The Pastor’s Deadly Sin

July 15, 2013



The Pastor’s Deadly Sin

Most pastors begin their spiritual journey when they receive the “call” to follow God in full-time ministry. At this point, they are positive and optimistic about the future. They are ready to explore new ideas, launch new ministries, and lead a local church to reach their community for Christ.

Shortly after arriving at their ministry setting, reality sets in. The honeymoon ends quickly.  Quietly, the syndrome of learned helplessness begins to settle in…the pastor’s deadly sin.

Learned helplessness can be viewed as a change in the software of one’s brain when one of the most fundamental laws of the universe is interrupted in our lives: the law of cause and effect. According to Dr. Henry Cloud, in his book Boundaries for Leaders, “We are designed to have a certain amount of control over our well-being. We do best when we are able to “cause” good things to happen to us, and to avoid things that would not be good. This certainty grounds our lives.”

Cloud goes on to write, “your brain learns in infancy. When you are hungry or in distress, you cry, and something good happens: someone comes with comfort or dryness.  Act and good things happen. We depend on this law every day. Get out of bed, go to work, get a paycheck. It really works.  Until…

 …we find ourselves in a situation where we are continuously affected negatively, and we have absolutely no control over the things that are affecting us.

When this happens in a chronic, ongoing situation, the “software” changes in the brain and negativity begins to seep in. And when you have negative expectations, a different chemical cocktail gets brewed in your brain. The result is not just a temporary sense of feeling like “life sucks,” but a fundamental change in outlook and how experiences get processed. When such a change occurs, your brain tells you to basically “do nothing.” Why? Because your brain thinks, “It won’t make any difference.” Your brain thinks that since you have no control over what is making you miserable, it might as well give up trying to have any control at all.”

I would contend that many pastors in America have adopted this attitude without realizing it. Their brain keeps telling them that it is no use. You have no control. Why put forth the effort? Why keep on keeping on? Just resign to the fact that the people you are attempting to lead are not followers; rather, they are stiff-necked people; your church is not big enough; your church doesn’t have enough resources, enough volunteers, enough money, enough time, enough _______________ (you fill in the blank).  The church down the street is bigger and better than we are.  Their facilities are bigger.  They have a better location. They have more staff than we do.

The pastor’s deadly sin is a drift to learned helplessness, the mindset that you cannot reverse your current situation, state, or circumstances. This thinking style of learned helplessness is nothing more than the devil blinding us to the reality and the goodness of God. We are to experience the abundant life NOW (John 10:10). We don’t have to live in defeat. Hello my name is child of the one true King. I’ve been saved, I’ve been changed, and I have been set free. Amazing Grace is the song I sing (Matthew West).

How is “learned helplessness” at work in your life?

In our next three-blog posts we will discover how learned helplessness will continue to get worse unless you do something to stop it.


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