In recent years there have been several news features on the phenomenon of Pastors who do not believe. The report has essentially been that, in anonymous surveys, some pastors admit to being atheists/agnostics. Why would an atheist/agnostic want to be a pastor? While some reported that they enjoy the control, influence and authority the pastoral role gives them, the majority stated that, while they themselves do not believe, they understand that the Christian message can be a help to weak-minded people; therefore, they are willing to teach it. What does the Bible say about “pastors who do not believe”?
In a word, “Woe!” “Woe to you, you hypocrites…woe to you, blind guides…” (Matthew 23:14-16). “Woe to the shepherds who only take care of themselves…” (Ezekiel 34:2). “These are spots in your feasts of charity, when they feast with you, feeding themselves without fear: clouds they are without water, carried about of winds; trees whose fruit withereth, without fruit, twice dead, plucked up by the roots; Raging waves of the sea, foaming out their own shame; wandering stars, to whom is reserved the blackness of darkness for ever.” Jude 12-13
It is the height of hypocrisy to teach a message you do not believe. It is dishonoring to God for anyone—especially pastors—to consider the Christian message a psychological crutch for unintelligent and needy people.
“These six things doth the Lord hate: yea, seven are an abomination unto him: A proud look,a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, An heart that deviseth wicked imaginations, feet that be swift in running to mischief, A false witness that speaketh lies, and he that soweth discord among brethren.” Proverbs 6:16-19
If the Christian faith is a lie, it is not a “useful psychological crutch.” Rather, it is useless, vain, empty, futile, and pitiful. “And if Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain. Yea, and we are found false witnesses of God; because we have testified of God that he raised up Christ: whom he raised not up, if so be that the dead rise not. For if the dead rise not, then is not Christ raised: And if Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins. Then they also which are fallen asleep in Christ are perished. If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable.” 1 Corinthians 15:14-19
“For we have not followed cunningly devised fables, when we made known unto you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of his majesty.” 2 Peter 1:16
An unbeliever is absolutely disqualified from serving in any form of church leadership. A man who is willing to preach a message he does not believe is hypocritical and arrogant. Many people are excellent at faking the Christian life. But, ultimately, “Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles?” Matthew 7:16. A pastor who does not believe will eventually reveal himself in his words, actions, and teaching. Be vigilant! Keep watch! A church led by a pastor who does not believe is on the path towards ineffectiveness, apathy, lethargy, and, for some, eternity without God due to being taught an incomplete message of salvation.
“Let them alone: they be blind leaders of the blind. And if the blind lead the blind, both shall fall into the ditch.” Matthew 15:14
Now, there are also pastors who truly know and love the Lord and yet are struggling through a time of doubt. This is fairly common and understandable, as pastors deal with a tremendous amount of stress and are subject to heightened spiritual attack. This article is not directed towards believing pastors who struggle with doubt. For pastors in such a place, consider a simple prayer..
“And straightway the father of the child cried out, and said with tears, Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief.” Mark 9:24
If the doubts become persistent, the pastor should probably step down until spiritual renewal occurs. A pastor in such a situation deserves prayer, comfort, encouragement, and empathy.
For the pastor who is declaring a message he does not believe, who is pretending to be a servant of a God he does not even know, the only proper response is immediate expulsion. Without repentance leading to genuine faith, God’s judgment on such an individual will be eternally severe, believe it or not!