture, their failures in this regard are especially egregious and significant.

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  35. Reblogged this on iconobaptist and commented:
    Learning to intelligently engage with other views . . .

  36. A. Amos Love says:

    Alastair Roberts

    I kinda agree when you offer “questioning” as part of the solution.

    You write in the last three paragraphs…
    “I suggest that developing contexts of dispute, debate, **questioning,** and challenging dialogue in churches is one of the solutions to this.”

    “Finally, as many young people leave our churches, claiming that **their questions** were never taken seriously, it seems clear to me that **the incompetence of church leaders** when it comes to interacting with opposing viewpoints is a crucial dimension of the problem.”

    BUT – Today, questioning pastor/leaders, and/or having “opposing viewpoints” will be dangerous to your “spiritual health.” 😉

    You mention “pastors,” “church leaders,” in your post and comments.

    BUT – Haven’t you ever wondered? Why? In the Bible?
    NOT one of *His Disciples* called themself pastor/leader?
    NOT one of *His Disciples* had the “Title/Position” pastor/leader?
    NOT one of *His Disciples* was, Hired or Fired, as a pastor/leader?

    Could “The Loss of Pastoral Credibility in the Age of the Internet” happen…

    Because, In the Bible…
    NOT one of *His Disciples* called themself pastor? Or leader? Or reverend?
    Like so many do today? Who claim to be one of *His Disciples?*

    And, in the Bible, the only “ONE,” with the “Title?” Or refered to as…
    Shepherd? Leader? Reverend? – IS…

    {{{{{{ Jesus }}}}}}

    • Thanks for the comment, Amos.

      We seem to have some fairly fundamental differences of opinion when it comes to church leadership. I believe that the New Testament, as the Old, refers to people placed in positions of leadership and authority within the church and presents their position as one of a shepherd—which is all that ‘pastor’ originally means (Acts 20:28-29; 1 Peter 5:2-4). However, this isn’t a discussion for this particular comment thread.

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  38. Glenn says:

    Very important topic and insightful article and comments. I’m very happy to see this. BUT you should give the last comment from Amos more respect, and respond more thoughtfully. I think he’s making an important point. Too many “pastors” have the “listen to what I say because I’m your authority” and/or “because I said so” mentality. In churches, way too many “pastors” act like CEOs instead of the “under-shepherds” and “servants” they should be.

    • Thanks for the comment, Glenn.

      I quite agree that many pastors—there is really no need to put that word in scare quotes—abuse their authority. However, pastors do exist and they do have authority and they are given such authority within the New Testament. ‘Pastor’ is just another word for ‘shepherd’. The two references I drew attention to in my response speak to Church leaders as shepherds. None of this denies the fact that they are ‘under-shepherds’ and ‘servants’.

  39. Paul Baxter says:

    I’ve been trying to think through a couple of issues raised by your piece and throughout the comments. My thoughts have been swirling about the concept of context. Every human interaction has its own social context, in addition, I suppose, to a number of other sorts of context.

    In my own youth, growing up in a fairly conservative church, respect for pastoral authority was just something of a given. For people who grew up in a very different sort of church or no church at all I’m sure that different attitudes are at work. And again in my own life, due to a variety of formative experiences, I’m rarely inclined to hear a pastor as being authoritative on a variety of factual matters.

    I have, over the past few weeks, been taking up Tom Wright’s challenge to memorize the book of Ephesians. I’d meant to do it quite a while ago, but better late than never. Anyhow, as I’ve been working on that I have, naturally, been thinking about the overall message of that letter and what themes Paul stressed especially in it. Most of that isn’t relevant to your discussion here, but what I do think is relevant is the importance Paul places on LOVE, both in its role in the application of Christ’s work to us in the gospel and in how we should speak and act toward other people.

    Bringing love into intellectual discussions is almost always a tricky thing, but I think it has a proper place here. I have been quite willing to listen to the three men who have chiefly served as my own pastors in my adult life because I knew they loved me, to speak quite frankly. Which isn’t to say that other factors, such as respect, were not important as well. The pithy expression, “people don’t care what you know until they know that you care,” has often seemed to hold true both in my life and my observation of others.

    The lack of social context, with its attending lack of the the normal ways people develop loving/caring relationships, is quite obviously one of the problems of communication via the internet. There’s probably a lot left to flesh out there in terms of how pastors deal with contemporary challenges of authority and communication.

    • You raise an important point. A related question is the question of whom pastoral authority and speech is exercised for. Love for the sheep may demand a rather firm and uncompromising approach with the wolves. Of course, the pastor needs to discern which is which.

      • Paul Baxter says:

        Yes, that too!

        The senior pastor at my previous church would conduct training sessions for elders and small group leaders (we called the small groups “shepherding groups”). As part of that training we would memorize some of the passages from the NT which spoke to the responsibilities for oversight assigned to leaders in the church.

        It may or may not go without saying that pastoral responsibility can fall to a number of different people depending on ecclesial context.

        I have always found it comforting to know that there are people within my church who are charged with “looking out for me,” even as they do so imperfectly. I suppose many others find the same idea intrusive and/or bothersome.

  40. A. Amos Love says:


    Thank you for your response. – And, for NOT deleting the comment. 😉

    Which has happened more than once by pastor/shepherd/leaders who do NOT like to discuss – As you say – “opposing viewpoints.” 🙂

    You write…
    “However, this isn’t a discussion for this particular comment thread.”

    Sorry – I thought this article was about…
    “The Loss of Pastoral Credibility in the Age of the Internet”

    And that “Loss of Credibility,” in part, due to, pastors, NOT being able…
    “… to open their strongly held beliefs up to questioning and challenge, or to operate well in contexts that allow for the expression of many different perspectives and arguments.”

    And, I thought this article was about…..
    “However, my concern in this post is to draw attention to how commonly I witness this failure **in pastors** and **church leaders.**” “where they are exposed to opposing viewpoints and have to engage with them…”

    Me too. I withness “this failure in pastors and church leaders.” – Often 🙂 NOT many, who call themself shepherds, church leaders, react kindly when asked – In the Bible, How many of His Disciples called themself, or had the “Title” pastor/shepherd? In the Bible, How many of His Disciples called themself, or had the “Position” Leader?

    Mostly, they refuse to answer. And attempt to “silence” the one who questions.

    And, as you say…
    “If one’s opinion has never been subjected to and tried by rigorous cross-examination, it probably isn’t worth much.”

    Could this be a time where you can test your thoughts…
    “I suggest that developing contexts of dispute, debate, questioning, and challenging dialogue in churches is one of the solutions to this.”

    You might NOT realize it, but, saying, “this isn’t a discussion for this particular comment thread.” Reminds me of “abusive” shepherd/leaders who have “silenced” many of those who dis-agree…

    “However, the lesson conveyed in all too many churches is that opposing voices are to be dismissed, ignored, or ‘answered’ with a reactive reassertion of the dogmatic line, rather than a reasoned response.”

    Did you respond to my previous comment with…
    “the dogmatic line, rather than a reasoned response?”
    And, “opposing voices are to be dismissed” rather then engage? 😉

    • Thanks for the response, Amos.

      Beyond the most venomous of abuse, I never delete comments. However, other bloggers may have valid reasons for taking a rather less free range approach to their comments and deleting many that aren’t conducive to a productive conversation. The comments on a blog aren’t a public conversation, but one hosted and curated by the blog owner. No one has an absolute right to be heard within them.

      The claims that you raise are fairly familiar to me. I have encountered and answered them before in various contexts, both online and offline. The article above presumes a standard orthodox Christian commitment to the authority of pastoral leadership in the Church. It presumes this because I am writing for Christians who fall within the general parameters of orthodoxy on this subject. I do the same thing when I write about biblical passages without inviting a discussion about the inspiration of Scripture in the comments. This isn’t because I refuse to be challenged or because I want to close down other voices, but because I have already considered and discussed the claims being made and have found the arguments made in their favour quite unpersuasive. Getting into a discussion of them would distract from the topic at hand.

      Further, we all need to make regular judgment calls about which conversations are worth engaging in. While I make an effort to respond to each person who comments, my time is not on tap. To be frank, when I see a comment that just dogmatically asserts a position with little detailed argumentation or reasoning, no real engagement with the position it claims to oppose, regularly interspersed with smileys, and capital NOTs, I think that there are probably more productive things that both of us could be doing with our limited time. This isn’t really what rigorous cross-examination looks like.

      All of this said, if you genuinely want such a mutually challenging conversation, I invite you to read something like chapters 6 and 7 of the fourth volume of Herman Bavinck’s Reformed Dogmatics and then post on the subject on your own blog, closely engaging with Bavinck’s position on Church leadership. Link to your post here and I can assure you that, if you can provide evidence that you have something new, substantial, and informed to say, there will be people prepared to debate it with you. If you can provide evidence that you have already engaged closely and insightfully with the material that is already out there against the position that you advocate, people will give your questions a lot more weight.

  41. Hi Alastair, I’ve followed this discussion with interest but have refrained from responding until today.
    I was prompted to respond today because I belong to a small online study group and we are currently looking at Romans. This afternoon, I’ve been looking at Romans 13:1-8 : ‘Submit to Governments.’ For me, it was a small step from this passage to Hebrews 13:17:
    ‘Obey those who rule over you, and be submissive, for they watch out for your souls, as ones who must give account.’
    I’ve heard this quoted many times by both church leaders and parishioners and it certainly seems to mean different things to different people!
    My burning question, as a parishioner, concerns how best to proceed if it seems to me that submitting to a leader would mean being unfaithful to God.
    My first ‘port of call’ is Matthew 18:15-25.
    If that proves to be a ‘closed door’…..what next?
    In my case, on one occasion, the ‘what next?’ was voting with my feet… I left the church. I’ve been in my present church for over 20 years and have no wish to leave – we have strong leaders and ‘open forum’ is the norm.
    I’ve only been on Twitter for seven months and it has been an eye-opener for me! As you say, the Internet has given us ‘greater exposure to Church leaders and their thinking.’
    I don’t want to comment on individual leaders here, though privately I’ve had a good rant to God about some!
    All I can really say is that I’m glad you have raised the question and opened up this discussion.

    • Thanks for the comment and the question, Christine.

      Clearly, if a leader is calling us to act in a manner unfaithful to God we shouldn’t obey them. However, most of the time the situation is less clear cut, involving leaders who aren’t requiring us to sin, but are compromising God’s truth in their teaching.

      In such cases, we should remember to honour the office that they hold, presenting our concerns in a way that shows respect (think of the way that David acted towards Saul, recognizing that—even though he was wicked—he was God’s anointed). In some instances, we may need to get other elders involved.

      That said, we may be called to remain in churches with compromised leadership, patiently praying and working towards change.

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  43. Glenn says:

    The way David acted towards Saul? Are you serious? You mean the king of the nation, the head of government – King Saul? That’s the one you mean? Should we call you King Roberts? I had recommended your post on my fb page. Now I’m sorry I did. I’ll delete it right now.

    • Thanks for the comment, Glenn.

      I would highly recommend that you re-read my comments carefully, as your comment suggests that you really haven’t understood them.

      They were written in response to a question about how to act when we have an unfaithful leader over us in our church. There are some clear analogies to be drawn between this sort of experience and that of David during his period of fleeing from Saul. Of course, there are many differences too, but I expect my readers to recognize this without my needing to spell it out.

      I am not anyone’s pastor. No one has the duty to treat me with a higher level of respect and honour when they disagree with me. However, if I were an elder person, it would be wrong for a younger person to rebuke me (1 Timothy 5:1). Likewise, leaders in the church are also to be accorded special respect on account of their office, even when they are wrong.

      • Michael Kreger says:

        It is this principle about rebuking an elder, and this principle alone, that has caused me to hold my tongue on more than one occasion. Because they SO DEARLY needed a good tongue-lashing!

        I believe that the principle of “touch not the Lord’s anointed” has been improperly applied to pastors and other church people, when it was only meant for God’s protection of the Patriarchs during their nomadic phase. But it is good to remember the teaching about rebuking an elder, and to have charity and grace in all things (speech “flavored with salt” doesn’t necessarily mean we should use “salty language”). My fuse burns hot, and so this is a hard thing for me to practice, but I would like to think I’m getting better at it over time.

        Thanks for your gracious approach here.

      • ‘Touch not the Lord’s anointed’ has been used for all sorts of mischief. Thanks for the comment, Michael.

      • Glenn says:

        That’s ridiculous. The analogy of King Saul to unfaithful church leaders and older people is totally inappropriate. If a pastor is leading his church away from the clear teaching of the Bible, or is personally being unfaithful to the Bible, the church should fire him. And if the church doesn’t do that, it’s no longer functioning as a church, and faithful Christians should leave. And it certainly is not wrong for a younger person to rebuke an older person, if the older person is not being faithful to God’s word in their teaching and/or their living. You are way off base with your authority kick.

      • Thank you for taking the time to comment, Glenn. Clearly we disagree about these issues in a way that is unlikely to lead to edifying, engaged, or fruitful conversation. Perhaps it is best if we stop at this point.

  44. Thank you for this, Alastair.
    It did me good to think of the way David acted towards Saul, ‘God’s anointed one’. Our church leaders are ordained priests and God’s ways are not our ways – sometimes it can be difficult to discern ‘the bigger picture’. It also did me good to think of your last sentence. I’ve now been reflecting on a serious division in our church that happened about 18 yrs ago – about 2yrs after I joined the church.
    Ironically, I found myself at that time as one of a minority who believed in the leader’s vision for the church. Some of the disputes were settled in a church tribunal* and a considerable number of dissenters left the church.
    However, several dissenters remained in the church, motivated by the points you mentioned above. I do respect them for that and I think they set a good example.
    * I don’t think it was actually called a tribunal, but I can’t remember the official name for it.
    Thank you again.

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  46. A. Amos Love says:


    I appreciate your willingness, your effort, to respond to so many comments.
    Even mine. 😉

    And, I also appreciate your rapier wit with words.

    Your ability to cut, deep, with such elegance, with so few words…
    It’s almost a pleasure being shredded by such a sharp intellect. 🙂
    A little snarky is always welcomed

    Now, I do have a question about your claim to “standard orthodox.”
    “The article above presumes a “standard orthodox” Christian commitment to the authority of pastoral leadership in the Church.”

    Was Wondering, Who, What, determines your “standard orthodox?”
    For me, the “standard orthodox” would have some standards from the Bible. 😉

    I’ve noticed, many who support “the authority of pastoral leadership in the Church” tend to “Miss,”“Ignore,” some of what Jesus taught “His Disciples” about being called “Leader.” Seems, Jesus taught “His Disciples” NOT to be called leader.

    And, His Disciples ALL believed Jesus, because, NOT one of His Disciples called themself leader. ALL of His Disciples called themselves “Servants.” 😉

    But I cudda missed that in the Bible…
    Can you name one of His Disciples who called themself leader?

    Mat 23:10-12 NASB – New American Standard Bible
    Do NOT be called leaders; for “ONE” is your Leader, that is, Christ.
    But the greatest among you shall be your “Servant”.
    Whoever exalts himself shall be humbled;
    and whoever humbles himself shall be exalted.

    The Message – Mat 23:10-12.
    And don’t let people maneuver you into taking charge of them.
    There is only “ONE” Life-Leader for you and them—Christ.
    **Do you want to stand out? – Then step down. – Be a servant.**
    If you puff yourself up, you’ll get the wind knocked out of you.
    But if you’re content to simply be yourself, your life will count for plenty.

    If, someone calls themself leader? Allows other to call them leader?
    “Ignoring” what Jesus taught His Disciples?

    Are they one of His Disciples? 😉

    • Brian Watson says:


      You’re being rather trollish, no?

      But, to take the issue seriously, you are creating a false dichotomy between leader and servant. That is why many speak of church leadership as servant leadership.

      As for Jesus’ disciples, Peter called himself a “fellow elder” (1 Pet. 5:1) who urged other elders to “shepherd” (pastor) the flock (v. 2), while also recognizing that Jesus is the “chief Shepherd” (v. 4). That is why Alastair referred to pastors as under-shepherds. John also referred to himself as an “elder” (2 John 1; 3 John 1).

      The author of Hebrews writes, “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you” (Heb. 13:17). Who are these leaders? “Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith” (Heb. 13:7).

      None of this states that leaders (the shepherds [pastors]/elders/overseers) are dictators or ones who do not serve. But God has established various levels of authority, and we are to submit to various authorities. If you have missed this, you are willfully ignoring vast amounts of the Bible. The pastor is not a special priest, one who is infallible. But he is a man who holds an office God has established, and is one worthy of respect and honor, as Alastair has indicated.

    • Amos, I appreciate the time that you are taking in commenting. Sadly, your failure to pay attention to what I have written in response to you is only confirming my initial suspicion that discussing this with you would prove distracting and pointless. Even if this were the place to have the discussion, your entire approach to this point suggests that, rather than being open to a receptive and mutually challenging conversation, you have your own position that you want to push and aren’t going to listen much to others.

      Brian has already made some helpful points in response to you. Let me also indulge you just a little. My suspicion—please correct me if I am mistaken—is that you haven’t studied this passage closely in the Greek, read many commentaries on it, or explored much of the extensive secondary literature on the questions that you raise. There isn’t anything wrong with lacking this background study. However, if you are going to jump into a conversation with assured accusations and want your opinions to be given weight, you really need to have it. As I have already pointed out, none of your claims are issues that are unfamiliar or new. They are dealt with in various contexts and by various writers.

      Sadly, you raise these issues in a similar manner to someone who enters a room where many sage persons had been disputing and deliberating for many days and, rather than sitting down and listening for a while to become acquainted with the course of the conversation, immediately gives his opinion on a matter that distracts from the subject at hand and demonstrates no awareness of the fact that the opinion he expressed has already been dealt with in detail before he ever entered. If you want your voice to be taken seriously, you need to take the conversation seriously, i.e. start by demonstrating that you have been paying attention to the many discussions of the issues that you raise in the literature and tradition. Otherwise you will just seem to be rude, uninformed, yet highly opinionated.

      Jesus warns his disciples against seeking honorific titles and of elevating leaders in a manner that competed with or threatened the supremacy and sole lordship of Christ (for instance, encouraging an ‘I am of Paul, I am of Cephas, I am of Apollos’ approach). Christ alone is the true Leader, Rabbi, Teacher, etc. and all others are merely servants under him.

      This teaching, however, needs to be counterbalanced with the fact that on many occasions in the New Testament, people are often referred to as ‘teachers’ for instance, using the very same word (διδασκαλος) as we see in Matthew 23:8, where Jesus declares that we have only one Teacher. Some examples:

      ‘Now in the church that was at Antioch there were certain prophets and teachers:’—Acts 13:1a

      ‘And God has appointed these in the church: first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, administrations, varieties of tongues.’—1 Corinthians 12:28

      ‘for which I was appointed a preacher and an apostle—I am speaking the truth in Christ and not lying—a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth.’—1 Timothy 2:7 (cf. 2 Timothy 1:11)

      ‘My brethren, let not many of you become teachers, knowing that we shall receive a stricter judgment.’—James 3:1

      Following the logic of your position, it would seem as though each of these verses would fall foul of your strictures.

      Anyway, you are welcome to continue to comment on this, but please don’t expect us to regard your opinion as carrying the weight that you think that it does before first demonstrating genuine acquaintance with the many careful articulations of positions on church leadership that you think that your arguments puncture.

      • Glenn says:

        Did you hear that Amos? You haven’t studied Greek. Therefore, you are not qualified to have an opinion on this. Sorry dude – you just don’t have the right pedigree (or title).

  47. Ivan Solero says:

    The evidence of this change follows what has happen in corporate America where loyalty is non-existent and your worth is held rather frivolously. Our young people have grown up in this age where this was not so much a transformation but the status quo. When transferring this towards church, worship and leadership this represents another extension of organizational deceit and mistrust. We just put pastor instead of CEO in front of it. The insidious nature compounds when their parents insist that there is a difference, yet are seen as none because the same characteristic still between the two…aloof, uncaring, dogmatic, us against them and “you must be wrong because of your walk or wrong alliegiience” mentality. For a young person it’s hard not to be cynical and stand offish. We have ourselves to blame for allowing pastors to act as gods than truly following the real God. With the weapons / tools of the internet and no time lapse of sharing information you can clearly begin to see the chasm that exists. Add to that mega churches, tv mouthpiece pastors and a lack of humanitarian responses to real crisis, one would have to really examine ones motivation to believe any construct that comes from a pastors mouth. The saying “we know the enemy, and the enemy is us” is very true. As parishioners we have allowed this to reach critical mass. The younger people see fluidity in the churches dishonesty. Is the pastors fault? Yes, is it the elders fault? Yes. Is it the congregations fault? Yes. We allow, turn a blind eye, and follow like sheep. It is time to hold all of us accountable and become leaders within leaders. The old paradigm that my word represents God, and in essence is God clearly needs a rewrite! The transformation of the church of Corinth needs to occur again.

    • Thanks for the thoughtful comment, Ivan.

    • Glenn says:

      Finally, some honesty and integrity here. Thanks Ivan.

      The title “Pastor” (quotes are appropriate) should be changed to “Servant.” Everybody needs a refresher course. Especially, people like Alastair spreading nonsense about some imagined duty to treat false prophets as if they were kings.

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  49. Glenn says:

    And by the way, I’m older than you, so how about a little deference?

  50. David A Booth says:

    We need to face squarely that problem you are addressing is largely a problem of our own making. At the same time that the vocation of pastor has become more challenging we have been implementing incentives that would naturally lead to less qualified clergy. For some reason Christians seem to imagine that the basic economic principle that people respond to incentives doesn’t apply to ministers. Having been an officer in the military, a regional director for a large non-profit organizational, the COO of a privately held business, and a pastor; I am convinced that no successful organization cares less about the recruitment, training, and ongoing development of its leadership than the church does.

    Let me give you just a few examples:

    1. We are fine with the fact that most pastors can’t even read the Bible in the original languages.

    2. I’m not sure what percentage of churches have a continuing education program for pastors but I’m into my sixth decade of church life and have never been in a church that had one. Not even one.

    3. Imagine that you have a sharp and godly young man in your church who has been out of college for five or six years. You suggest to him that he should consider becoming a pastor. Let’s say he has just been promoted to Captain in the Army. Here’s what an honest discussion of the path ahead might look like: “I think you would be a great pastor. Why don’t you leave the Army and move your family to seminary where we won’t help pay for any of your tuition or expenses. You will go from being solidly in the middle class to really struggling. After three years of graduate school you may get a call where you will make forty thousand dollars per year less than you make right now. In fact, it is pretty likely that you will never make as much money as a pastor as you will as a 28 year old Captain in the Army.”

    The amazing thing is that many gifted men still choose to enter ministry (although we should ignore how many leave ministry because of the financial burdens that this places on their families). Yet, on balance, we shouldn’t be surprised that the combination of terrible pay, an unwillingness to support the students going through seminary, and a lack of funded continuing education programs leads to a general downgrade in the intellectual quality of pastors across the country.

    If I am right, this means that we are not going to solve the problem identified in this post through changing patterns of instruction. Let me state my point bluntly so those who disagree have a clear target to shoot at:

    If we are not willing to pay our 35 and 45 year old pastors with three years of graduate school as much as a 28 year old military officer at the early stages of his career then we are the problem that needs to be changed.

    David A Booth

    • Thank you for the comment, David. You raise some very salient points. I wonder whether the deeper underlying issue is that we unthinkingly take the health of our souls and our churches less seriously than the health of our bodies. We would never tolerate the cut corners and lower levels of competency that we tolerate from our pastors from our medical professionals.

    • Glenn says:

      Or we could abandon the whole unBiblical idea of professional pastors and preachers and instead follow the example of the Apostle Paul and the teaching of the Apostle Peter and the Apostle Paul and have our churches led by elders who earn their living by working outside the church and serve in the church as a labor of love.

      Then we could give money to the poor and needy instead of paying for professional preachers’ salaries. And then we wouldn’t need the government to take care of the poor and widows. Hey! The Bible makes a lot of sense! We just need to get out of our modern America corporate business mindset and follow the teaching and example of the Apostles.

      But that means people like you, David, would have to get off their butts and serve in the church, instead of paying others to perform for you.

      And that means preachers and pastors would have to learn to work and hold down a real job. Wow! That would be shock to the system.

      But Paul did say “if any man is not willing to work, he should not be allowed to eat.” What a hard-ass!

  51. A. Amos Love says:


    You write…
    “You haven’t studied Greek. Therefore, you are not qualified to have an opinion on this.”

    Well – At one time I did to study, and know a little Greek…

    But – Then she moved to the west coast. 😉

  52. A. Amos Love says:

    Brian – Alastair

    Brian – Thanks for asking. – And Yes – I’m being trollish… 😉

    And, I’m-a-givin-you and Alastair an opportunity to practice what Alastair preaches. So far, youse guys ain’t-a-bin-playin-well-wit-others by Alastair’s new rules for turning around “The Loss of Pastoral Credibility.” 😉

    And, now Alastair even gots to give me anutter rule. When I enter, “a room where “many sage persons” had been disputing” I should sit back and listen. And, before entering into the conversation I should study Greek, read the many commentaries, and explore “the extensive secondary literature on the questions.”

    “you haven’t studied this passage closely in the Greek, read many commentaries on it, or explored much of the extensive secondary literature on the questions that you raise.”

    This sounds like a lotta work to have a conversation with youse guys. 😉
    Aren’t these rules the opposite of what Alastair proposes for preventing…
    “The Loss of Pastoral Credibility in the Age of the Internet?”

    • Amos, there really are answers to your questions out there, if you are prepared to do some leg work. However, it will require that you spend time informing yourself of other positions. It is telling that you haven’t engaged with any of the points and questions that Brian and I raised in response to you. You seem unwilling to go to the necessary effort of educating yourself on the answers to your questions in secondary literature. You appear to want the privilege of having your opinion—which bears no evidence of having been backed up by detailed study—given great weight, without giving any weight to those whose opinions on the matter are in fact educated ones.

      A conversation can indeed require a lot of work. It requires time, thought, devotion to study, a lot of listening, and patience. None of us has the right to expect that others will indulge our laziness when it comes to the leg work of study, listening, and reading, or expect that the conversation will make no demands of us.

      You came to this comments thread thinking that you had a right to have your questions answered by me, even though your comments were beyond the realm of the post’s concern. My time isn’t an unlimited resource and I am concerned when people act as if they are entitled to claiming it on their own terms. The very least that you can do if you want to make claims upon my time for your interests is recognize the legitimacy of my expectation that I can set some of my own claims upon your time in return.

      I am not prepared to devote my time to fruitless wrangling with someone who just wants an airing for their dogmatic opinion and isn’t interested in taking the challenges to it seriously or diligent enough to devote themselves to serious enquiry. The right to have one’s opinion taken seriously is something that you must earn. Just as my opinion on nuclear physics is worth nothing, so I am not going to give much weight to a theological opinion of someone who shows no evidence of disciplined study.

      For this reason, I have suggested that you need to produce some evidence that you are prepared to give something in return for what you are demanding of others. It doesn’t cost anything but time to set up a blog. You should be able to obtain or borrow copies of books that we mention. If you have already studied the Greek and some commentaries, you could also engage with those. Then you could write a detailed post articulating your stance on the issues and answering the main challenges presented to it. If you do these things, I think that you will find that people will be much happier to have a conversation with you.

      You may notice that I don’t ask 99% of the people who ask questions on my blog to do this. Why make an exception in your case? The difference is between answering honest questions and challenges and indulging uninformed opinionating. The former is prepared to have a two-way exchange. The latter is just demanding and time-wasting for all involved.

      If you read this and any other comment thread on my blog, you will see that I take the questions and comments of my readers—even the most critical ones—very seriously and do my best to give respectful and detailed answers to their questions. I value the time and thought that people give to these conversations, even when we may differ. Comment threads, even though they are a huge commitment, are one of the things that I enjoy most about blogging. I appreciate being questioned and challenged. I also want to be a resource for my readers and to help them as much as I can.

      Although I highly doubt that you will take the time to do what I have suggested, I would be delighted if you did. We might then start to make some progress. Thank you for taking the time to comment here. However, I am sure that both of us could better employ our Saturday in different activities. Blessings.

  53. A. Amos Love says:

    Brian – Alastair

    See – Alastair complains about many churches…
    “However, the lesson conveyed in all too many churches is that **opposing voices** are to be dismissed, ignored, or ‘answered’ with a reactive reassertion of the dogmatic line, rather than a reasoned response.”

    I challenge with questions and a different opinion about pastors, leaders, in “Today’s Religious System,” and what I can find in the Bible. I get from Brian and Alastair, “a reactive reassertion of “the dogmatic line,” rather than a reasoned response.”

    And a rebuke to go study Greek and read commentaries. 😦

    Hmmm? Maybe I have?
    Know any Ana-baptists happy to see Reformed Protestants or Catholics knocking on their door 500 years ago? Seems, “the authority of pastoral leadership in the Church,” was kinda tuff on these folks. Both, Reformed Protestants and Catholics, tortured and killed these folks who dis-agreed.

    Seems Christian-dumb becomes a “Bloody Sport” when “the authority of pastoral leadership in the Church,” those with the “Titles,” gets their hands on some “Power – Profit – Prestige.

    Jer 50:6
    “My people” hath been “lost sheep:”
    **THEIR shepherds** have caused them to *go astray,*

    1 Pet 2:25
    For ye were as *sheep going astray;*
    BUT are now returned to the Shepherd and Bishop of your souls.

    I’m Blest… I’ve returned to the Shepherd and Bishop of my soul…

    {{{{{{ Jesus }}}}}}

  54. A. Amos Love says:


    Thank you for your responce, explanation, and continuing the conversation. 😉

    Seems most movements, denominations, start out well. Lots of Life.
    But, soon, a generation or two, people are just following “Traditions.”
    Just following “Mere Fallible Humans” who call themselves “pastor/leader.”

    And NOT following Jesus. Seems Jesus, only asks His Sheep to Follow Him.
    My Sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they Follow Me. Jn 10:27.
    Jesus – The only “ONE” in the Bible with the “Title” Shepherd. 😉

    Info from the book – The Secret of the Strength – About Mennonites.
    Free PDF download off the internet. –

    Menno, a Catholic Priest, left “The Religious System,” because
    Rome believed and acted as… “the church stands between God and man”

    Menno, and the first Anabaptists believed in….
    “man’s freedom of choice and his duty *to obey the voice of Christ* within him.”

    But Menno, got grumpy in his old age with all the splits, doctrines he didn’t approve of, and reverted back to “the authority of pastoral leadership in the Church,” and “the authority of the institution” and “the authority of tradition.”

    From – “Unity is not the result of group concensus.
    It is the result of many individual commitments to Christ.”

    To – “In the end, Menno submitted to the authority of a new “mediatorial church” — that of the Anabaptist church he had helped to establish. His earlier love for Christ gave way to *an inordinate affection for the church.* And, thanks to the writings of his old age and of the Dutch and Alsatian (Amish) Anabaptists who followed him, his later position prevailed.”

    Nope – I’m NOT a fan of “the authority of pastoral leadership in the Church.”

    In my experience with having been ordained, and in “church leadership.” 😦
    In my experience with the “Title/Position” of pastor/leader/reverend.

    “Titles” become “Idols” ………….. “Idols” of the heart – Ezek14:1-11 KJV
    “Pastors” become “Masters”……..A big No, No. Mat 23:10 KJV, Mat 6:24 KJV
    “Leaders” become “Deceivers”….Isa 3:12 KJV, Isa 9:16 KJV, Mat 15:14 KJV

    Yup – It was after I left “The Abusive Religious System” of today, tore up my papers, and walked away from “church leadership,” that I realized Isaiah, had prophesied about my “Leadership skills.” And the “Leadership skills” of the rest of todays “church leaders.” No really… 😉

    Isa 3:12 KJV
    …O my people, *they which lead thee* cause thee to err,
    and destroy the way of thy paths.

    Isa 9:16 KJV
    For *the leaders* of this people cause them to err;
    and they that are led of them are destroyed.

    Some legacy todays “church leaders” are creating for themselves…
    And, the term “church leader” is NOT in the Bible…

    I’m in agreement with King David…
    The Lord is my Shepherd. 🙂

    {{{{{{ Jesus }}}}}}

    • David A Booth says:

      Dear A. Amos Love,

      Since the LORD is your Shepherd that must mean that you want to follow every word that He says. Can you explain how your view of leadership fits with Hebrews 13:17? “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.” (Hebrews 13:17 ESV)

      Specifically, how do you “obey your leaders and submit to them”?


  55. A. Amos Love says:


    In my experience… And my simple research…
    There were many groupes of believers, thru the centuries, who stood against
    the Powerful, Institutional, and Abusive Religious Systems of their day.
    ““the authority of pastoral leadership in the Church.”

    If you’d like a list of Christians who were persecuted, tortured, and killed,
    by other so-called christians, who had the Power, that can be provided.

    Christian-dumb is often a bloody sport.

    I’ll leave you with ideas of the past, and today, I now agree with.

    1 – Anabaptists were *heavily persecuted* during the 16th century and into the 17th by both Protestants and Roman Catholics because they did NOT believe in infant baptism. They also refused to attend state run churches. One reason given for not attending the state churches was that these institutions forbade the congregation to exercise spiritual gifts according to “the Christian order as taught in the gospel or the Word of God in 1 Corinthians 14.” “When such believers come together, “Everyone of you (note every one) hath a psalm, hath a doctrine, hath a revelation, hath an interpretation,” and so on..When someone comes to church and constantly hears only one person speaking, and all the listeners are silent, neither speaking nor prophesying, who can or will regard or confess the same to be a spiritual congregation, or confess according to 1 Corinthians 14 that God is dwelling and operating in them through His Holy Spirit with His gifts, impelling them one after another in the above-mentioned order of speaking and prophesying”.

    2 – The Religious Society of Friends – Quakers – A movement which stresses the doctrine of “the priesthood of all believers.” Quakers were *officially persecuted* in England under the Quaker Act 1662 and the Conventicle Act 1664. Friends believe in continuing revelation, which is the idea that truth is continuously revealed directly to individuals from God without a need for any intermediary, objective logic or systematic theology. For this reason, many Quakers **reject the idea of priests,** believing in the priesthood of all believers. George Fox, described it as “Christ has come to teach His people Himself.” Friends often focus on trying to hear God.

    3 – Today you can read a book “Revolution,” by George Barna, a christian pollster, Who noticed a trend over the last many years. More and more christians were leaving the Institutional Church in order to find Jesus. That was similar to my experience with Jesus. I left “The Abusive Religious System” in the early 90’s. Through much pain, tears, and Spiritual Abuse. In the USA, there are now millions who have left the “501 (c) 3, non-profit, tax exempt, Religious Corporations, the IRS calls church.

    So, I aline myself with those who were persecuted for believeing and teaching…
    ALL believers have a living Christ with in them.
    ALL believers can particapate whenever we come together.
    ALL believers can hear from Jesus for themselves.
    ALL believers can get direct revelation from Jesus.
    ALL believers shall be taught of God.

    Every one that is of the truth *heareth My voice.”
    John 18:37

    Out of heaven he made thee to *hear His voice,*
    that *He might instruct thee*
    Deut 4:36

  56. A. Amos Love says:

    Dear David A Booth

    Thanks for the conversation and asking about Heb 13:17. I have questioned, and debated, this verse often since leaving “The Abusive Religious System” in the early 90’s. Thru much Pain, Tears, and “Spiritual Abuse.” Seems “Pastors who Abuse,” “Pastors addicted to “Exercising Authority” like the Gentiles,” really like to quote Heb 13:17, again and again, to be able to “Control and Manipulate” the poor, unedjumacated, sheeple, to – Pay – Pray – Stay – and – Obey. 😉

    But, these same “Abusive pastor/leaders” do NOT spend a lot of time with…

    Neither as being lords over God’s heritage, but being ensamples to the flock.
    1Pet 5:3 KJV

    Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory;
    but in *lowliness of mind* let each *esteem other* better than themselves.
    Php 2:3 KJV

    *Submitting yourselves* one to another in the fear of God.
    Eph 5:21 KJV

    Be kindly affectioned one to another with brotherly love;
    in honour *preferring one another.*
    Rom 12:10 KJV

    Likewise, ye younger, submit yourselves unto the elder.”
    Yea, **all of you** be subject **one to another,** (subject = submit)
    and be clothed with humility: for God resisteth the proud,
    and giveth grace to the humble.
    1 Pet 5:5 KJV

    And, Jesus, taught “His Disciples” NOT to exercise authority…

    …they which are accounted to rule over the Gentiles
    “exercise lordship” over them;
    and their great ones “exercise authority” upon them.
    But so shall it NOT be among you:…
    Mark 10:42-45 KJV

    So, today, If someone calls themself a “Leader?” And teaches WE, His Ekklesia, His Church, His Sheep, His Called Out Ones, His Disciples, they are to obey and submit to them or a “Title?” I now recommend to believers this short list of scriptures of every day requirements for every day believers that those who take the “Title” of pastor/leader/overseer, also have to meet, before they qualify to be known as “Leader.” Or to be obeyed. 😉

    Ever try showing these verses to a senior pastor/leader and saying…
    Gee wiz – We’re supposed to “submit ourselves one to another?”

    Know many pastor/leaders who quote Heb 13:17…
    Who are clothed with humility? 😉

    Humility – a modest, or low opinion of ones own importance.

    Ps 138:6
    Though the LORD be high, yet hath he respect unto the lowly:
    but the proud he knoweth afar off.

    Ps 40:4
    Blessed is that man that maketh the LORD his trust,
    and respecteth not the proud, nor such as turn aside to lies.

  57. A. Amos Love says:

    David A Booth

    Here is the short version of that short list of scriptures that are to be applied to any wanna-be leader that thinks they are the “Leaders” referred to in Heb 13:17, and should be obeyed and submitted to. 😉

    It seems WE, His Sheep, have a responsibility to **know these guys…

    1 Thess 5:12 KJV
    And we beseech you, brethren, to **know them (**to perceive, notice, discern,)
    which labour among you, and are over you in the Lord, and admonish you;

    And since an elder is to be an example to the flock…
    And, these guys claiming Heb 13:17, for themselves, call themselves elders.
    Even though – elder – overseer – pastor – is NOT mentioned in Heb 13:17.

    I would watch these guys intently, observing how they react to challenges…
    And asking…

    Are these guys, who call themselves elders, Living Examples of…

    1 – NOT lording it over “God’s heritage?” 1 Pet 5:3 KJV
    2 – Lowliness of mind? Phil 2:3 KJV
    3 – Esteeming others “better” than themselves? Phil 2:3 KJV
    4 – Submitting “One to Another?” Eph 5:21 KJV, 1 Pet 5:5 KJV
    5 – Prefering others before themselves? Rom 12:10 KJV
    6 – By love “Serve one another?” Gal 5:13 KJV
    7 – Laying down their lives for the brethren? 1 John 3:16 KJV
    8 – NOT speaking of themselves, NOT seeking their glory? Jn 7:18 KJV
    9 – NOT “Exercising Authority” like the Gentiles?” Mark 10:42-43. KJV
    10 – Being clothed with humility? 1 Pet 5:5 KJV
    10 – Humility – a modest, or low opinion of ones own importance.

    Could you imagine mentioning these verses to some senior pastor today?
    And saying to them – If it’s okay with you? I’d like to get to “Know You” a little better. Before I “Obey”and “Submit” – to you? As I’m asked to do in 1 Thess 5:12 KJV?

    If it’s okay with you? I’d like to see if you are actually “watching over my soul,” in good times and in bad times.
    Before I “Obey”and “Submit” – to you? As it says your supposed to be doing in Heb 13:17? That might take some time – I’m NOT sure how long – I want to see how you react if I ever dis-agree with you. 😉

    If it’s okay with you? I’ll also need some time to see if you match up with this list of 10 every-day requirements I have for who I’m to “obey and submit to,” Before I “Obey”and “Submit” – to you?

    You see, God has asked me to “Follow Jesus” and to “Trust Him.”
    But I am warned in the Bible, again and again, NOT to “Trust” in man.
    Because, if I trust in a “Mere Fallible Human” I will most likely be cursed.

    Jer 17:5
    Thus saith the LORD; Cursed be the man that trusteth in man,
    and maketh flesh his arm,

    Ps 118:8-19
    It is better to trust in the LORD than to put confidence in man.
    It is better to trust in the LORD than to put confidence in princes.

    Psalm 40:4
    Blessed is that man that maketh the LORD his trust,
    and respecteth not “the proud,” nor such as “turn aside to lies.”

    • David A Booth says:

      Dear A. Amos Love,

      You have given a LOT of verses that may be appropriate in dealing with abusive leaders but you haven’t said anything at all about how YOU obey this commandment from God. Until you actually turn and commit yourself to obeying God the only faithful thing the rest of us can do is call you to repent.

      May the LORD grant you the grace to turn from your self-righteousness to actually submitting to what He commands.

      In Christ,

      David A Booth

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  59. A. Amos Love says:

    Thanks David

    For reminding me to repent…
    But, I’m a little un sure of what to repent for…
    Just who are the leaders in Heb 13:17, you think I should obey and submit to?

    In the Bible…
    I can NOT find one of His Disciples calling themself “Leader.”
    I can NOT find an elder/overseer who calls themself “Leader.”
    I can NOT find a pastor/shepherd who calls themself “Leader.”

    Oh yeah – Except Jesus. I like Jesus – A lot… 😉

    In ALL of Heb 13:17…
    I can NOT find any – elders – overseers – pastors – shepherds – mentioned at all…
    Did someone ADD that to the scriptures?

    And, in the past, when I did submit to a so- called pastor/elder/leader…
    Who told me they were MY Leader and I was to obey, submit, to them.
    And they were watching for MY soul…

    I found out, the hard way, if I dis-agreed with them
    MY soul was NO longer worth watching… 😉

    Protecting their opinion, their position, their power, profit, prestige…
    Became more important then my soul to them… Ouch!!! 😦

    Seems, that’s what this post is about
    “The Loss of Pastoral Credibility in the Age of the Internet”

    Can today’s pastors/shepherds just make up things like this? ADD things to the Bible?
    And tell you, you have to obey, and submit to them?

    • Amos, it might be worth clearing a few things up before you proceed.

      1. The NT speaks about shepherds, teachers, and leaders on a number of occasions. David, Brian, and I have already referenced a number of such texts.

      2. Matthew 23 is focused upon honorific titles, pursued and employed in ways that challenge the uniqueness and supremacy of Christ’s office in his church.

      3. My post made no reference to titles at all, just to the pastoral office and function of teaching and leading the church.

      I fear that you are projecting your own personal preoccupations into a context where they have nothing to do with the discussion at hand.

      I am sorry that you have had a painful experience of church leadership in the past. That is always a cause of sadness when it occurs. I hope that God will graciously provide a church for you in which you can be led and taught by wise and good pastors.

  60. A. Amos Love says:


    And today, thanks to the internet,
    There are some interesting, differing from yours, opinions about Heb 13:17.
    Which has been used to “Abuse” so many today…

    As Alastair asked me – I’ll ask you…
    “My suspicion—please correct me if I am mistaken—is that you haven’t studied this passage closely in the Greek, read many commentaries on it, or explored much of the extensive secondary literature on the questions that you raise.”

    I have… 🙂

    • David A Booth says:

      Πείθεσθε τοῖς ἡγουμένοις ὑμῶν καὶ ὑπείκετε, αὐτοὶ γὰρ ἀγρυπνοῦσιν ὑπὲρ τῶν ψυχῶν ὑμῶν ὡς λόγον ἀποδώσοντες, ἵνα μετὰ χαρᾶς τοῦτο ποιῶσιν καὶ μὴ στενάζοντες· ἀλυσιτελὲς γὰρ ὑμῖν τοῦτο.

      Dear Amos,

      Yes, I do read Greek. But that actually isn’t the point. You don’t need to be able to read Greek to understand that “submitting to your leaders” doesn’t mean “you don’t have to submit to your leaders.” The fact that you can find people on the Internet who tell you that rebelling against God’s word is o.k. doesn’t absolve you from the responsibility to actually follow God’s word.

      I fully agree with you that there are plenty of abusive pastors in the Church (there are also plenty of pastors who are abused by their congregations). But that doesn’t change the fact that the Jesus you are calling your shepherd commands you to unite with a local church where you submit to the authority of its leaders. If you refuse to obey Christ’s command then you are showing with your life that your claim to have Jesus as the Shepherd of your soul is a false claim.

      As Jesus declared in Luke 6:46 “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do what I tell you?”

      David A Booth

  61. A. Amos Love says:


    Thanks for the concern…
    But, those dark, ugly, times, had a benefit…
    I had NO place else to go – BUT – To Go To Jesus – And Jesus is the best – yes?

    And I agree, shepherds are mentioned in the NT.
    Told I was one. I thought I was one. Even got ordained.
    But, only Jesus, called Himself, and had the “Title” Shepherd, in the Bible.
    So, I ripped up those papers and decided to follow Jesus, Be one of His Disciples.

    Seems to me…
    The shepherds, In the Bible, are NOTHING like todays pastor/leader/reverend.
    Any shepherds given by God – Were Anonymous – NOT known or revealed.

    In The Bible – Can you find – Any…
    Shepherds who had “Titles” – “Shepherd/Leader/Reverend?”
    Shepherds who called themselves – “Shepherd/Leader/Reverend?”
    Shepherds who promoted themselves – as a “Special Clergy Class?”
    Shepherds who promoted *His Sheep* as lesser “Lay people?”

    Shepherds who promoted themselves as – “Leaders?”
    Shepherds who promoted themselves as – “Church Leaders?”
    Shepherds who promoted themselves as – “Spiritual Leaders?”
    Shepherds who promoted themselves as – “Christian Leaders?”
    Shepherds who promoted themselves as – “Leaders to be Obeyed?”

    Shepherds who promoted themselves as – “Spiritual Authority?”
    Shepherds who promoted themselves as – “God Ordained Authority?”

    Shepherds who separated from the flock, wearing different, special, clothes?
    Shepherds who were – Hired and Fired – by congregations?
    Shepherds who would move from one congregation to another?
    What’s up with that?
    Shepherds who would “Exercise Authority” over another Disciple?

    Shepherds who had their own private parking space. 🙂

    Jer 50:6
    “My people” hath been “lost sheep:”
    **THEIR shepherds** have caused them to *go astray,*

    1 Pet 2:25
    For ye were as *sheep going astray;*
    BUT are now returned to the Shepherd and Bishop of your souls.

    I’m Blest… I’ve returned to the Shepherd and Bishop of my soul…

    {{{{{{ Jesus }}}}}}

  62. Matt Petersen says:

    Though I like this article, each time I think about, I am struck be an incongruity (I hope I can ask this without sounding disrespectful):

    Though speaking out of a confident ignorance is characteristic of our age, and I do not intend to suggest he is uniquely emblematic of the tendencies here, it seems that one person given to the sort of self-confident speaking beyond his knowledge (about relativity, or global warming, for instance) is Doug Wilson. But at the same time, one of his strengths is an ability to engage in agonistic discourse (indeed, I wonder if sometimes he is too good at agonistic discourse). And he has had practice since he was young (the Wilson family debated around the table every night), and with an able sparring partner, his brother Evan. And as a teacher he has done a good job of teaching agonistically. That is, something seems missing from the analysis. Our culture + agonistics didn’t that time seem to solve the issue of speaking beyond our capacity.

    • Thanks for the question, Matt. It is an important one.

      Briefly, I identify a number of issues within the post, of which the lack of training in agonistic discourse is just one. Wilson excels in agonistic discourse. However, I still think that it is fair to say that he is extremely limited by his homogeneous context, a context in which his voice dominates. Skills in agonistic discourse aren’t of much value when you have limited direct exposure to a wide range of truly challenging interlocutors.

      • Matt Petersen says:

        Briefly, I identify a number of issues within the post, of which the lack of training in agonistic discourse is just one.

        I suppose that’s what I get for commenting after reading comments without rereading the original article. My fear is that an agonistic discourse would be arguments that do not attempt to understand and then thoroughly refute their opponents, but that seek to overcome them rhetorically through the witty, pithy statement. It is easy for to make virtue, or intricate argument, look funny, and so score easy points in an agonistic discourse. Whatever we want, we don’t want public debate where the Dawkins’s and C. Hitchens’s of the world run the show. Or, to put it rather crassly, William Wallace II seems to have been very good at argument–and his is precisely the sort of debate we do not want.

        From my perspective, a depth of vision, and a meditative speaking, is extremely important. Though, that may be because of my background, and interactions with Wilson.

  63. A. Amos Love says:

    David A Booth

    Thank you for praying for me @ August 2, 2014 at 8:55 pm…
    That the LORD grant me the grace to turn from MY self-righousness.

    I hope I can remember to pray for you to turn from YOUR self-rightousness. 😉
    I mean, it would benefit both of us to NOT have this self-rightousness. – Yes?

    And – It does sound like your self-righousness…
    Is much more deeply rooted than mine. 😉

  64. A. Amos Love says:

    David A Booth

    You write @ August 2, 2014 at 10:48 pm…
    “…the Jesus you are calling your shepherd
    commands you to *unite* with a local church…”

    But David – I can NOT find “Local church” in my antiquated KJV. 😉
    And, I can NOT find Jesus commanding anyone to “*unite* with a local church.”
    So, how can I submit to Authority that does NOT exist? – In The Bible?

    Did you ADD that to the Bible? 😉 My, My, Tsk, Tsk…

    • A. Amos Love says:


      And I thought Jesus taught His Disciples NOT to
      “Lord it Over” or “Exercise Authority?”

      Mark 10:42-45 NKJV
      But Jesus called them to Himself and said to them,
      “You know that those who are considered
      rulers over the Gentiles “lord it over them,”
      and their great ones “exercise authority” over them.
      Yet it shall NOT BE SO among you; (you = His Disciples)
      but whoever desires to become great among you
      shall be your “Servant.”
      And whoever of you desires to be first shall be slave of all.
      For even the Son of Man did not come to be served,
      but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.”

      Seems, when someone, a so-called pastor/leader…
      “Lords it Over” or “Exercises Authority” over anyone…
      They are NOT one of His Disciples…

      Yup – “Lord it over,” “Exercise Authority,” bad example… 😦
      “Servant,” “Slave of ALL,” much better example… 😉

  65. A. Amos Love says:

    David A Booth

    And, maybe you can help me out here?
    In Your Bible? Did Jesus ever teach? Did any of *His Disciples?* Ever?
    *Go to* Church?
    *Join* a Church?
    *Lead* a Church?
    *Plant* a Church?
    *Pastor* a Church?
    *Attend* a Church?
    *Tithe* to a Church?
    *Look for* a Church?
    *Teach* Go to Church?
    *Unite* with a Local Church?”
    *Bring their friends* to a Church?
    *Apply for Membership* in a Church?
    *Call themselves Leader* in a Church?
    *Build, or buy, a building* called Church?
    *Give silver, gold, or money* to a Church?
    *Become, Pastors, in Pulpits, Preaching, to People, in Pews, in a Church. 😉

    Have you ever wondered? Why? In The Bible? Jesus NEVER taught His Disciples?
    And, NOT one of *His Disciples?* Ever? Did any of these things?

    Why do you? 🙂

    Hmmm? Did, “the authority of pastoral leadership in the (Local) Church,”

    ADD – ALL these things to the Bible? 😉 My, My, Tsk, Tsk…

  66. A. Amos Love says:

    David A Booth

    You write @ August 2, 2014 at 8:55 pm… Speaking about Heb 13:17…
    “…but you haven’t said anything at all about
    how YOU obey this commandment from God.”

    Well, I have said a lot. And, I’m NOT quite finished yet. Yup, there is more. 😉
    I actually did study the Greek, and read differing commentaries, for this verse.

    But – I guess I did NOT explain it so you could understand. I’ll review for you.

    1 – The first qualification for “who” qualifies to be Obeyed, Submitted to…
    Is from Heb 13:17. – “for *they* are keeping watch over your souls,”
    And, remember, shepherd, elder, overseer, leader of a “local church,”
    Is NOT mentioned at ALL in ALL of Heb 13:17. 😉

    Today, I recommend to ALL believers, to keep watch for “They” who really keep watch over YOUR soul. NOT necessarily someone with a “Title.” And, that will take some time to trust *They,* the “Titles,” or anyone. Because talk is cheap. I’ve been fooled before. 🙂 Jesus warned His Disciples about those “Religious Leaders” who say one thing and DO another.

    Mat 23:3 …but do NOT ye after their works: for they say, and DO NOT.

    That has been my experience with pastor/leaders, bullies, who quote Heb 13:17.
    *They* say they are keeping watch over YOUR soul. But, they are really after…
    Promoting, their Power, Profit, Prestige, Honor, Glory, Recognition, Reputation.

    And, Just try dis-agreeing with the pastor/leader and see if *They* still watch over your soul? If their love is patient? If their love is NOT self seeking? If their love keeps NO record of wrongs? 1 Cor 13.

    Or, when you do disagree your soul is NO longer important? *They* NO longer keep watch? 😦
    “*They* say, and DO NOT.”

    David, I think you agree? If *They* are NOT keeping watch over OUR soul…
    WE, His Ekklesia, His Church, His Called Out Ones, His Disciples, His sons…
    Have NO requirement, NO responsibility, NO desire, to “Obey and Submit?”

    Yeah David, I gots lots and lots to say about this infamous Heb 13:17…
    That has been used to “control and manipulate,” and “Abuse” so many…

    That was something I had to repent of “Controlling and Manipulating” the folks. Calling myself leader. And, expecting, desireing, folks to “Obey and Submit” to me… Ouch!!! 🙂

    When I was NOT very good at, or able, to keep watch over their soul. Or my own soul. And I taught stuff that was “Traditions of men” and NOT the Bible, NOT accurate.

    What is popular is NOT always “Truth.”
    What is “Truth” is NOT always popular.

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  68. Alastair, you have been amazingly patient with Amos.
    Amos: I’m a retired teacher – if you’d been one of my pupils, you’d have been ‘red-carded’ by now!
    Get on with your homework 🙂

  69. A. Amos Love says:

    Hi Christine

    You write…
    “Get on with your homework” 🙂

    Amos writes…
    Thanks for the smily face… 🙂

    You’re the first one on this thread who has. ❤

  70. A. Amos Love says:

    Oh yeah – Christine…

    What does – ‘red-carded’ – mean?

    • I was hoping you wouldn’t ask me that, Amos! It’s a football term. The referee gives a yellow card as a warning to a player who is out-of-order and then a red card if the player needs to be ticked off again. A red-carded player faces consequences but I don’t know exactly what the consequences are.
      We used the yellow/red card system in some schools I worked in. A red card usually meant being sent to the withdrawal unit to cool off. Sometimes there were more serious consequences.
      I just meant to tease you a bit with my red-card reference, but seriously I hope you will take note of what Alastair and others have said to you on this site.
      I don’t need to remind you that Jesus loves you – you seem to know that very well. But Jesus wants what’s best for you, and you aren’t doing yourself much of a favour if you are going to get stroppy with people who are trying to help you… don’t you agree? If you’ve had problems with a church leader, I am sorry. But Alastair & others on this page have responded well to you – I hope you’ll make the most of it 🙂

  71. A. Amos Love says:


    Thanks for the info about “red-carded.” And another smily. 😉
    I’m from across the pond. NOT all that familiar with your “Football Terms.”

    And, I suspect, if you were my teacher, I might NOT be so “stroppy.”
    Thanks, I learned a new word today.

    But, us colonials do have that “Rebellious” nature.
    Well, at least the “Loyalists” here, and abroad, said we were “Rebels.”

    I tend to think of those who challenged “Oppressive Rulers” as “Patriots.”
    Patriots fighting for Freedom and Liberty.

    2 Co 3:17
    Now the Lord is that Spirit:
    and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.

    And – The “War Cry” for the colonials was – “NO king but King Jesus.” 😉

    • Amos- I take it the new word you refer to is ‘stroppy’ rather that ‘red-card’ ? If so, I’m not sure I did a good thing by introducing you to a slang word!
      I have to admit that I don’t know much about the colonials and loyalists. It is true that Jesus is King…but He is also a Servant King.
      The way we respond to church leaders is more about us than about the leaders and Alastair and others have already explained far better than I can what scripture teaches us about this… and Jesus told us to love our enemies.
      All I can say is this… and I realise that it is probably more easily said than done…maybe you could turn your love for Jesus and your fighting spirit into something really fruitful?
      I will remember you in prayer 🙂

  72. Glenn says:

    Or we could abandon the whole unBiblical idea of professional pastors and preachers and instead follow the example of the Apostle Paul and the teaching of the Apostle Peter and the Apostle Paul and have our churches led by elders who earn their living by working outside the church and serve in the church as a labor of love.

    Then we could give money to the poor and needy instead of paying for professional preachers’ salaries. And then we wouldn’t need the government to take care of the poor and widows. Hey! The Bible makes a lot of sense! We just need to get out of our modern America corporate business mindset and follow the teaching and example of the Apostles.

    But that means people like David would have to get off their butts and serve in the church, instead of paying others to perform for them.

    And that means preachers and pastors would have to learn to work and hold down a real job. Wow! That would be shock to the system.

    But Paul did say “if any man is not willing to work, he should not be allowed to eat.” What a hard-ass!

    • David A Booth says:

      Dear Glenn,

      I agree with you that pastors are not professionals in the sense of John Piper’s “Brothers, We Are Not Professionals”. On the other hand, you seem to equating the term professional with receiving financial support. I’m not sure why you think the idea that men who preach the gospel should ordinarily receive financial support is unBiblical when it is the express command of the LORD:

      1 Corinthians 9:14 “In the same way, the Lord commanded that those who proclaim the gospel should get their living by the gospel.”

      Best wishes,


  73. Glenn says:

    And “elder” does not mean young men who have graduated from seminary and have very little life experience as a grown-up man, husband, father, worker and servant – even if they know Greek!

    • Philipp says:

      Glenn, have you noticed that Timothy was the one who was being asked to appoint elders? And he was a young man (1 Timothy 4:12)! Now, not every pastor is a Timothy, but St. Paul did not restrict church leadership by age. Also, the idea that a church should support its pastors (not always distinct, historically, from ‘elders’–the title pastor refers, in many denominations, simply to a member of a ministry consisting of a single, more-or-less undifferentiated class of presbyters and bishops) is in no way limited to ‘corporate America’. Or else why does St. Paul say, ‘The worker is worthy of his wage’ (1 Tim. 5:18)?

      • Hi Philipp,
        Your post above is not addressed to me but I feel moved to respond to it. ‘St Paul did not restrict leadership by age ‘ struck a chord with me and I thought of this:
        ‘A little child shall lead them’ Isaiah 11:6
        I have read some commentaries on this verse and I think it is a prophecy about Christ, but I don’t actually know. However, I am convinced that God graces people of all ages according to his sovereign will and that he also equips people of all ages for various ministries according to his sovereign will.
        I also say ‘Amen’ to 1Tim. 5:18, which you quoted.

    • Hi Glenn,
      Jesus was 30 when he started his ministry and he was neither a husband nor a father.
      How do you relate that to your views about the age and ‘life experience’ of church leaders?

  74. A. Amos Love says:


    You write…
    “you aren’t doing yourself much of a favour if you are going to get “stroppy” with people who are trying to help you…”

    “The way we respond to church leaders is more about us”

    Hmmm? Is it possible that I’m *trying to help?* You? And the other folks here?
    Understand what I now understand the Bible to say?
    Since leaving “The Religious System?”
    And Experiencing Liberty?
    To hear His Voice?

    John 6:45 KJV
    It is written in the prophets, And they shall be ALL taught of God.

    Deuteronomy 4:36 KJV
    Out of heaven he made thee to *hear His voice,*
    that *He might instruct thee:*

    I was ordaind. I was in “Church Leadership.” I thought I had Authority. 😦
    I thought folks were to learn from me. And, *Obey and Submit* to me. 😦
    And I thought I was a “Special” class of Christian – Clergy Class. 😦
    I taught and believed what they are saying. 😦
    And I began to see things a little differently…
    It took awhile, about five years, but…
    Eventually I ripped up my papers.
    Thought I would be His Disciple.
    Deny self, Forsake All…
    And NOT a “Leader.”

    It was a rude awakening…
    To realize I did NOT meet the Qualifications for overseer in 1 Tim 3 and Titus 1.
    It was a rude awakening…
    To find I was in “Bondage” to “The Abusive Religious System,” I was a part of.
    And, The Doctrines of Men, The Tradtions of Men, in that “Religious System.”
    And, the “Title” I coveted, pastor/leader/reverend, is NOT in the Bible…
    And “church Leader” is NOT in the Bible – For one of His Disciples…

    Mark 7:13
    NLT – you “cancel” the word of God in order to hand down your own tradition.
    KJV – Making the word of God of “none effect” through your tradition…
    ASV – Making “void” the word of God by your tradition…
    NIV – Thus you “nullify” the word of God by your tradition…

    Wow – Something so powerful it can cancel, nullify, The Word of God.

    And, most of what I was teaching was “Tradition” – And NOT the Bible.

    Maybe, If you ever re-read some of what I wrote… 😉
    Maybe, you could see through my eyes of trying to help folks…

    To Go Directly, NO middle Man, to…

    {{{{{{ Jesus }}}}}}

  75. Hi Amos,
    I have re-read your posts and I can’t claim that I fully understand your ‘rude awakening’ but maybe I have some appreciation of it. Certainly Jesus is Lord and when we are ‘in Christ’ we are drawn closer to him – he is the vine and we are the branches. We all have a place in his Kingdom and we all have something to give to each other. Knowing what our place in the Kingdom is and knowing how we have been gifted by the Holy Spirit is a matter of discernment and wisdom and we are often dependent on each other for those things.
    God has started a work in you and in all Christians and he is faithful and will complete that work…in his way and according to his timing.
    Maybe some of the Christians you know don’t ‘get’ what you are saying about bondage to a ‘religious system’ but I imagine many of us here probably understand more than you think.
    in Christ

    • Hi Amos,
      It’s me again.
      I have now done a bit of ‘homework’ on colonists and loyalists and I think I’d probably have my ‘L-plates’ on for a long time if I were able to research it more thoroughly. However, I think I might have learnt enough to appreciate that you probably have a struggle that has deep historical roots.
      God is closeto you in Christ Jesus.
      Keep praying and I will keep praying, too.

  76. A. Amos Love says:


    Thank you for the wonderful conversation.

    Then they that feared the LORD spake often one to another:
    and the LORD hearkened, and heard it,
    and a book of remembrance was written before him
    for them that feared the LORD, and that thought upon his name.
    Mal 3:16

    I have enjoyed your kind words, your thoughts , and your ♥.

    Be blessed, and continue to be a blessing… 😉

  77. Thank you, too, Amos.
    Mal.3:16 is a favourite verse of a friend of mine. We meet rarely but when we do it is joy and she always reminds me that God is listening to every word we say.
    Peace be with you.
    Christine 🙂

  78. A. Amos Love says:


    You write…
    “Keep praying and I will keep praying, too.”

    Okay… 😉

    Psalm 23:1-6
    The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.
    He makes me to lie down in green pastures:
    He leads me beside the still waters.
    He restores my soul:
    He leads me in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake.
    Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
    I will fear no evil: for You are with me;
    Your rod and Your staff they comfort me.
    You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies:
    You anoint my head with oil; my cup runneth over.
    Surely goodness and mercy
    shall follow me all the days of my life:
    and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever.

    Psalm 23:1-6.
    The LORD is Christine’s Shepherd;
    Christine shall not want for anything.
    The Lord God Almighty makes Christine to lie down in green pastures:
    Jesus, the Prince of Peace leads Christine beside the still waters.
    The Lord our Healer restores Christine’s soul:
    Jesus, leads Christine in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake.
    Yea, though Christine walks through the valley of the shadow of death,
    Christine will fear no evil: for You, the God of all comfort, is with Christine,
    Your rod and Your staff they comfort Christine.
    You prepare a table before Christine in the presence of her enemies:
    You anoint Christine’s head with oil;
    Christine’s cup is truly overflowing.
    Surely goodness and mercy shall follow Christine all the days of her life:
    and Christine will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever.
    Psalm 23:1-6.

    Your Friend

    A. Amos Love

    • Hi Amos,
      Thank you for your reply and for your prayers.
      I’ll reply to you more fully later this evening – I have quite a full programme just now.
      Christine 🙂

    • HI amos,
      I haven’t ‘prayed into’ Psalm 23 before but I will do now.
      I do pray into the Lord’s Prayer as an intercessionary prayer for everyone I can think of. I do that every day. My mother used to pray for what she described as ‘the whole world’, even when she was dying and I was inspired by her.
      I have just one question for you: whereabouts in the US do you live?
      Christine 🙂

  79. A. Amos Love says:

    Philipp – David A Booth

    Philipp writes…
    “Glenn, have you noticed that Timothy was the one
    who was being asked to appoint elders?”

    But – Wasn’t it Paul who gave Timothy, and Titus, those tough qualifications?
    To determine which elders can qualify to be an overseer?
    Seems, Timothy, did NOT appoint based on his own decernment. Yes?

    I’ve noticed, those are some tuff Qualifications Paul gives to Timothy, and Titus. And, most congregations looking to hire a pastor/elder/overseer, and most who desire to be a pastor/elder/overseer usually “Ignore” or “Twist” the Qualifications in 1 Tim 3:1-7, and Titus 1:5-9. And today WE, His Ekklesia, His Church, His Disciples, can experience “many” pastor/elder/overseers who do NOT qualify according to Paul’s qualifications.

    Titus 1:5-8 KJV
    5 …ordain elders in every city…
    6 If any be *blameless,* the husband of one wife,
    having faithful children not accused of riot or unruly.
    7 For a bishop “must be” *blameless,* as the steward of God; not self willed,
    not soon angry, not given to wine, no striker, not given to filthy lucre;
    8 But a lover of hospitality, a lover of good men, sober, *just,* *holy,* temperate;

    1 – For a bishop (overseer) “Must Be” *Blameless.* 2 – Just. 3 – Holy.
    4 – One that ruleth well his own house, having his children in subjection…

    David – For me, these qualifications are important for who qualifies for Heb 13:17. Many today, who like to quote Heb 13:17, also claim to be elder/overseers, and also claim to be “Leaders.”

    But – If they do NOT Qualify? According to 1 Tim 3:1-7, and Titus 1:5-9?
    Do you believe they are really elder/overseers?
    Do you believe they are really Leaders?

    Are WE, His Sheep, His Bride, His Ekklesia, His Called Out Ones…
    Required to *Obey and Submit* to a pastor/elder/overseer who does NOT Qualify?

    NOT any more — Thank You Jesus… 😉

  80. A. Amos Love says:

    David A Booth

    This is more of what you asked me about Heb 13:17.
    Is a believer required to *Obey and Submit* if an overseer does NOT Qualify?

    Titus 1:5-8 KJV
    5 …ordain elders in every city…
    6 If any be *blameless,* the husband of one wife,
    having faithful children not accused of riot or unruly.
    7 For a bishop “must be” *blameless,* as the steward of God; not self willed,
    not soon angry, not given to wine, no striker, not given to filthy lucre;
    8 But a lover of hospitality, a lover of good men, sober, *just,* *holy,* temperate;

    Here are just three of over 15 very tough qualifications…
    1 – For a bishop (overseer) “Must Be” *Blameless.* 2 – Just. 3 – Holy.

    1 – That *must be* is the same Greek word. You *must be* born again. John 3:7.
    *Must Be* – Strongs #1163, die. – It is necessary (as binding).
    *Must Be* – Thayer’s – necessity established by the counsel and decree of God.
    Seems to be a small word but very important. Yes?

    1 – Blameless, Strongs #410 anegkletos – unaccused, irreproachable, blameless.
    Blameless, Thayers – cannot be called into account, unreproveable, unaccused.
    Blameless, Dictionary – Without fault, innocent, guiltless, not meriting censure.

    2 – Just
    Strongs #1342 – dikaios {dik’-ah-yos} from 1349;
    Thayers – righteous, observing divine laws, innocent, faultless, guiltless.

    3 – Holy
    Strongs #3741 – hosios {hos’-ee-os}
    Thayers – undefiled by sin, free from wickedness,
    religiously observing every moral obligation.

    Now that’s three tough qualifications for pastor/elder/overseers. Yes?

    Are WE, His Kings and Priests, His Ambassadors, His Kids….
    Required to *Obey and Submit* to someone who does NOT Qualify?
    NOT any more – Thank You Jesus… 😉

    How many pastor/elder/overseers today, who honestly examine themselves, seriously considering these three qualifications can see themselves as Blameless, Just and Holy, innocent, without fault, above reproach, undefiled by sin, and thus qualify to be a pastor/elder/overseer? And, if they can see themself as *blameless?* Is that pride? And no longer without fault? 😉

    Which Qualifications, are WE, His Sheep, His Ekklesia, allowed to Ignore?
    Which Qualifications are NOT important?

    If WE, His Ekklesia, His Church, His Sheep, His Kings and Priests, His Body…
    Take seriously the many tough Qualifications in 1 Tim 3:1-6, and Titus 1:5-9…

    The number of Biblically Qualified – pastor/elder/overseers – is quite small. 😉

    What is popular is NOT always “Truth.”
    What is “Truth” is NOT always popular

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  82. Mark says:

    It’s also generational. Previous generations did not feel the need to the debate the young. You were told to believe it and that was it. I got in trouble for just wanting to ask the minister a question. Debate was prohibited. Jesus got to talk to the rabbis and debate them even as a kid. Fast forward 2000 years and there is no discussion and debate. The youth in the church aren’t taught how to defend the faith. The phrase “truth doesn’t compete against itself” is used to tell people to stop asking questions and wanting to debate. How many clergy ever taught the faith?

    • Hi Mark,
      Interesting that you said it’s generational! I grew up at a time when children were expected to be ‘seen but not heard.’ When I asked ‘Why?’, my mother & father often replied,’Because I say so.’ However, they did answer questions that amused them, such as,’Why doesn’t the sky fall down on our heads?’
      Our schoolteachers were also very strict, and used corporal punishment.
      All that changed with the Children Act in 1989, and teaching was much more challenging for me than it was for the teachers who taught me.
      Some of my contemporaries never quite caught up with the Children Act, and some colleagues took early retirement.
      Maybe I’m being cynical here, but most teachers did not have God ‘on their side’,so to speak – but the clergy did! I realise that several members of the clergy did not exploit this ‘advantage’ but I suspect that others did.
      As you mentioned, Jesus got to debate with the rabbis and on one such occasion, when Jesus was 12, Mary & Joseph thought they’d lost him. At the age of 12, Jesus differentiated between his earthly father & his heavenly father. I don’t know if the age of 12 has such significance for us, but I do get the impression that some of the clergy still treat their ‘flocks’ as if they were still under 12! That is not the case with current leaders at our church.

      • Mark says:

        The clergy and church have also abdicated scholarship to the academe. When the scribes were the few learned people besides the rabbis, they would teach and then debate each other. When the academe took the scholars and the church was left with preachers, the preachers weren’t scholars. Thus, the young suffered for it by not getting taught and their questions answered.

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  84. Reblogged this on reality is not optional and commented:
    One of the best posts I have read in a while. Isolated theology is weak theology.

  85. jonjtripp says:

    I find myself being defensive of my pastor when I read this…but then again I see opportunities for growth spiritually by being able to question and challenge why I should believe like I believe.
    And that’s where I wonder when many of the younger folks who automatically challenge anything anyway become the wiser in their own eyes and not needing anyone in a pastoral role WHO DOES KNOW MORE THAN THEY.
    There’s a big difference between a serious, thoughtful challenge with the purpose of growing versus the challenge from one who knows how to Google and question with the wrong intent.
    I’m not certain if my point is as clearly elaborated here as it is in my head, but nevertheless thank you for your thoughts.

    • Thanks for the comment, Jon. I think that I understand and share your concern. The ‘question everything’ mindset can often be a means of self-protection to deny any truth or authority its appropriate claim upon us. I’ve commented upon this a little here.

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  89. 2I realize this thread is cold, but this is an important topic to me. I would frame it slightly differently, however. The reliance on teaching methods that avoid conflict is an effort to evade rebuttal and the need to address arguments meaningfully; I agree. I think there is a deeper motivation, though, by way of postmodernism. I hate using a $2 word to express something so worthless. I have read very little from experts on/proponents of postmodernism. What I have seen has been inconsistent, esoteric, and misses the point.

    (Definition of what an epistemology is for so my kids can understand my comment 😉 ) People use mores and values that they have (usually subconsciously) absorbed from people around them so that they can function in a way that satisfies their lusts, assuages their fears, and provides general support for functioning in society. Epistemologies provide the values that a person uses to decide if something is good/evil, true/false. Postmodernism, as I see it, is actually fairly simple. It boils down to the use of emotion for discerning those issues. Rather than employing specific arguments to override cultural mores and justify fleshly desires, postmodernism more effectively allows the undercutting of any particular cultural ‘hangup’. It does this by making good feelings the proof of goodness. I’ve heard definitions that emphasize the lack of absolute truth, or the moral relativism of postmodernism. I think a description emphasizing the replacement of reason and truth with emotions explains why those features are so prominent.

    Why is this relevant to the post? While overtly postmodern churches may approve of homosexuals as pastors, etc., the broader effects on most churches is far more subtle. A great many christians unwittingly replace the Golden Rule with a postmodern value: “Make others feel as ‘good’ and ‘loved’ as you would have them make you feel.” It is even common to conflate one’s own feelings with the Holy Spirit’s ‘speaking to my heart.’ Is it any wonder that pastors make an effort to not create any offense? His feelings tell him it is a mean thing to do, and so it would have to be considered sinful. He may not condone immorality, but the door is open for all kinds of dangerous foolishness in the guise of biblical teaching.

    I have a son who competed in a christian homeschool speech and debate league (high school level), and I have been astounded by the fact that most students (and parents/community judges) don’t discern between an essay with a thesis, and the common sermon format that has only a theme without proofs (or sufficient sources). They aren’t slouches who can’t express themselves… they are just emulating their pastor, the guy they hear doing lots of public speaking. The ones that actually write an essay almost never address the most likely objections of a critic|skeptic. They don’t even know what objections are out there. The debate students are taught how to argue their point in a tournament context, but the same student will deliver a speech where a thesis doesn’t exist, and no objections are anticipated at all. These kids all use the Internet, and it hasn’t taught them to perceive or navigate opposition any better than their parents or anyone else. This is because their values are postmodern. Reason isn’t truly valued. And, exposure to reason and facts isn’t very likely to overshadow the power of the diligently exercised emotion ‘muscle’.

    I’ve complained to multiple tournament directors in this league because of blatant plagiarism. (Usually, Mom told the kid to “just use your own words”). *None* of the tournament directors would even *warn* the kid! I was told that I was being far too harsh on a mere kid. I would make them feel bad, and that isn’t the kind of love Jesus wants, right?

    So, I think the concept you’ve raised isn’t really about pastors. It is about how we have lost a precious sensibility, and have allowed delusion to permeate the church in a particularly insidious way.

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