Poker and Pastors


Poker was popular in the wild west, it was popular when I was in high school (1978-82) , and it is extremely popular today. The World Series of Poker is part of the fixture of ESPN. Poker is now a major sporting event. Funny, back in my high school days it was called gambling. I don’t play poker these days and haven’t since my college and high school days. Some of my most exhilarating and depressing moments was playing poker. I was never a big stakes gambler, just coins and the occasional dollar bills. But quarters can add up for a high school student. Ironically, the friends that I played poker with the most were church friend. We played basketball and then played poker (for money). When we went on a youth retreat, after sleeping through the worship service, we would gather into one of the rooms and play poker. I will never forget the time when my father, a pastor, along with a few other pastors were doing room checks and found his youth group kids, his own sons, playing poker with coins littered on a blanket. My father, rightly, slapped me in the face.

Rightly or wrongly, I have attached poker (gambling) to my old sinful way of life. I rededicated my life to Christ in my senior year in college. For me, it was “I have decided to follow Jesus. The world behind me, the cross before me.” I renounced drinking alcohol, pornography, and gambling. It was part pietism and part genuine life transformation.

Now a days, I meet some pastors – good pastors, theologically sound pastors – who have no problem playing poker (for fun but also for some small stakes). I know this not because I saw it first hand, but because pastor freely, unashamedly tell you they play poker. I was even invited to a poker game at a pastors’ meeting. I didn’t go. These days, there is no older pastors to come around and slap anyone’s face.

Now, I don’t want to begrudge anyone their Christian liberty, but I wonder if it is such a good thing for pastors to be known as poker players. I’m not talking about the inherent deception that is part of poker, but the gambling. What do you think of pastors and poker? Is this a good way to connect to the men of our church (and many women too)? Is playing poker no different from playing golf or basketball?

For me, I don’t think I could play poker, even without money, with a clear conscience. It brings back too many of my worldly memories from the past. However, can I say it is wrong for other pastors? I don’t know, yet. However, one thing I am clearly troubled by is when pastors who are at official meetings such as General Assemblies and Presbyteries and use their together to play poker more other spiritual edifying ways of fellowship. These meetings are meant to strengthen the body of Christ, and I don’t see how playing poker together strengthens our witness to the world.

I would like to know what you think?


7 Responses to Poker and Pastors

  1. sam shin says:

    Billy, I am with you on this and I am going to post a link over on my blog to you. I wrote something on this issue a while back because I know of some who really struggled with gmabling playing poker and lost so much.

    As a pastor playing poker, which I did used to do with some guys in my church, it was fun for the moment but I began to see that it did more than just lead to a certain amount of fun. IN their eyes, it legitimized gambling and I think there is something inherently wrong with gambling in a biblical sense.

    I wrote something about that I’ll post on my site, but thanks for bringing this up. This is important.

  2. David Park says:

    Good post. I agree with you Billy (and I’m glad to see you posting!). I dislike poker and won’t ever play it. I think it’s just senseless distraction. Most entertainment can be characterized as this, but gambling is inherently a zero-sum game, in other words, I win what you lose. Other games/sports are more constructive to relationships and those are the ones that I choose to partake in and enjoy. I think it is very responsible to think through even our the ways we spend our time as your post brings up. I have problems with golf (it’s destructive to the environment and is inherently a “luxury” sport) and addiction to weekend football viewing (because I’m super-annoyed by people who will turn down dinners because their game is on – tsk tsk).

  3. Billy Park says:

    Sam Shin has a good post at Thanks Sam for responding and for the post on Gambling. By the way, Sam has a picture of 4 aces and I have a picture of a royal flush on my post. I win.

  4. Billy Park says:

    Thanks for your post. Boy! you are really touching some sensitive “idols” (golf and football). Pastors and Golf, Pastors and Sunday Football, are both relevant topics. I’m not trying to condemn Poker, or Golf or Sunday Football, however I think all of these should be evaluated in the life of the Christian and especially the pastor. I’m surprised that you have such strong opinions on this (“destructive to the environment..’luxury’ sport…addiction to football…super-annoyed by people”). Sticking to Poker… I do think that some people are able to take it only as a game and not as gambling. I must leave it to God to judge their conscience. My questions to those who play poker (as a game not as gambling), is the “stumbling block” factor (1 Cor. 8:9).

  5. Alan Ng says:

    I have an alternate thought about Christians and poker. I think poker is different from other forms of casino games. The issue to me is that poker is a game with a buy-in, similar to paying an entrace fee to play in a softball league. If you treat it as a way to make money, that’s when you fall out of the will of God. I wrote about it on my website –

  6. Randy says:

    Found your post from another blog. May I suggest the book “All In: Gambling on Life, Love, & Faith in a World of Risk” written by Michael DiMarco. He’s a Christian and former compulsive gambler. It’s a great read.

  7. paul says:

    wow, serious topic, Billy; i played poker more during serminary than in college or high school; so my perspective on it is less strong– same thing with golf and NFL; but i guess my seminary experience is in line with your point about pastors’ examples regarding the game; my greater struggle has been more with gluttony!

    i know enough individuals and families who have been hurt by addictions to gambling, both in vegas and in atlantic city, to have “seen with my own eyes” that it is indeed a social problem; but i also remember reading paul e little’s book where he shares about a new christian who gave up watching baseball games and was stumbled to find that his pastor actually liked baseball;

    i tend to be flexible with these (alleged) gray areas, and have sometimes gotten upset when a “righteous voice” speaks up to stop a game like mafia or an action-packed clint eastwood movie, especially during a retreat; i end with an acknowledgment that our church generation is unique in its integration of secular entertainment;

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