Spiritual Shepherds not Flocking to Word of God
New analysis from Arizona Christian University’s Cultural Research Center reveals a “particularly shocking” absence of biblical worldview among pastors of evangelical churches, “because evangelical churches, by definition, believe that the Bible is God’s true and reliable words to humanity.”
The latest release of the American Worldview Inventory, conducted in February and March of this year, revealed that 37% of Christian pastors held a biblical worldview, and the numbers are only slightly better among pastors of evangelical (51%) and independent or non-denominational (57%) churches. “With barely half of evangelical pastors possessing a biblical worldview — and that number continuing to decline — attending what may be considered an ‘evangelical’ church no longer ensures a pastoral staff that has a high view of the scriptures,” said George Barna, Senior Research Fellow with FRC’s Center for Biblical Worldview.
“We’re really not being the kind of light in the darkness that Christ has called us to be,” said Barna, who conducted the research. “American culture is doing more transforming of the American church.” The report comes as the nation continues to reel from recent mass shootings in Texas, New York, and California. “Historically, in times of tragedy, Americans look to the pulpit for answers,” said FRC President Tony Perkins. “Fewer pulpits believe the Bible actually has the answers.”
The research showed pastors without a biblical worldview (62%) hold to a blending of biblical ideas with other philosophies “best described as Syncretism,” resulting in “a unique but inconsistent combination that represents their personal preferences.” Barna’s research identified a biblical worldview according to 54 questions in eight categories, which found a majority (57%) of pastors aligned with the Bible in only one category, “the purpose of life and their calling with it.” The lowest category (39%) “might have been expected to top the list: beliefs and behaviors related to the Bible, truth, and morality.” Only two percent of pastors aligned with the Bible in this category while lacking a comprehensive biblical worldview.
A biblical worldview is “a combination of beliefs and behavior because you do what you believe,” said Barna. “Everybody makes decisions all the time ... and so we make those choices on the basis of our worldview, ... the intellectual, emotional, and spiritual filter that ... enables us to make sense of the world around us and our place within it.” He explained a worldview “helps us determine right from wrong, ... what kind of person we want to be, ... all of those choices that we make.” A worldview begins developing as young as 18 months, is established by 13, and “we refine it during our teens and twenties, but it rarely changes after,” Barna explained. “Everybody has a worldview.”
Barna’s research revealed senior pastors are most likely to have a biblical worldview (41%) followed by associate or assistant pastors (28%). “They’re the future senior pastors,” said Barna, “so we’re looking at a reduction in the future if that trend holds to be true.” The research also identified biblical worldview among children’s and youth pastors (12%), teaching pastors (13%), and executive pastors (4%). Executive pastors are presumably responsible for managing a church’s finances, which means almost all churches handle their finances according to worldly business principles instead of according to a biblical worldview.
Teaching pastors are commonly found in large churches, explained Barna, but “you have to ask the question, ‘what is it you’re teaching?’” Among pastors of churches which average more than 600 adults at weekend services, around 15% are Integrated Disciples, according to the data, while over 40% are integrated disciples for smaller churches. Integrated Disciples “have a biblical worldview” and have “successfully integrated their biblical beliefs into their daily behavior.” Barna suggested it was “plausible that pastors of some large churches attract people by teaching a cultural standard rather than a biblical standard.”
The worldview deficit among children’s and youth pastors is impacting the next generation. For “people who have a biblical worldview, it has largely been shaped through the coaching or mentoring of another individual who has that biblical worldview,” said Barna, “not only teach it to them, but also model it for them and help them to be accountable for the choices that they’re making.” Paul told the Corinthians, “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1), and he told Timothy, “what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men, who will be able to teach others also” (2 Timothy 2:2). Passing on instruction and imitation from person-to-person instruction and imitation have been the bedrock of Christian disciple-making since the time of the apostles.
The lack of biblical worldview among pastors carries implications for children raised in Christian homes. “If we have a deficit of biblical worldview in the church, ... that does not speak well for Christian homes,” Perkins said. “At the tip of the spear is parents. ... But we’ve got to have, at the same time, churches reinforcing and actually equipping the parents.” Parents “have the primary responsibility of shaping the worldview of their children,” Barna agreed. “But it’s the community of faith that has the responsibility of helping to equip and to support those parents in the process.”
It also carries implications for believers seeking to join a healthy church. Barna said, “if you’re going to go to a church, it’s incumbent upon you to do your homework, to figure out, ‘is this a church that not only believes the Bible and not just talks about it, but really is living it, really is being held accountable?’” He offered a warning, “[T]hey’re going to tell you that they love the Bible, that they teach the Bible. We can no longer assume that that’s the case.”
Joshua Arnold is a staff writer at The Washington Stand.