Evangelical Pastors: It’s Cute You Think You’re Disciplining Your People

Evangelical Pastors: It’s Cute You Think You’re Disciplining Your People November 8, 2022

I want to speak to a certain type of evangelical pastor. This pastor spends a great deal of time in study, reading commentaries, reading their Bible, and preparing their sermons and Bible studies.

While they pay attention to pop-culture, what’s new in music, television, movies, sports, and social media, they pay little attention (or none) to politics or the serious conversations surrounding the legal, political, and foreign policy issues discussed in academia or in established media like the New York Times or Washington Post.

They consider themselves a-political. They may or may not be registered to vote. They may be a Republican or Democrat, but that might only be due to the fact they registered as such when younger, perhaps before they became a pastor. For all we know, they registered as such because their parents were thus. They may not even be able to tell us why they originally registered as one or the other.

While they may be tuned into any serious theological and philosophical conversations going on in their given denomination or tradition, again, they are not tuned into the political world or law/policy conversations, especially within the mainstream media, on social media, or the more fringe areas of the internet. Their attitude is something along the lines of, all political parties “are the same,” and my job is to spread the gospel and disciple my flock.

I don’t know if the sort of pastor I just described is prevalent in the evangelical world currently or the minority. Things have certainly changed since I was a pastor in the early 2000s. I can tell you that the sort of pastor I described was very common (in my experience) in the 80s, 90s, and early to mid-2000s. I also know that I’m currently aware of evangelical pastors that would fit the type I just described.

Again, these pastors believe their job is to spread the gospel and disciple their flock, their members and attenders. They pour over their Bibles, commentaries, Greek lexicons, and check their pertinent reference books and other theological resources. They pray. They do internet searches on the topic they plan to preach, to gain further insight or ideas. They work hard. And when Sunday morning comes, they walk toward the pulpit (or to a small stool to sit on) confidently. After the sermon is over they leave church that day happy that they have “discipled” and taught their people.

Unfortunately, there is what we hope is happening and there is reality. Here is the reality dear pastor: Your people showed up already discipled by other teachers/leaders/communicators. You really didn’t stand a chance- to be honest. You had your 35-40 minutes Sunday morning and maybe another 60 or 90 minutes during the week, but such is a pittance in our current world of 24/7 connection to media.

Many of your flock showed up on Sunday after watching 15-18 hours of Fox News all week. They spent another 10-15 hours on very politically conservative right-wing, radical, websites. They spent additional hours on social media where their friends/family and the people they follow are an echo chamber of the same right-wing political offerings, along with a toxic side of conspiracy theories.

What these pastors may not understand either is that within this echo chamber and cocoon of “information” their “flock” is being taught that their political opponents are “demonic” “groomers” “pedos” “evil” and that there is a “deep state” and world-wide conspiracy (usually Jewish) that means to destroy America and Christians (read white, evangelicals—not Catholics, Orthodox, or other non-Protestant Christians). And, of course, there’s the QAnon garbage.

And, it’s all a lie. All of it. It’s nonsense. It’s really the stuff of the idiotic and ridiculous. And yet, these pastors’ flocks (way too many of them) believe it. They believe the election was “stolen.” They believe Trump was sent by God. They believe Covid was a “plandemic.” They are anti-vaxx and anti-mask. They believe they know more than doctors and experts in the area of medicine. They believe what we could only really call: Mass delusions. They are also increasingly open to political violence and authoritarian rule.

So guess what: They’ve been “discipled.” They showed up discipled.

Here’s what that means then: They are interpreting their pastor’s teaching through the discipleship, the information, the lens, the grid, the world-view already present in their lives through these other sources of “information” and forming that happened all week long. So, when the pastor sees their people nodding in agreement during the sermon, they think their people “get it,” “they hear me,” when in reality, they may be agreeing to something completely different than what the pastor is trying to get across.

Thus, to see this fresh-faced evangelical pastor beam with joy after their sermon is, well, just cute. And sad. Pitiful really. Goodness, you just want to pat them on the head, give them a cookie, and send them to bed so the adults can talk. Maybe we can keep them, for at least a little while longer, from the reality of their near complete irrelevance as to the discipleship and forming of their members.

In the meantime, the adults in the room (if there are any left), those with some wisdom and experience, those who understand what is actually happening, need to gather and address this very disturbing reality.

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