News headlines sometimes feature a story of a pastor who admits to being an atheist, agnostic, or embraces a different religion. Why would a person who does not believe serve as a pastor?
First, some unbelievers may choose to serve as pastors and genuinely think they are helping others. However, Jesus rebuked those who would seek to lead God's people without knowing Him. Matthew 23:16 calls them "blind guides."
Second, some unbelievers are able to serve as pastors because they serve in a church that does not adhere to the teachings of Scripture. In other words, there are churches and even networks or denominations of churches that accept practices contrary to the Bible and allow opportunities to hire an unbelieving pastor.
Third, an unbelieving pastor may also be truly blind to his need for salvation. If a person has been taught that certain works are sufficient, he may naturally believe such works save him. He could then become a pastor in a genuine attempt to help others yet never truly know the Lord.
Fourth, certain unbelieving pastors may serve for financial or personal gain. Jesus condemned the religious leaders of His time who served for such benefits: "They love the place of honor at feasts and the best seats in the synagogues and greetings in the marketplaces and being called rabbi by others" (Matthew 23:6-7).
Some pastors may have genuine doubts about their faith. For example, Mark 9:24 quotes a man asking Jesus, "I believe; help my unbelief!" However, this is different from a person who is not a believer. Such individuals seek to lead others yet do not understand the truth of God. They fit the description Paul shares in 1 Timothy 1:6-7: "Certain persons, by swerving from these, have wandered away into vain discussion, desiring to be teachers of the law, without understanding either what they are saying or the things about which they make confident assertions."
An unbeliever is certainly disqualified from serving in church leadership. An elder or pastor is not even to be a recent convert (1 Timothy 3:6). He must be able to teach and have character that is above reproach (1 Timothy 3:1-7; Titus 1:5-9).
When we hear of a pastor who is not a believer, our prayer should be for their salvation. Further, such individuals should stop serving as a pastor, since they do not fit the biblical qualifications and can cause much misunderstanding in the congregation they serve and to others in the community.
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