10 Reasons Church Members Don’t Trust Pastors

I’ve previously written about why pastors don’t trust other pastors. If that lack of trust weren’t tragic enough, the truth is that many laypersons don’t truly trust their own pastor. Based on my years of doing church consultation interviews, here are some reasons your church members may not trust you: 

  1. They’ve been burned in the past. It takes only one pastor to wrongly share private information to cause church members to struggle ever trusting pastors again.
  2. They’ve at least heard too many bad stories about pastor betrayal. Listen long enough, and you’ll hear some church member talking about a pastor somewhere who broke a confidence. 
  3. They don’t trust pastors in general. Refer to point #1 and #2 above. Even if you and I have never betrayed them, they can’t get beyond what some other pastor did.  
  4. They don’t trust our spouse. If church members don’t trust our spouse, they won’t trust us, either. Talkative spouses cost pastors a lot. 
  5. They fear being a sermon illustration (even anonymously). Once again, they’ve heard it happen somewhere, and they worry it will happen again. If they never tell a pastor anything private, though, they never run this risk.
  6. They’ve read something negative we put on social media. Maybe it was an off-color comment or curse word. Perhaps it was a veiled exposure of another church member’s issues. Whatever it was, they no longer trust us as spiritual leaders.
  7. They don’t really know us well enough to trust us. We might carry the title of “Pastor,” but they know us as only the Sunday morning preacher they never see again until the next week. They may want to trust us fully, but they’re not yet convinced of our integrity simply because they’ve spent little time with us.  
  8. They’ve seen too many pastors fall – often publicly. They’ve learned that nobody – including us – is immune to the possibility of falling. Why, then, should a church member deeply trust leaders who could be off the scene quickly after a fall? 
  9. Some grew up in, or around, pastor’s homes. That is to say, they saw too much to ever fully trust a pastor again. It’s tough to overcome our family of origin when that family borders on hypocrisy.
  10. They know that pastors come and go. Why open their heart to leaders who could already be looking for the next green grass?

Pastors, what other reasons would you add? Laypersons, what are we missing? 

22 Comments

  • Mark says:

    Some of us aren’t sure you pastors understand human nature and only criticize people, not just their bad behavior. Others feel like you are too protected by leadership and only listen to a few special people. Some younger people have never seen pastoral care extended to them, but only to older people. Some younger people saw you conduct a wedding or baptism once and when you seemed mad about doing so, they decided you did not like younger people.

    Your #7 is very real. Some people have never heard you talk, only preach.

  • gregcorbin says:

    Dr. Lawless, I have been blessed and challenged by your blog. Regarding this post, I would point out that almost all of these apply in terms of why pastors don’t trust church members. The truth is that pastors and church member struggle to trust one another for many of the same reasons. As one who has been a pastor for over 20 years now, I still have no idea how to bridge divide.

  • Steve Lewis says:

    How do pastors of a 2,000+ member church overcome #7?

    • Chuck Lawless says:

      I think you have to use the pulpit strategically — preaching the Word while also inviting the people into your life via self-depracating humor, vulnerability, etc. One of the best I’ve ever seen is Bob Russell, former pastor of Southeast Christian Church in Louisville, KY.  

  • Grace says:

    Pastors who are not genuinely interested in God’s Word and Truth …

    Pastors who think they know everything…ie controlling and manipulative…especially talkative wife in charge!

    Pastors who have hidden agenda and regard themselves as CEO…

    Pastors fail repeatedly and are unrepentant…take advantage of their position and want to run the church by their own standards….

    Not every pastor is called by God and not every one of them is Truly born again believers in Christ Jesus!

    My True Pastor is my Shepherd , my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ! :)♡

  • jrrlawless says:

    Hey there hope things are going well, from a branch of the Lawless tree.

  • Melanie Martin says:

    They have been falsely accused and judged by new pastors who take over a church hostility. They control the church with their agendas . Split the church and then ostricize members that get wise to what’s happening. I just had this happen to me at a church I served for 16 years. I am devastated and no longer feel safe to trust pastors or feel safe in a church environment again.

  • anonymous says:

    I know this is an old thread, but I’m dealing with this right now. I have a very strict code of personal ethics that include not belittling people or bullying. I witnessed an event where these things happened to a church employee that thoroughly put me off. I addressed it privately with the pastor only to discover that he’s passed my email around. I’m not upset about his sharing it. I’m upset that he did so without even an acknowledgement to me that he received my email. It’s like he’s hitting every single one of my buttons on acceptable behavior. I realize that pastors are human, but I find this whole situation thoroughly offensive. I have made an appointment to speak with him. I’m really trying to have an open mind, but I don’t have much hope of him taking any responsibility for his misbehavior.

  • Paula says:

    This is not a blame game, but I did want to leave a few nameless experiences that often shape us to be not-so-trusting of certain Pastors/preachers.
    1. 3 years into Christian journey and our Dean of our bible school started bullying me and making my life miserable. Going out of his way to be spiteful, hurtful and abusive.
    2. I moved back to my old town and was attending my mothers church. I had to always do damage control, because the Pastor kept using private conversations by other members as teaching points the following sunday, and they would come to me for advice and it would be a juggling act to help them without damaging their view of their Pastor. Not too long after, I became his new target. He actually called my former Pastor, who I had a good relationship with, to malign my character. A visiting minister claimed to feel an anointing on my life, my Pastor told him….doubt that because she is not submitted to God……and how did I find out? Well he was brazen enough to tell me himself.
    3. then my all time favorite. My Pastor’s assistant, single young man started calling me at night to talk, which I had to suggest that if he wanted to talk he should call earlier in the evening not after 10. I was not feeling comfortable about it. I was starting to get suspicious so I asked what his intentions were. He was evasive saying “I must survey the horizon then I will tell you”. The following Sunday the Pastor spoke about church relationships and that he requires the potential couple to seek counsell from the Pastor before starting a relationship. Knowing full well that this did not happen in my case, I asked him about this rule. He asked why, I told him without giving the name, just the “horizon scenario comment” to my question. He told me to stay away from whoever it was because it is demonic, I did not have the heart to tell him it was his assistant. After all exploded and God showed me there was at least 4 other girls he was using for gifts, money, tickets, and a vehicle because they all thought he was courting them, and he was smart enough to pick one from each of the other churches in a 40 mile radius (same organization). The Pastor saw the young man weeping and asking for forgivness from me (because I told him that he needs to repent for what he did). So he wanted details, and after much debate he demanded it as a Pastor. I TOLD him all…against my will. He came back weeks later and said “I think this is just you having a crush on him, and you are trying to ruin his reputation because he is not interested in you”.
    I spent months in discouragement over this experience combined with the others with disappointment with God for allowing it. Over the course of the next 2 years, I left and attended a 2000 member congregation….so that I could hide and lick my wounds. Only to fall into temptation and sjn. I lost all hope. Eventually God reached my heart and called me back to his side with abounding love. But I have never been able to fully trust a Pastor the same way since.

  • Anonymous says:

    I KNOW that I’ve been used as a sermon illustration anonymously and then to make matters worse, one night at bible study, the pastor was anointing with oil and praying over each person and began to “deliver” me from the spirits that were harassing me concerning things I specifically told him in private. I’m struggling as to whether to change churches or not. I’ve forgiven him completely but that doesn’t mend the trust issue.

  • Nathan says:

    I think one issue that wasn’t really addressed in your list is that people don’t find the pastor relatable. If all you knew of my pastor was his preaching, you’d think the “worst” thing he’d ever done was have an occasional unkind thought about someone.

  • Ella says:

    I grew up in a very legalistic church and I’m the past 5 years or so have broken away from it. The Baptist pastor I had not only accused me of something I didn’t do and used me “anonymously” as the service example and topic, but he also spent 20 minutes yelling at me during Sunday school because I refused to go to my class as a man had started going to that class and this same man had grabbed my backside at the end of church and pretended to not realize he did it. He told me this guy would be the same in heaven as in earth so I’d better get used to it and accused me of pouting to get my way. I left.
    Now I am, or was, in a better church learning and growing and as of yesterday morning was kicked out of my church because apparently I am “disrespectful of the pastor and church leadership” and “sowing discord” yet my being upset on one single Sunday was never addressed with an “are you ok?”, but immediately went to a we can’t have this now bye bye.
    I will never trust a pastor again.

  • John Lemons says:

    Many pastors aren’t trusted because they aren’t trustworthy to begin with. This is coming from a licensed and ordained minister. As you grow in God and study the word more thoroughly, you see the manipulation and misleading words of those in leadership. Now this certainly isn’t the case for ALL pastors but there are more than a few.

    Church has become a business with the pastor as the CEO. Especially if the the church is a plant that was founded by the pastor. There is very little room for disagreement and its more of the “my way or the highway mentality” with these types of churches.

    EVERYONE has their battle to fight and none of us are perfect. And I’ve learned to research and study for myself and never put anyone on a pedestal. The higher you place someone the more damaging the fall is going to be. Primarily, for you.

  • Leslie says:

    My pastor was picked by his father, just before he passed. I’ve heard too many rumors and read headlines about him being charged with abuse. I still attend that church, but it will always be his dad’s church because all he seems to use it for is a plug for money for new projects at the church.

    Nobody spends Sunday mornings getting ready to spend hours at church listening to why money is needed. Take our tithes and offerings and do those things without holding us religiously hostage, thinking the word of God is coming.

    I’ve needed financial help and was rebuffed. I certainly don’t trust my pastor.

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