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Why most people don’t care what we think

Ryan Denison is the Senior Fellow for Theology at Denison Forum, where he contributes writing and research to many of the ministry’s productions.

He is in the final stages of earning his PhD in church history at BH Carroll Theological Institute after having earned his MDiv at Truett Seminary. Ryan has also taught at BH Carroll and Dallas Baptist University.

He and his wife, Candice, live in East Texas and have two children.

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According to Barna Group’s recent State of Pastors study, only eight percent of adults care what pastors think on social issues like same-sex marriage, abortion, climate change, and religious freedom. As Barna president David Kinnaman explained, “There is a huge amount of skepticism and indifference to today’s faith leaders.” But why is that the case?

That perceived irrelevance isn’t due to an unfavorable view of pastors in most instances. The Barna study found that two-thirds of adults believe that pastors help their communities. Moreover, two-thirds of those who knew a pastor personally thought very highly of him or her and forty-eight percent stated that their personal experience with pastors was better than what the media often portrays.

That said, eighty percent of those surveyed argued that pastors were not “very credible when it comes to important issues of our day.” And, as Emily McFarlan Miller of Religion News Service reports, the numbers got even worse when those issues involved faith and politics.

Essentially, pastors appear to have lost their influence, in most cases, not through any personal shortcoming of their own but rather because the culture simply no longer values their input any more than the rest of us. Can that trend be reversed? Should it be?

Honestly, I’m not so sure. Is it really such a bad thing that the value of a person’s opinion is derived less from their position than from what they have to say and how they live? Blind faith is and always has been a dangerous proposition when it’s placed in other fallible people. That’s true of our politicians—something we’ve been aware of for quite some time—but also for our clergy.

What’s important to note is that most of the ninety-two percent of those who care little about what pastors think would not openly reject those opinions simply because they come from pastors. The same is true for the rest of us as well. If our lives warrant being heard, then most are willing to listen. Of course, there will always be those who dismiss us out of hand simply because we follow Jesus Christ. That group was always going to be hard to reach, however, and, while that doesn’t mean that we give up on them, we must also guard against the tendency of allowing their hypocritical and judgmental attitude to color our view of everyone else.

The majority of Americans occupy a middle ground between blind faith in what we say and blind rejection of it, and that’s a good thing. When some random carpenter’s son started walking around Israel, telling people about a better way to live their lives and relate to God, he didn’t assume that people would simply listen. Rather, he invested in them by meeting their needs (Matthew 15:30), listening to their stories (John 4), and genuinely caring about them as people (Matthew 9:36). As a result, he earned the right to be heard, and his message continues to change countless lives to this day. If that’s how our Lord and Savior approached his ministry, should we really feel entitled to anything different?

So the next time you begin to grow discouraged by the apparent indifference of the culture towards the beliefs and teachings of Christians, take a minute to examine your own life and see if you’ve earned the right to be heard. While there will always be some that remain antagonistic regardless of what you do, most are simply waiting to be shown why they should care. Will you show them today?