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 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 men are blemishes at your love feasts, eating with you without the slightest qualm—shepherds who feed only themselves. They are clouds without rain, blown along by the wind; autumn trees, without fruit and uprooted—twice dead. They are wild waves of the sea, foaming up their shame; wandering stars, for whom blackest darkness has been reserved forever” (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. Proverbs 6:16-19 declares, “There are six things the LORD hates, seven that are detestable to him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked schemes, feet that are quick to rush into evil, a false witness who pours out lies, and a man who stirs up dissension among brothers.” If the Christian faith is a lie, it is not a “useful psychological crutch.” Rather, it is useless, vain, empty, futile, and pitiful (1 Corinthians 15:14-19).
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, “by their fruit you will recognize them” (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. “If the blind lead the blind, both will fall into a pit” (Matthew 15:14, emphasis added).
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 trial, the prayer should be “I do believe; help me overcome my 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 our prayer, comfort, encouragement, and empathy.
But, again, 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.