Trust Your Pilot, Not Your Pastor

According to reader Mary, here’s an abridged version of Pastor Mark Driscoll‘s article “Do You Trust Your Pilot“:

Sit down and shut up. Don’t question me. I do not have to explain myself to you. You can never hope to understand the secrets I possess, you tiny, insignificant person.

She’s not exaggerating.

Mark Driscoll

Driscoll’s talking about how organizations (i.e. churches) sometimes have to make tough decisions, and when that happens, some people (i.e. churchgoers) may start to panic and freak out. He compares the situation to a pilot flying a plane and making a hard turn. Your best best is to just trust the pilot, he says. They know what they’re doing.

Working for an organization, including a church or ministry, is kind of like a plane in flight. The senior leaders are up front getting data from private channels and have a perspective out the windshield that no one else has. Most people on the proverbial plane are going about their lives without considering the competency of the pilots’ leading, until there is a hard turn and they feel it.

Assume that [the pilots] have way more data and training than you. Assume they see stuff out of their window you don’t see out of yours. Assume they did the right thing, even if you are wearing your drink, your luggage came flying out of the overhead bin, and you need to buy new underwear to replace the ones you were wearing. Just maybe the pilots saved your life and spared you from a less disruptive turn that would have ended in a fiery crash you never saw coming.

That’s… wishful thinking at best.

Driscoll’s analogy misses the mark entirely. Pilots have earned that sort of trust. Pastors have not.

First, pilots make tough decisions to save lives. They’re not taking joyrides. If they make a sharp turn, there’s a very good reason for it. (Odds are you’ll know that reason before long, too.) Pastors — not always, but often enough — make tough decisions to benefit themselves, grow their church, and expand their ministry.

Second, pilots do their jobs anonymously. Too many pastors seem to just want their name in the spotlights. Think back to the last flight you took. What was the pilot’s name? Who knows. Granted, pastors are on stage delivering a sermon, not hiding behind a closed door, but many of them are one-person media empires. Anonymity isn’t a choice most of them are making on their own.

Third, pilots have advanced knowledge that the rest of us don’t possess. If your pilot has, say, a sudden heart attack, everyone’s screwed. It’s not like the passengers can just step in and do their jobs. When it comes to dispensing good advice, though, pastors don’t have any more wisdom or common sense than you do. Even if you’re Christian, you don’t need someone else to read the Bible to you or interpret it for you and pastors are no closer to God than you are. Pastors may be excellent performers and speakers, but they’re not smarter, kinder, or better people than you. Joel Osteen, to name just one example, stepped into his father’s shoes after his death and took over the family’s church with no formal training. No doubt that wasn’t easy, but it’s not like a pilot’s son can just walk into the cockpit and start flying around.

Fourth, pastors have a habit of breaking the rules to suit their purposes. You need to look no further than Pulpit Freedom Sunday to see how seriously pastors follow the law. Pilots, in my mind, have a reputation for being professional; those who are not are exceptions, not the norm.

Fifth, pilots are transparent about what they’re doing, at least where it concerns us. They tell you where they’re flying, how long it’s going to take, the route they’re taking, etc. Churches are far from transparent where it matters; many never release their finances and we’re left with nothing but a guess as to what’s really going on behind the scenes.

The point being: Mark Driscoll is no Chesley Sullenberger.

Don’t just accept what a pastor says or does because they said so. Question them. Call them out on it. Stage a mutiny if necessary. Mark Driscoll, like so many other pastors, loves silence and obedience from his followers, but you don’t have to give it to him. Unbuckle that seatbelt and challenge him.

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.


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