Protestant pastors are seeing a new form of idolatry taking hold of their congregations.
The churchgoers idolize comfort, security, money or the approval of others, according to a survey of Protestant church pastors.
More than half of pastors surveyed cited each of those as potential idols, with comfort topping the list at 67%.
At the other end of the spectrum, only two in five pastors said politics was an “idol” for their congregants, a number that rises to 55% when considering only responses from clergy aged 18 to 44. A total of 72% of that same younger cohort said “control or security” was a temptation for their church members.
“Idolatry” may evoke images of pagan statues, incense, and even human sacrifice, but researchers contend church members who place great stock in things other than the Christian message can be distracted from the church’s core teachings.
“Pastors regularly encourage everyone to put God first,” Scott McConnell, the group’s executive director, told The Washington Times via email. “This comes from Jesus’ teaching that the greatest commandment is to ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind’ (Luke 10:27). This command means He takes priority over all other alternatives. There is no room for other things taking God’s place in a believer’s life. Yet believers can be easily distracted.”
A few pastors reported these issues weren’t distractions for their flocks: 14% of those surveyed said none were “idols” in their churches, and a further 2% said they were not sure.
The clerics polled said these “benign-looking desires” can wield “significant influence” on congregants and cause divided spiritual loyalties.
The findings, released for the first time on Tuesday, come from a larger 2021 survey by Lifeway Research.
“It’s easy to think that those in Christian churches have chosen their God and are faithful to Him,” Mr. McConnell said. “However, pastors quickly acknowledge how divided their congregations’ allegiances can be. These gods don’t have a physical shrine, but they compete for the hearts of Christians.”
According to the Lifeway Research survey, the modern-day idols with the most influence on congregations were comfort (30%), control or security (20%) and money (13%).
The survey also showed that political power (10%) and social influence (9%) moved ahead of approval (6%) and success (4%) when pastors were asked to select the one modern-day idol they believe has the most influence on their congregations. Fewer than 1% said sex or romantic love held the most “idolatrous” influence in their churches.
Lifeway said its phone survey of 1,000 Protestant pastors was conducted Sept. 1-29, 2001. The group said its sample provides 95% confidence the sampling error does not exceed plus or minus 3.2%.