The Pathology of the Religious

Are you creating Disciples or modifying behavior?

Author, Theologian and Pastor, Greg Boyd, has a sermon that he titled “The Pathology of the Religious”.

Check out the 10 minute excerpt here :  Greg Boyd: Pathology of the Religious

In his sermon he talks about how most Christian’s idea of faith and religious practice is actually sociopathic.

I’m sure you’ve met someone like this.  A sociopath is someone that cannot empathize with anyone outside of themselves.  As Boyd puts it, the only person that matters is them and everything (or everyone) else is just a prop.  Sociopaths are great manipulators.  They are experts on behavior.  They know how to get what they want and for them that’s all that matters.  They modify their behavior to prey on the feelings of others, to make them think they care, just so they can get what they want out of a situation.

Boyd proposes that this is how many people treat their relationship with God.  Often people confuse love with a certain type of behavior.  People confuse compassion with a certain type of behavior.  Unfortunately, love and compassion are not merely behaviors.  They are emotions that are rooted deeply in our soul.

How do we as youthworkers make sure that we’re doing more than just behavior modification?  Every parent wants their kids to behave properly.  You’ve probably even heard ruminations of the church’s effort at behavior modification from your youth at one time or another…”You can’t say that in church!” or “Don’t do that!  We’re in a church!”.

As I look at the students that have graduated from my ministry, I am more and more convinced that perhaps my methods of ministry are creating more religious sociopaths than faithful disciples.  Why else would that student that was on your UMY leadership team fall off the deep end during their first semester of college?  Perhaps I’m not equipping the students in my ministry to experience a faithful relationship with Christ.  Maybe all I’m doing is teaching them to compartmentalize their faith and to simply “act the part”.

What can we do as youthworkers to focus our efforts on faith development and not behavior?  How do we equip students to not only “do” service but “be” servants?  How do we equip students to not only “do” mission work but “be” missional?  How do we equip students to not only “do” love but “be” loving?


  1. Great question. I keep telling my youth that I am not here to teach them what to believe but rather to teach them how to figure out what to believe. My hope is if they truly seek out these answers for themselves maybe it will create a deeper faith in that belief. However, I find myself falling in that trap often, ie, I act a certain way because it’s what’s expected. If you find a solution, I’d love to hear it!

  2. Thanks for the comment, Mikel.

    I guess finding the solution is why there’s so much money involved in youth ministry (insert *chuckle*)
    It always helps to remember that our job is not to provide all of the answers. No student comes out of a youth program a completed Christian. We are simply on the front lines with them and are hopefully equipping them with tools to navigate their theological landscape coupled with a foundation of unconditional love and support.

    Blessing on you and your ministry!

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