What Do Pastors Do That You Dislike? April 1, 2010

What Do Pastors Do That You Dislike?

Christian author Don Miller has written a couple bestselling books (I read one of them and enjoyed it). He also gives really fantastic talks (I saw one of them and loved it — to watch, click here and find his name).

But he wrote something today I had a problem with. He had on his website a list of reasons pastors are important.

1. They lead social movements that change the world.

2. They speak truths that create guardrails to keep us out of danger and stop us from hurting each other.

3. They introduce us and remind us about God, who redeems us and guides us in love.

4. They model good marriages and families (Your mind may have gone to an exception, but quickly list five who do. It’s an easy list to create.)

5. They bring people together to live and work in community.

6. They counsel hurting and broken people.

7. They bring the presence of God into the most dark and painful circumstances.

8. Most of them could be making lots more money doing something else, but they sacrifice to build God’s kingdom.

9. They put up with our crap.

10. Because without them the world would be unimaginably dark.

Let’s go through the list…

#1 may be true, but it’s true for anyone who has a lot of “followers” — when people are listening to you, whether you’re a pastor, blogger, teacher, entrepreneur, or celebrity, you have the power to create social change. Pastors aren’t special in that regard.

#2 is completely wrong. Their “truths” are often opinions or lies and they can do more harm than good. You think what some pastors have to say about gay people has helped that group? You think what some pastors have to say about evolution have made our science classes better?

#3 Christian theology aside, I can thank my parents and friends for those things as well.

#4 Some pastors have good marriages. Some don’t. Just like everybody else. It’s not unique to the profession.

#5 And exclude people who don’t think like them. Hell, some churches have “Christian Yellow Pages” so you can restrict your business dealings with only other Christians… because everyone else is unworthy?

#6 Many pastors do counsel hurting and broken people (many, without any formal training). But also doing that: Good friends, trusted colleagues, and professional counselors.

#7 In other words, they offer false hope. Some people like that. I don’t.

#8 It’s true that most pastors don’t get paid much. But neither do teachers and I’d argue they sacrifice just as much of their time and make a far bigger difference in the lives of people.

#9 I’m sure they do.

#10 That’s not true. I can imagine a world without pastors and it’s perfectly sunny and fine to me. What we need are good friends and a tight-knit community. You don’t need a church or a pastor for either of those things.

Let me be clear: Some pastors do amazing things and they really do help the people they shepherd. I’ve met several of them. (Hell, a terrific one posts on this website.)

But while some pastors may do very positive things, let’s not forget that they do a lot of awful things as well.

I asked people on Twitter and Facebook what pastors did that they disliked.

The responses were very interesting and some go completely against what Miller said:

  • Some pastors preach in favor of Creationism and Intelligent Design, both of which go against the face of all the evidence and the wisdom of professional scientists. They dumb our society down.
  • Some pastors preach against homosexuality and homosexuals. This, in turn, spurs prejudice against perfectly fine people.
  • Some pastors view non-believers as a challenge, instead of just accepting us as we are.
  • Some pastors beg for money which is in turn used to further their lavish lifestyles.
  • Some pastors teach that women should not do certain things men can do (even though they could do them equally as well).
  • Some pastors pretend to know what God thinks even when their guess is as good as anyone else’s.
  • Some pastors rape little kids.
  • Some pastors cherry pick parts of the Bible to support their own agenda and ignore the more barbaric, disturbing parts altogether
  • Some pastors impose a perverse set of sexual morals (and, in some cases, don’t live up to them themselves).
  • Some pastors spread misinformation about sex, abortion, politics, etc.
  • Some pastors get involved in politics while illegally trying to maintain their church’s tax-exempt status.
  • Some pastors offer “spiritual guidance” when they’re really just offering platitudes (e.g. “We know that God is in control”).
  • Some pastors think that the plural of anecdote is fact.

I suppose it’s not all bad. Some pastors get people to eventually leave the church 🙂

Care to add to the list?

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • As a gay person I find the Christian author’s #2 reason laughable and inexcusable.

  • Jamie

    On the last point – the plural of anecdote is anecdotes. I think the person meant to say the synonym of anecdote is fact. Goes to the “dumbing down” argument.

  • cpsmith

    Many pastors get so caught up trying to fight imaginary demons and save people’s souls from non-existant harms that they trivialize the very real pain and suffering of people in their communities. Making the lives of homosexuals miserable in order to save them from damnation is only one example of this.

  • Deiloh

    My husband is religious and I just got wind that my seven year old was made to apologize to god for eating bread this week (passover week). My son is not convinced that he shouldn’t be allowed to. He was told that god was disappointed in him and that he (my son) should be more like his Dad. Dad chimed in “yeah, don’t you want to be like me?” I’m still incredibly pissed off.

    Truths, guidance in love, good marriage model, etc. etc. etc.? My ass!

  • ConneXionLost

    Some pastors behave as if they are “above the law” due to their religious profession.

  • Silent Service

    They take up space in military organizations all while doing everything negative that you listed.

  • Angie

    Some pastors promote toxic lies through their churches (i.e., America is a “Christian nation”, mean ol’ secularists are oppressing Christians) and discourage critical thinking about complex, nuanced issues (i.e., abortion, gender, war).

  • Bob

    Nearly all pastors don’t pay taxes

  • kat

    some pastors not only tell women what they -can’t- do, they prescribe for women a lifestyle of submission and servitude to men, tell women that they aren’t worth anything if they’re not married and having children (and it has to be both), and proclaim that women are supposed to be attractive to their husbands or risk losing those important men altogether.

  • 5ive

    another thing most pastors don’t do: allow their congregation to ask questions during their sermons. Heck, allow their congregations to even speak during sermons. Teaching people involves a 2-way communication, church’s usually frown on this. I have never even heard of a church that allows questions during a sermon. They do not “teach”, they “tell”.

  • Revyloution

    I don’t think they should be called Pastors until they have been pasteurized first.

  • JimG

    Some pastors manipulate emotional occasions into recruiting drives. This happens occasionally at weddings, but I’ve seen it at funeral after funeral after funeral after funeral: the preacher called in to deliver a brief eulogy also delivers a sermon, and plays on the grief of those present by saying the only way they’ll get to see the dead person again is by joining their church.

  • Karmakin

    They lie.

    I don’t mean lie about the existence of a higher being, or lie about creationism or anything like that.

    They lie about what they personally believe in, in order to follow along with tradition. They assume that everybody just knows that what they’re saying isn’t really to be taken THAT seriously, except when it is.

  • Ted Powell

    “Some pastors pretend to know what God thinks even when their guess is as good as anyone else’s.”
    I suggest it’s the other way around: their guess is no better than anyone else’s.

  • They advise people in abusive relationships to “trust God” instead of leaving their abusive partner.

  • One thing a pastor did that I don’t like:

    In the sermon at my uncle’s funeral, with my weeping, brokenhearted grandparents in the front pew, he reminded everyone that my uncle, their son, may very well be in hell, since it was possible that he committed suicide.

    I’m still ashamed of myself to this day that I just sat there, stunned and angry, and didn’t protest.

  • JB Tait

    At a wedding of a None who had Christian parents and a None who had Orthodox Jewish parents, the “pastor” sermonized, telling us that if we had not accepted Jesus as our personal saviour we were all going to Hell to be tormented for eternity. The sermon was an extremely long and angry one.

    I don’t think she understood how long Eternity is, however, because she was certain the World wasn’t as old as the the written history of the Jewish people she was demonizing.

    In any case, she went on and on and wouldn’t stop even when the mother of the bride told her it was inappropriate, and the wedding nearly didn’t complete.

    She missed the point of the gathering, embarrassed the family who hired her, and used someone else’s event to pontificate using disinformation, and misquoting the authority (The Torah) she claimed backed her position.

    This is just a concrete example of the hubris that might well be the underlying defect that causes the behaviours we don’t like.

    So I guess my choice is: The sin of Pride.

  • bible belt atheist

    I don’t like pastors that come door-to-door and ask if I believe in god and ask if I’d like to attend sermons in their church.
    First off, its none of their business if I believe in god unless I am already a member of said church.
    Second off, unless god himself comes to your church in person every Sunday to preach, how is your church any better than the ones on tv everyday?
    And finally, no, I don’t want sermon on how I’m going to hell because I don’t believe in an invisible non-existant man and why I should repent because obviously I’m wrong, no matter what form of logical reasoning I use.
    Door-to-Door Pastors are worse than Door-to-Door Salesmen. At least Salesmen can take no as an answer.

  • Exist.

  • Some pastors preach to exclude others and to even fear them. If they read the new testament they would know Jesus walked with the outcasts.

    Since I don’t go to church, it is hard to say what pastors are preaching, but I know plenty of Christians…And it seems there is a capitalistic Jesus that I never saw in the New Testament. It seems people are unwilling to help others…Example–health care.

  • Mara Jade

    Well, my mother’s a minister…
    And I can honestly say that she has caused me to be traumatized from both being hospitalized for my sexuality and being abused by her.
    I don’t really like that very much.
    My mother’s behaviour has had a rather large impact on my atheism. She has bolstered it more than she can imagine.

  • Steve

    “Some pastors cherry pick parts of the Bible to support their own agenda and ignore the more barbaric, disturbing parts altogether”

    Conversely (and more worryingly), some cherry pick the barbaric and disturbing parts (see Phelps et al), thus making the bible appear to be little more than an ancient inkblot test.

  • HamsterWheel

    Worst of all, in my opinion, is the state of mind pastors and clegry perpetuate in society. They cultivate ignorance, gullibility, and distrust of one’s own intellect in favor of an utterly absurd fantasy. They actively perpetuate the very mindset which is the cause of most of humanity’s problems.

  • Thegoodman

    I agree with Hemant on a lot of the points but for some reason #6 stuck out to me.

    They do not counsel people who are hurt or broken. They have little education in counseling and psychology and no education in psychiatry. Their advice is no more valuable than that of a friend or grandparent with one major flaw: they have motivation. They wish to use your lowest times as a window of opportunity to indoctrinate you into their following.

    Anyone who seeks a following by saying the words of others only seeks power. No pastor is “original”. They may be charismatic, they might take a different approach to the topics at hand, but every thing they say has been said before and every one of their messages is unoriginal.

    I feel I am qualified to be a pastor/counselor. I am building up some of my counseling techniques, see below.

    1. Why did daddy molest you? It wasn’t God’s fault, it was your fault for not praying enough.

    2. Got cancer? Again, your fault, shoulda prayed more.

    3. About to get a divorce because your husband beats the shit out of you nightly? DONT DO IT, GOD DOES NOT APPROVE. You getting beaten is your own fault, you should pray more. Also, you should give 10% of your income to the church or he may start beating you with larger objects.

    4. Think you might be gay? That is the devil play trick on your mind. Ignore them, bottle them up, ignore all of your own desires. Sure, this might lead you into child molestation, suicide, or becoming completely detached from society; but again, its your own fault for not praying enough. Plus, all of those things are better than being one of the gays, isn’t it?

    To be clear, that was all hyperbole.

  • plutosdad

    One that bothered me when I went to church: they teach ethics based on their own personal experience and upbringing, but couch it with the authority of God. So if you’re from a different culture (even in the US, say subculture) they condemn your practices as sinful without any understanding.

    this is not ethics as informed by thousands of years of ethics teachers and study, it’s just their gut which is based largely on prejudice and on what worked for hunter gatherers (xenophobia, racism, homophobia, etc)

  • JT

    10% of what income? They shouldn’t be gainfully employed. That would seriously cut down on making babies for Jesus and waiting on their man.

    It’s a good start, but your “work of the lord” could use some practice…

  • Anonymous

    When I was about 15-16 (and a Christian) I didn’t get along with the pastor of our small church or his children. I removed myself from the church when I was able to drive. About 6 months later he was removed from his position for having pornography in his church office and attempting to have a sexual affair with a woman in the congregation. It was then found out he did the same thing at the last church he was at. I also though it was wierd he was 20 and his wife was 13 when they started dating.

  • inmyhead9

    The pastor in the town that I grew up in got arrested for having child porn on his computer.I knew the man as a youth and it is disturbing.

  • Twin-Skies

    Running for congress.

    At least one pastor, Eddie Villanueva of the Jesus is Lord Movement, is running in the presidential race, while Mike Velarde, the pastor of the El Shaddai Christian charismatic group, is running as a partylist representative in the Philippines.

    Both are running a campaign using the pretense that they’re the “morally superior” choice, and they genuinely make me sick to my stomach.

  • Darwin’s Dagger

    What ever good work pastors do could easily be done by teachers, counselors or community organizers in any world in which they did not exist.

  • JimG

    Um, why did my comment disappear?

  • littlejohn

    Many pastors seem to spend a lot of time and energy making people feel guilty about normal, even healthy, things.
    Like sex, coveting things, masturbation, prefering to sleep in on Sunday mornings, cursing when you drop a hammer on your foot, being gay, and well, you get the idea.

  • Alan E.

    Continue preaching even though they don’t believe what they are preaching.

    What Should Pastors Do When They Don’t Believe What They Preach?

  • Tim Stroud

    People are not sheep. Don’t treat or even think of people as if they require a shepherd to lead them.

  • Killer Bee

    People are not sheep. Don’t treat or even think of people as if they require a shepherd to lead them.

    I disagree. Many are. Possibly even the majority. That they have the purported ability to choose which shepherd they want to follow is, in the end, a distinction without a difference.
    It sounds benevolent to pretend people aren’t what they are, or are better than what they are. But, like housepets, giving people more autonomy and less black-and-white parameters of acceptable behavior than they require makes them worse off.

  • What kat and skepticalProgrammer said.

    @ JimG: because you touch yourself at night. See, this is why we can’t have nice things.

    (joking, of course)

  • Tim Stroud

    @Killer Bee: How elitist of you, Killer Bee. Next you’ll be gathering the masses in camps. For their own good, of course.

  • TychaBrahe

    @Jamie: I believe this is a poorly rendered version of “The plural of anecdote is not data.”

    @Tim Stroud: While I don’t agree with Killer Bee, research has shown that 5% of humans are leaders and the rest are followers. I don’t like that. I’d like people to be more independent of authority. But there you have it.

    This is classically brought up in discussions of American POWs during the Korean War. The North Koreans and Chinese were very good at spotting those in the 5%. These were the ones most likely to instigate rebellion. Once these were eliminated–segregated or even killed–the remaining prisoners would be docile.

  • Casimir

    Take just two examples, just two: creationism and opposition to gay marriage. Where do these beliefs spread, if not the churches? Who is not at least partially responsible, if not the pastors? 70%-80% of Americans identify as Christians, and the majority of Americans oppose gay marriage. The majority of Americans believe “God created man in his present form”.

    We can see some of the works that pastors are responsible for.

  • Well, like the Hitch said, there is nothing good done by pastors that can’t also be done by non-religious people.

  • Some pastors:

    …lie or give vague answers when kids in religious classes ask honest questions about the holy books.

    …blame everything from natural disasters to crimes on homosexuality, feminism, atheism, secularism, abortion, or some combination thereof.

    …are against factual information being taught to students in various classes, including science, hisotry, and health. (I’m waiting for someone to demand that we should learn that pi equals 3 in math class).

    …are so accostomed to special treatment that they think equal rights are discriminatory.

    …forbid the members of their religion from associating with people of other groups.

    …tell lies to their followers about other religious or non-religious groups so that people will think that people in other groups are immoral.

    …lie about the contents of their own holy books so that followers who don’t read the books themselves will be tricked into thinking that the books are better than they actually are.

  • At the risk of violation of Godwin’s Law, their first item, “leading social movements that change the world,” is not necessarily a good thing. Hitler led a social movement that changed the world too.

  • Christophe Thill

    I’m especially disgusted about the “counseling” aspect. I don’t think they’re more qualified for the job than, say, a bartender. If people feel bad, they should see a professional psychologist with a degree, not someone who will introduce moral and religious considerations and only add confusion to their existing problems.

  • Its been mentioned above, but one thing I hate is when pastors who are presiding over a wedding or funeral view this an an opportunity (or their right or obligation) to evangelize to the attendees. I don’t mind the event taking place in the religious culture of the person(s) being honored, I just think it is inappropriate for the pastor to evangelize to all the guests who are there to honor the people being remembered or celebrated, not some particular religious beliefs. I had never heard so much hell-fire preaching at one time than the last funeral I attended. It was quite a spectacle for the ones outside that faith group. The ones in the faith group probably didn’t think it was anything unusual at all.

  • I also hate it when pastors push the idea that it is precisely when people are going through great emotional upheaval that evangelism can bear the greatest fruit. Pastors like Bill Moyers actually produce videos and write books to other Christians outlying this strategy so other evangelists can make their evangelism more effective. I saw one of Bill Moyers’ videos about evangelizing to people at their lowest point for the greatest probability of getting a convert. Disgusting.

  • codemenkey

    @JeffP: i like to remind myself that even jesus thinks they’re assholes.

    what about the fact that many pastors maintain this the facade that they have access to “privileged” occult knowledge about god that none but them can know, even despite the fact that the so-called priesthood of all believers explicitly contradicts this (something christians would know if their “spiritual” growth wasn’t stunted by uneducated pastors)? or that some pastors pretend to live so-called godly lives, when in reality, they are more selfish, antisocial, and immoral than even the worst “sinner” in their flock?

    a lot of the other stuff was already mentioned.

  • Killer Bee

    Tim Stroud,

    @Killer Bee: How elitist of you,

    I think the same applies to those we consider elite. Many of them need guardrails, too. Maybe even moreso since they have so many more ways and resources to help themselves self-destruct.

    Follow leaders and lead followers, there’s a time and place for both. Hierarchy is the essence of civilization…for humans and most social animals.

  • Brett

    I’m a pastor at an Evangelical Christian church. I read nearly every single entry, and I AGREE with what most of you guys are saying. I wouldn’t want to be a part of a church or organization led by men or women who you described. I especially agree with the skepticalProgrammer, Angie and Hemant:

    “They advise people in abusive relationships to “trust God” instead of leaving their abusive partner.” (from skepticalProgrammer)… I completely agree. That is terrible advise to give to someone.

    “Some pastors promote toxic lies through their churches (i.e., America is a “Christian nation”, mean ol’ secularists are oppressing Christians) and discourage critical thinking about complex, nuanced issues i.e., abortion, gender, war. (from Angie)… GREAT point Angie. I, for one, don’t believe in the idea of a Christian nation, or that secularists are out to get me. And you’re right – issues of abortion, gender and war are indeed complex and don’t have easy answers.

    “Some pastors cherry pick parts of the Bible to support their own agenda and ignore the more barbaric, disturbing parts altogether.” (from Hemant)… I can’t stand it when preachers do this. A good seminary will teach people the art of hermeneutics = proper steps to interpretation of a text. Cherry picking parts of the Bible is a violation of proper hermeneutics.

    That said, some of the comments seem to be caricatures and/or partly true. For instance, “Nearly all pastors don’t pay taxes.” (from Bob)… Actually, pastors (along with rabbis, imams, nuns, etc) pay self-employment tax (15.4%) on our full income, but we don’t pay income tax on our housing allowance. We also pay the full amount of tax like everyone on capital gains, interest, dividends, property tax, sales tax, etc.

    Sorry for the long post. Congratulations if you made it all the way through. 🙂

  • beckster

    Some give TV “sermons” where they con little old ladies and sick people out of the little bit of money they have by telling nonsense stories about how someone gave their TV church $1000 and then got a new job the next day. This happens in non-TV churches too. People are convinced that if they tithe, god will bless them with riches.


  • absent sway

    Pastors can be any of the good things Donald Miller listed or any of the bad things everyone else listed. I take them strictly on a case-by-case basis, like any other professional. Like any position of power, it can be used for good or evil. The people I have known who went to seminary were usually the cream of the crop in the congregation, even though I don’t agree with most of what they’re being taught and preaching now.

  • Staceyjw

    Thanks for participating, I’m often curious to hear how a theist feels about some of these topics, this one especially. If all pastors were as reasonable as you, religion would be better off.

  • Joshua

    I too am a Pastor of three United Methodist Churches. I have to say as I read through each entry I have to say for the most part I am sorry that this is what so many people have experienced from pastors. Brett (above post) very much hit on some of the same things that I noticed as well.
    But all in all, I did not desire to post any retaliation to the above comments but more so give an apology that this is the experience of the church and pastors. I currently am also in seminary and I truly have a high hope and understanding that the church should be reflective of God. And what I have read above is not the God I desire to serve. I also too hope that my ministry would never fall into any of these comments.
    Someone above said Jesus came and ate among the sinners and those who did know God. This I would certainly agree with and it was this that people noticed about Jesus.

  • Interesting post. I honestly don’t think it matters what pastors are like. Well, I suppose it matters to people in the congregation, but my problem with Christianity is with the theology, not the leaders of the churches. I suppose there are good pastors and bad pastors, but neither kind can address the problems inherent in theism.

  • Hello Hemant,

    I understand why you object to Donald Miller’s overall perspective on pastors. I wouldn’t expect you to do otherwise, based on your worldview.

    However, I’d like to point something out about your observations. Please forgive me if someone has already done so.

    Half of your objections (namely #s 1, 3, 4, 6, & 8 ) are based on a misunderstanding of what Miller was actually saying. The purpose of his “10 reasons” was not at all to say that pastors are unique or special or better than parents and teachers and friends. It was to simply show that they are important.

    I think it would have been much more helpful toward meaningful discussion if your article came out of a more careful reflection of Miller’s.

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