How do you go to church when you don’t trust your pastor?

I don’t trust pastors. I want to trust them — but I’ve experienced so much church-related devastation that I seriously doubt whether I can ever again believe the best about their motives, preaching or how they conduct their lives. My trust is utterly broken. Still, the last thing I want to do is pass that disillusionment on to my children….. COME READ MORE OF MY COLUMN TODAY AT OC MOMS/OC REGISTER!

[p.s. I'm flying to Chicago today to visit my sister! Your prayers for my safe travel would be greatly appreciated--especially since flying terrifies me (eeek!). Thank you! And stay tuned...I'll be blogging and posting pics from Chi-town this week!]

  • Denise

    I think I’ve said this before—-if you don’t trust your pastor, you aren’t at the right church. If you find you can’t trust any pastor, then perhaps doing family worship at home is the answer, at least for a while.Invite friends to join you.

  • Ruth Ann

    I will read your column, but I thought before I do, I will answer the question in your title. I don’t go to church because I trust my pastor. I don’t avoid church because I don’t trust my pastor. I don’t give two hoots about that either way. Also, with regard to the pastor, I’m just as broken and imperfect as he is or, for that matter, anyone else is.

    I go to church because I trust God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. I go to church because I believe God wants me there, and if he does, I’m not going to say no. I believe he wants me there because I take the 3rd commandment seriously.

    Elizabeth, I will look forward to your photos from Chicago. That’s my home town, land of my birth. I love it. Unfortunately, I live in CA now. Does your sister actually live within the city? I wish you well in your travels. I, too, don’t like traveling.

    • Fr. Christian Mathis

      I share Ruth Ann’s thoughts on this one, but as I am a pastor, you may not trust me. : )

      Our faith relies little upon the pastor. God is the one who deserves our trust and our thanks each week for the continual blessings he sends on all of us. My only response to that should be to show up on Sunday to let him know that I continue to see what he is doing for me and to say thanks.

      Ultimately, it is love that bids me go to church, not the pastor. And for that, I am grateful, because if people were coming to my parish because of me, we would all be in trouble.

      • elizabeth

        There are a handful of priests, pastors and monks that I have come to trust. You, Fr. Christian, are one of them. :) One of the things I LOVE about the CC is that it relies little upon the pastor. It’s not about a personality. And I LOVE that. Thanks, Fr. C, for always reading here and for being such a great source of encouragement and wisdom for me.

  • Kari

    Whatever happened to worship (Sunday or otherwise) being about *God*?! About giving thanks, praise, and adoration to Him alone who is worthy of it – and who alone is worthy of all of our trust?!

  • TJ

    Yes our hope is in God. But. It matters quite a lot who is pastoring us. That is why Paul clearly gives qualifications for elders/pastors/deacons in his letters. I am with you, Elizabeth, about the scars that can run deep when we have been devastated by those who we entrusted to care for our souls. My family has been through this. And we learned to put our hope in God, not in men. Moving forward, though, it is important to once again build into a local body of believers (not doing so offers worse pain in the long run, I think!). We are now in a church we love, but my husband and I know the men that lead the church are fallible and that only in Christ do we find true spiritual hope and rest. I’ll pray for you as you trust God, and take the risk again. It is worth it. Beautiful article, by the way!

  • KatR

    The idea that if you have been spiritually abused that you can go to church and just ignore the pastor is ludicrous. Even without the previous negative associations, in a good number of churches the pastor is the star. He interprets and explains God to the congregation, and the entire service is a build up to his sermon.

    • Ruth Ann

      I can’t speak of spiritual abuse from a personal experience. So I won’t go there. I also don’t think one can ignore the pastor. He is a leader, so deserves some respect for his role and his training for his role.

      But as a life long Catholic, I’d say in no way is the pastor the star. God (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) is the star. Period! The entire service is not a build up to the pastor’s interpretation of Scripture. That part is important, but offering ourselves and the bread and wine to God is what builds up to the holiest moment when our gifts are transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit into the sacred body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ.

      In Catholicism a pastor is the temporary caretaker of the parish and its members. He is sent by the bishop, usually for 6 years or so, to serve. Sometimes his tenure is renewed for an additional 6 years. But the parishioners know that, and most faithful parishioners have seen pastors come and go. In cases where something is very wrong the pastor can be removed.

      If I changed churches to have my interpretation of a better pastor, then I’d be changing a lot as the pastor moves on.

  • jen

    What about not going to church because the people there are giving you a nervous breakdown… and it’s not like you have a choice because your husband is the pastor?

    • Mary R.

      Amen! This has happened to me, a pastor’s wife, in the past.

  • Donna

    I get it. It takes a long time to be able to trust again, and it’s hard work getting to that point. I didn’t struggle with trusting the pastor, I struggled with trusting God. I was so afraid He would get me all needy and dependent on Him and then go all quiet on me and abandon me. I cried a lot and prayed a lot and worried a lot about it. And slowly, slowly, gently, God proved to me that He was worthy of trust and showed me that He had been faithful to me and His promises to me, and that He had only ever been kind and gentle and patient and tender with me. It was such a relief to be able to let go and just relax into His love.

  • Julie

    KatR…you nailed it.

    My experience with spiritual abuse was a narcissistic pastor who said, and I quote, she was “the mouth-piece of God”.
    That god (smaller case intentional) bullied (using scriptures to back herself up) a teenager till he shot himself.

    She would pick a parishioner and rant for three hours on how ungodly, prideful, lustful, lazy, etc that person was. Imagine how painful an experience that would be for an adult much less a teenager… and she always had scripture to back herself up.

    Today when I hear an evangelical say, “Pastor so and so explained the scripture like this” or “I had never thought of the scripture like that till I heard Pastor so-and-so explain it” I want to just barf…or hurl…or whatever the best description is for totally tossing your cookies.

    *Broad sweeping generalization warning here*Evangelicals have a tendency to “god-i-fy” or “holy spiritual-ize” (for lack of a better term) their pastors. In short…some evangelicals let their pastors be their brains and their relationship with God tied up in one little neat package.

    I have the same problem EE has with going to church…I panick and throw up.

    Thankfully…I discovered Mass (that is actually thanks to EE :) She described the peace and joy she felt in the Catholic Mass…so I had to try it too :) THANK YOU EE!!!! It is soooo nice to go to church and not throw up! Or have to go running out to the car because I can’t breathe!

    If you are having a hard time understanding how people could be afraid of God and church I recommend reading Lewis Wells’ (Commandments of Men) post of

    He is describing the effects of the patriarchal system but it holds true for spiritual abuse victims as well.

    Thank you for being so honest with your journey, EE!

    • Tammy

      Are you SERIOUS? People actually SIT there and listen to a pastor rant about a specific person for 2-3 hours? Respect is generally a good thing, but blind respect that allows one to go along with such a misguided thing is just wrong. It makes me sad for everyone in that room.

      Properly lived, the Pastor role is like Ruth Ann describes above…a humble man of service who officiates in a way that is God-oriented, not pastor-oriented.

      I became a Catholic in a church who had (at the time) a Priest who was struggling with alcoholism…he wasnt much of a pastor at the time, but God gave me others to shepherd me into the faith. My faith had nothing to do with who that Priest was or want at the time…it was about who God is everyday. I was Catholic for years before I realized how it was odd that I went through a 2+ yr conversion process without ever speaking to a Priest…I actually laughed out loud when I realized it.

      I know that people give respect to church leaders as a way to respect God and that is mostly good, but we need to maintain healthy boundaries and hold leaders to the same. I was doing an event with Fr S…he had directed us to do something stupid and I balked. Someone said “noone ever tells Fr S ‘no’ “. I told them “I will tell Fr S ‘no’ ….we all live with boundaries, including him”.

    • elizabeth

      Wow, Julie, I’m so glad you’re going to Mass. I’m humbled to be a small part of that. ((hugs)) I look forward to reading more of your journey! Thank you for sharing it with me today.

      • Julie

        Aww! Thank you, EE!
        Thank you again for being transparent with us in your journey of faith :) {hugs!}

  • Julie

    OOOPS!! I didn’t insert Lewis’ post link correctly in my previous comment…let me try again:

  • no

    You *shouldn’t* trust pastors. Any of them. You know what they’re like. Stop beating your head against the wall, and don’t you dare subject your poor children to the same nonsense *you* received so much pain and futility from.

  • Andie

    I agree with the comments that it isn’t about a human, it’s about God. As long as people are involved, there will be sin and pain. But, I also hear what you are saying Elizabeth. It is very difficult to focus when the pastor elicits such strong negative emotions. I would say, search until you find someone who you do admire and can trust. Meet each one as an individual….there are some wonderful pastors out there who are in it for the ‘right’ reasons. Your children will learn much from that.

  • Gail Brightbill

    Enjoy Chicago and the time with your sister. It’s a great city. My son is working on his doctorate there. We’re flying to Chicago tomorrow, but heading about an hour and a half west to Dixon.

  • Maggie Dee

    The life-long catholics look at me perplexed when I bring up past “pastor star of the show” stories. It’s true that the focus is Christ during mass from beginning to end. But that is not the case in a lot of protestant churches. In my experience, they are very personality driven. The focus is on the “pastors” interpretation of scripture, the “pastors” choice of worship music, etc. He/She is the central figure of the church service.

    I’ve been thinking a lot about this lately as a new catholic. I’ve realized for the first time ever I feel like I actually have a spiritual leader who I can trust. It might have something to do with going to confession. In my previous church experiences we tried very hard to appear super spiritual with the right phrases, dress, etc. In fact the pastor was the last person you would want to admit to that you sinned. Shoot, you might be deemed not worthy for ministry or something. But in the catholic faith we start right off at the beginning of mass confessing that we have sinned and ask for Christ’s mercy. And then our priest knows our deepest darkest sins because he hears them from all of us in the confessional and prays the prayer of absolution. Going to confession leaves me feeling loved unconditionally which has in turn helps me trust. Not that I don’t know that our priest is human and does and will make mistakes but it’s different somehow because the focus is on Christ during our worship service.

    • elizabeth

      Maggie: going to Confession has changed my life, too. I’ve had very similar experiences to yours. Thank you for reminding me of that.

  • karla

    Hi EE,
    This cartoon made me think of your blog. Thought you might appreciate it.