Knowing Ourselves

Rev. Joshua Patty
Regional Minister and President

Last month, I read findings from a survey conducted by the Episcopal Church that suggests non-Christians have more negative views of Christians than Christians have of themselves in the United States. Disheartening, but not surprising.

I can imagine some Christians responding, "If they knew us better, they would think differently." Perhaps. But in the past couple of weeks I've seen things that make me wonder how much Christians -- and, in particular, Christian ministers -- know about Christians.

Barna recently released an eyebrow-raising poll that shows a disconnect between Protestant ministers and other Christians related to mission. When asked if missions is a calling for some Christians, a mandate for all Christians, or neither: 85% of pastors responded mandate, while only 46% of other Christians responded the same. Instead 51% believed it a calling for some, a response joined by only 12% of the pastors. While only one question, this suggests a significant difference of belief between ministers and the rest of the church.

Soon after, I read an essay that made me wonder about a deeper disconnect. In a Christian Century essay, a theology professor confessed that some of his personal faith was proxy faith lived in proximity to his clergy wife's ministry. In one telling statement he admits, "Rather than let her life inspire me to find ways to grow, I let her serve as a stand-in for my own growth."

It's a jaw-dropping reflection and one that hits one of my own doubts about ministry. Are we guiding others to deepen and live out their faith in new ways? Or do many simply think they have faith because they cheer for ministers and other faith doers? And if it's closer to "proxy faith" for a sizable number of those in our congregations (which would certainly explain the results from both surveys cited above), what can ministry leaders do to change it?