Messages: Culture is intentionally shaped as the right messages are consistently and clearly communicated to the staff, church leaders and membership

Biases That Blind And Trap Us  

A bias is typically thought of as an unreasoned or prejudicial perspective or judgement. Some biases are innocent, but most often bias is used to describe a situation where we oppose someone, some group, some belief, or something unfairly because we allow personal opinions to influence our judgement. Biases can be innate or learned and popular examples include self-serving bias, status quo bias, conflict of interest bias, statistical bias, unconscious bias, gender bias, beauty bias, affinity bias, favoritism, racism, ageism, just to name a few.

 How Does Bias Affect Our Actions?

A leader makes countless decisions each day and the answers to those decisions are influenced by our biases. Yet, most of us fail to recognize just how much our biases affect our actions. Most of the church leaders I know think they are able to make good decisions, size up people fairly, and reach rational and biblical decisions that are in the best interest of our church and its members. Yet, Harvard University researcher Mahzarin Banali writes “More than two decades of research confirms that, in reality, most of us fall woefully short of our inflated self-perception.” And, that is mostly due to the biases that blind and trap us.

Research shows biases affects us and our decision-making process in a number of different ways, including:

  • Our Perception – how we see people and perceive reality.
  • Our Attitude – how we react towards certain people.
  • Our Behaviors – how receptive and friendly we are towards certain people.
  • Our Attention – which aspects of a person we pay most attention to.
  • Our Listening Skills – how much we actively listen to what certain people say.
  • Our Affirmations – how much or how little we affirm certain people in certain situations.

Thirteen Biases That Most Frequently Affect Our Decisions

 Author, researcher, and former pastor, Brian McLaren, has identified thirteen of our most frequent biases outlined below. He writes: People can’t see what they can’t see. Their biases get in the way, surrounding them like a high wall, trapping them in ignorance, deception, and illusion. No amount of reasoning and argument will get through to them, unless we first learn how to break down the walls of bias.”

Brian’s definitions simplify and help me understand very complex behaviors that I believe every pastor and minister should be aware of as they lead their churches and ministries.

Confirmation Bias: We judge new ideas based on the ease with which they fit in with and confirm the only standard we have: old ideas, old information, and trusted authorities. As a result, our framing story, belief system, or paradigm excludes whatever doesn’t fit.

Complexity Bias: Our brains prefer a simple falsehood to a complex truth.

Community Bias: It’s almost impossible to see what our community doesn’t, can’t, or won’t see.

Complementarity Bias: If you are hostile to my ideas, I’ll be hostile to yours. If you are curious and respectful toward my ideas, I’ll respond in kind.

Competency Bias: We don’t know how much (or little) we know because we don’t know how much (or little) others know. In other words, incompetent people assume that most other people are about as incompetent as they are. As a result, they underestimate their own incompetence, and consider themselves at least of average competence.

Consciousness Bias: Some things simply can’t be seen from where I am right now. But if I keep growing, maturing, and developing, someday I will be able to see what is now inaccessible to me.

Comfort or Complacency Bias: I prefer not to have my comfort disturbed.

Conservative/Liberal Bias: I lean toward nurturing fairness and kindness, or towards strictly enforcing purity, loyalty, liberty, and authority, as an expression of my political identity.

Confidence Bias: I am attracted to confidence, even if it is false. I often prefer the bold lie to the hesitant truth.

Catastrophe or Normalcy Bias: I remember dramatic catastrophes but don’t notice gradual decline (or improvement).

Contact Bias: When I don’t have intense and sustained personal contact with “the other,” my prejudices and false assumptions go unchallenged.

Cash Bias: It’s hard for me to see something when my way of making a living requires me not to see it.

Conspiracy Bias: Under stress or shame, our brains are attracted to stories that relieve us, exonerate us, or portray us as innocent victims of malicious conspirators.

I don’t know that anyone can ever be completely free of their biases, but a willingness to investigate, an attentiveness to our words and actions, and continual self-reflection is a good place to start. That, and the discipline to thoughtfully and prayerfully ask, “Where and when do I model these biases? How do they look in my life and in my work? How can I let go of that? How can I move beyond that?”

Brian McLaren, Why Don’t They Get It? Overcoming Bias in Others and Yourself (Self-published e-book, 2019)





Posted on March 23, 2021

Jim Baker

Jim is a Church Organizational Leadership and Management Coach, Consultant and Trainer. Throughout his career Jim has demonstrated a passion for showing Pastors and Ministers how to use organizational tools for church and personal growth and health.

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“For I may be absent in body, but I am with you in spirit, rejoicing to see how well ordered you are and the strength of your faith in Christ.” Colossians 2:5