The Loss of Pastoral Credibility in the Age of the Internet

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Susan R's picture

EditorModerator

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 alsohow 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.

The essence of good teaching requires dealing with opposing voices, and a mature teacher responds with patience and grace. When someone questions and probes, instead of viewing this as a threat, it should be embraced as an opportunity. Challenge, if nothing else, shows the person is engaged, even if their motives are wrong, and whether they realize it or not, they've opened a door for their ideas to be challenged.

Jim's picture

The "peril" for the pastor (as speaker) is that they have to really cross "T's" and dot "i's" on research

  • You've got people in the pews with ESV study Bibles or John MacArthur study Bibles
  • Plus folk with tablets or smart phones
  • I notice that when I teach ABF, there are seminarians who check my Greek, etc cetera
  • The point is that person in the pew has much more info at hand and knows how to quickly pull it up
Mark_Smith's picture

or on the internet...IT MUST BE RIGHT and my pastor wrong.

I see how it is!

Meanwhile, did you get the point of the message while you were "fact checking" your pastor?

Mark_Smith's picture

when I was teaching my first college astronomy class. I mentioned in passing one day that 12 men had "been to the moon". Now, when I said that, I meant "landed on the moon". A student in class decided to fact check me with his smart phone and found that 25 people had "been to the moon". He called me on it in class...taking up about 5 minutes of class time. Well, we were both right. 25 people have flown out to the moon, but only 12 landed on the moon. Anyway, this student would not leave well enough alone and kept digging into me like he had a gotcha on me...Was anything accomplished by the student?

Should we really be doing similar things to our pastor? How many of us are looking up things to learn, and how many are looking to reinforce that they are "smarter than the pastor"?

Ron Bean's picture

The performer benefits from the critical analysis of their performance.

The student benefits from the teacher's criticism of their speech or essay.

A good homiletics class is based on criticism of the preacher's presentation.

While nit-picking is irritating, criticism is not a bad thing. Personally I value the criticism of my fellow elders, friends, and church family. I enjoy Sunday night meetings where our group asks questions about and comments on the morning sermon. 

I've seen too many preachers who cannot and will not tolerate any negative comments about their sermons.

 

"Some things are of that nature as to make one's fancy chuckle, while his heart doth ache." John Bunyan

TylerR's picture

Editor

I recall, to my shame, a critical attitude and spirit I've had towards some sermons I've heard some of my old Pastor's preach. I would fixate on a technical mistake and completely miss the point of the sermon. One mistake in particular had to do with some aspect of inter-testamental Judaism. The Pastor wasn't well versed in that area, and just stated something wrong. It did nothing to distract from the point of the sermon, and I doubt anybody else noticed it. It didn't matter. I snickered to myself and wondered why my Pastor was so ignorant. Well, now the shoe is on the other foot and I'm the Pastor - and I was wrong to be hypercritical. 

I post my sermon notes on every sermon, and they have properly cited footnotes for sources and all kinds of other nerdy stuff. I even interact with commentators in the footnotes, if I disagree or think their point is wrong. Everyone in church knows the notes on the website are there if they really want them. I like it when people dig deeper. Just be sure not to have a hypercritical spirit and a nasty attitude. 

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

Larry Nelson's picture

 

.....it seems to me that the Bereans were commended in Acts 17:11 for their propensity to "fact check" Paul's teaching........

Bert Perry's picture

If we think that fact-checking the pastor is somehow new or wrong, we need to remember that the Bereans did it to Paul almost two millenia ago,and they're commended for doing so.  So it's not the fact-checking that is the problem, but probably more that all too many of us do not know how to use the basic rules of evidence and logic when doing so.

And it's not just the seminarians keeping Jim (and his pastor Matt) honest.  It's the comptroller for Andersen Windows, too.  :^)  I remember being astounded when I looked into his Bible and saw Greek instead of Mandarin, and he explained that after learning English, koine Greek was a breeze.  He's probably right.  

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Susan R's picture

EditorModerator

of the article was NOT about fact-checking the pastor. It was about the church-as-echo-chamber that has been demolished by access to information.

Bert Perry's picture

Susan R wrote:

of the article was NOT about fact-checking the pastor. It was about the church-as-echo-chamber that has been demolished by access to information.

If this is all that's happening, and I hope that it is, this is a good thing.  Is our mind not part of our heart, soul, and strength per Deuteronomy 6:5?

Alas, if we just have information and not the tools of logic and rhetoric at our disposal, I fear we simply replace one echo chamber with multiple.  Sigh.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

TylerR's picture

Editor

There are two ditches the Pastor and congregation can fall into in this new age:

#1:

  • The Pastor can be frightened because the congregation listens to such popular men who have more resources, more money, more training and more of a platform than he does.

    • For instance, I'm a nobody. My church is small, and my town has 1200 people in it. We're excited because a diner opened up on the town square. My most popular sermon has been downloaded . . . (let me check) . . . 411 times. Yay.
    • If a Pastor is insecure for whatever reason, and is uncomfortable with his congregation being exposed to people who . . . gasp . . . aren't on the same theological page with him, then this can be threatening. It shouldn't be. 

#2:

  • People in the congregation can start shifting loyalties from the local church to a celebrity they've never met, who will never visit them in the hospital, never pray with them, doesn't know they exist and will never study all week to deliver a heart-felt sermon for them. Suddenly silly ol' Pastor Smith is a loser and a moron compared with MacArthur, Piper or a litany of other celebrities. 

Both of these ditches must be avoided. 

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

Susan R's picture

EditorModerator

The article proposes that the internet has exposed the fact that "...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."

The problem is that this is also true of pastors - "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. "

TylerR's picture

Editor

Susan:

Good quotes from the article. That is ultimately the fault of the Pastor. I wonder how many Pastors take the time to study and explore the positions of folks they disagree with?

  • Is it really enough to call Matthew Vines a heretic who is "obviously" wrong? Have we read his book so we have at least a vague idea where so-called "gay Christianity" is coming from?
  • Have we taken the time to look into and think about atheistic arguments, instead of deriding them? 

How many Pastors took on-board what they were taught at Bible College and.or Seminary, and haven't bothered to read, study or engage at all since they graduated? I had a Pastor at my ordination in his 70's who laughed and said he hadn't read any theology books since Bible College . . . during the Kennedy administration. 

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

T Howard's picture

While pastors should be open to people responding, questioning, and challenging them or their sermons, there is an appropriate time and place to do so. Bum rushing the pastor as soon as the service is over to respond, question, or challenge him is probably not the best idea. Going on Facebook and accusing the pastor of teaching heresy because he disagrees with your interpretation of the passage is probably not the best idea either. I've seen both approaches taken.

But, I agree, that pastors / teachers need to be open to responding, questioning, and challenging. I need to be more open to that. The issue I have is that I only have so many minutes to teach through a passage, and crossing t's, dotting i's, and issuing various disclaimers can distract from communicating the central truth and application of the passage.

Case in point, I recently taught in an ABF on the believer's responsibility to plan and prepare for the Lord's return. That preparation and planning involves staying alert, being on guard, watching, being sober-minded, etc. The point being that if we truly are prepared and planning for the Lord's return, that will be evidenced in how we live. The passages I used included Matt 24:42-51, Luke 12:35-48, Mark 13:32-37, Romans 13:11-14; 1 Thes 5:1-11; 1 Peter 5:8-11; Rev. 3:1-6.

During the ABF, one gentleman in class objected that the gospel passages don't apply to the church because they were taught during the old covenant and directed to the nation of Israel for the tribulation period. I guess we could have spent 10-15 minutes going down the rabbit trail of dispensationalism, but I felt the time best used to focus on the point of the passages.  Whether directed to Israel and/or the church, God expects His people to plan and prepare for His return, and that planning and preparation will affect how they live.