The political views of church members are a concern for more than one-third of America's Protestant pastors, who also say members too often have "strong opinions about nonessentials," according to a new Lifeway Research survey.
The poll of 1,000 Protestant pastors, released this month, found that 44 percent of ministers say they find "people's political views" challenging to navigate. Nearly half of pastors (48 percent) said "people's strong opinions about nonessentials" are also a challenge.
Both answers ranked higher than "people's unrealistic expectations of the pastor" (35 percent) – a concern that pastors have had for decades.
The poll found that:
Pastors ages 18-44 (47 percent) were the most likely to say political views are a concern. Geographically, pastors in the Midwest (48 percent) and West (50 percent) were more likely to list political views as a concern than pastors in the South (40 percent).
Lutherans (54 percent), Methodists (48 percent), Presbyterian/Reformed (51 percent) and Christian/Church of Christ (51 percent) were more likely to select "people's political views" than Baptists (35 percent) and Pentecostals (34 percent).
Pastors of churches with an attendance of 250 people or more (49 percent) were more likely to select politics than those with an attendance of 0-49 (38 percent).
When pastors were asked which of six possible answers was the "most" challenging in their ministry, the political views of people ranked second (13 percent), trailing only "people's apathy or lack of commitment (47 percent). Strong opinions about nonessentials were fourth (8 percent) on the list of greatest concerns.
"Congregations are filled with many opinions," said Scott McConnell, executive director of Lifeway Research. "It is not easy to bring a congregation's focus to a few things to do together that matter. People's obsession with nonessentials, politics and a dislike for change all hamper a pastor's ability to provide leadership."
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Michael Foust has covered the intersection of faith and news for 20 years. His stories have appeared in Baptist Press, Christianity Today, The Christian Post, the Leaf-Chronicle, the Toronto Star and the Knoxville News-Sentinel.