During the last couple of decades there has been a decreasing amount of trust in clergy and the organized denominational church. This is due to lots of reasons. It begins with some substantial and well-publicized abuses by clergy of all kinds of religious groups. But it extends through polarized groups who support only progressive (or liberal) clergy or those who support only conservative clergy and religious groups. This kind of polarization has not been good for the Christian church as a whole, and has led to greater mistrust of clergy and the organized church.
In reality we know the overwhelmingly vast majority of clergy, as well as the congregations they serve, are trustworthy. They take seriously Jesus’ call to be servants, following after Him. We also know that polarization leads to taking advantage of the situation to push the agenda of a particular pastor or congregation, leading to “loss of face” of the whole religious establishment in the public eye. The result of this is that followers of Christ fall even farther away from realizing the goal of Jesus’ high priestly prayer in John’s gospel, “to be one as the Father and I are one.”
What can be done about this growing phenomenon? First, I think that congregations and clergy must increasingly work together for the common good of all. We must support one another and build each other up. Certainly the loser in the growing lack of trust in clergy and the organized church are people not hearing the Good News of Christ breaking down the walls between us.
Second, pastors and congregations must work at deterring the polarization effort. Providing forums that reflect different points of view and allowing people to make choices based on information may do this. Education is always a way to defeat any conspiracy efforts aimed at lifting up the conspirators.
Third, church leaders and training institutions must work harder at equipping clergy and other congregational leaders in faith and ethics. There needs to be spiritual growth to undergird the ethics of church leaders during the whole careers of pastors and lay professionals.
Fourth, there needs to be stronger encouragement for pastors and other church leaders to be involved in collegial activities and events. The greatest way to defeat negativity leading to loss of trust and value is to keep all professionals involved in the social crossroads of leadership so that they do not isolate and become polarized.
Fifth, greater effort must be taken to support pastors and lay professionals in their personal lives, as well as their own congregations. The family and other support systems keep clergy and lay professionals healthy and happy. It leads to a greater cementing of a relationship with any larger group.
During my thirty-eight year career as parish pastor almost all clergy and lay professionals I have known have been trustworthy, dependable, loyal, and wanting what’s best for their congregations and synods and the larger church. It is too bad when some bad apples spoil it for everyone. For the sake of the gospel and the larger church, we must take greater, preventive measures to polish up the apples. Those make up almost the entire bushel basket. We must all stay connected to the Vine and to the branches so that we may produce more and better fruit. The next generation of leaders, as well as the future of the church, is at stake.
Pastor Roger Black