Do clergy have a credibility problem?

This reflection was written by The Rev. Dr. Marc Potvin for this week’s Wingèd Ox, a weekly news digest distributed to the college community. You will find reflections from previous weeks here.

I was startled by a statistic that was shared last week by an American research company in its webcast on the state of pastors (A replay can be found here). While it revealed unsurprisingly that only 34% of the American population would go to a Christian ministry leader when seeking wisdom on spiritual matters, I was stunned to hear that only 45% of church goers would go to their ministry leaders to seek counsel. Although these are American statistics, I sense that Canadian statistics would be similar, if not worse.

This tells me that ministers and priests have a credibility issue. Not all is lost though. When asked how much respect they received in their community at large, 41% of ministry leaders felt they received good or excellent respect and only 17% reported it as being poor.

Why am I sharing these statistics? It is because I believe there is hope. First, the research revealed that the majority of the younger generations are open to explore spirituality (Gen z and Millennials). A seminary is a great place to discuss and share ideas on how to get those discussions going.

Second, communities still seem to have a good degree of respect for their local churches. As seminarians prepare for ministry, this is a good place to reflect, discuss, and share ideas, and even experiment on how the church can engage with a community that may be willing to explore spiritual matters. Do you believe that the redeeming Christ is still relevant today?

Third, and most importantly, remember that you are not alone. The Holy Spirit is our ministry companion and our greatest ally in the mission we have received to share the Good News. It has been my experience in almost 38 years of ministry that the Spirit does not let us down as we minister in the name and for the sake of Jesus Christ, even when we feel we do not know what to do or what to say.

It is true that the statistics and credibility issues faced by members of the clergy and the church are sobering. However, God continues to be faithful, and God has called us for a time such as this. The Spirit is equipping us for the task and will continue to do so throughout your ministry. We do well to remember God’s words spoken to another leader. “Be strong and courageous; do not be frightened or dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go (Joshua 1: 9).