Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Is Bias Wrapped In A Dopamine Taco?

Written by: on March 7, 2023

I have a teenage daughter that likes to speak into my life. She often shares what she learned in high school with us and how messed up the world is. She will often make suggestions in how we should do things, or even at our church. Recently she informed me that if I would not bring up sin during my sermons and the need to repent, more people would come to our church. A few more lights here, a free chick-fil-a sandwich and Italian soda and this church would be packed. Often, I want to tell her that my soul is not for sale for a chick-fil-a sandwich and Italian soda. I wonder how much she really listens when I preach. I wonder if she has a pre bias opinion?

The Struggle Is Real

As she informs me about how great her experience was at another youth ministry. There is part of me that wonders if she has truly heard one sermon I have preached. As she tells me about her experience, I wonder if she has learned a single thing from one of my sermons or the example I am trying to live as a follower of Christ and not of this world. I wonder if she will truly understand that sacrifice of leaving the mainline church and planting a small rural church in obedience to Christ. Saving money over a couple months to purchase a stapler. Where I preached, fasted, prayed, sacrificed so a church can be born and now I am listening to my daughter on how a pink drink and free sandwich can change the world and our ministry. As I listen to her, I want to ask her if the couple thousand people we feed each week in our food ministry is not enough anymore?

Making Connections

Pragya Agarwal Sway: Unveiling Unconscious Bias is a great reminder to us to be teachable, to listen, learn, and grow. [1] We realize that unconscious bias (self) is when we make quick judgments or decisions from our past experiences. From our earlier learning in Thinking, Fast and Slow, by Daniel Kahneman we can see the dangers of system 1 thinking and thinking 2 system.[2] Peter Scazzero in The Emotionally Healthy Leader also makes the connection of past experiences can have an unconscious bias effect on our decision making process.[3] If we are not careful we can fall into autopilot of our decision making and make poor decisions without gathering all the facts. This can become a pattern in our lives and over time a stronghold.

On page 54 of Pragya Agarwal Sway: Unveiling Unconscious Bias we see how much sensations can and will affect our experience in the brain.[4] We also learn from this how much social cognition influences how we analyze or process experiences or events. We can learn from this why many christians go from ministry event to ministry event without having a personal relationship with Jesus Christ or spiritual growth.

Going Deeper

Going one page further on page 55 we see that psychologists widely accept that one of the main reasons for biases is because of self and identity, because we are all basically selfish and self-focused. Turning further to the right on page 56 we can see that unconscious bias by social status and hierarchy. We can come to the same conclusion that ego, dopamine, system 1, emotional health impact us and how we handle and process new information.

Sigmund Freud’s theory suggests that human behavior is influenced by unconscious memories, thoughts, and urges. This theory also proposes that the psyche comprises three aspects: the id, ego, and superego. The id is entirely unconscious, while the ego operates in the conscious mind. We can then come to a conclusion on how much the environment is impacting our experiences even in church.


As my daughter encourages me to go back to what I left. I listen to her, I try to find the positive and I am thankful she still wants to even share with me. Even though she is not involved in our church as much, and feeding the poor, I am thankful she has a group of friends eating a chick-fil-a sandwich and a free drink and hearing about Jesus. Sometimes, an unbiased perception towards a person or leader, can allow for a new experience with Jesus Christ.

Lord, let me truly die to self.

[1] Pragya Agarwal Sway: Unraveling Unconscious Bias, 2020

[2] Daniel Kahneman, Thinking Fast and Slow (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2013).

[3] Peter Scazzero The Emotionally Healthy Leader: How Transforming Your Inner Life Will Deeply Transform Your Church, Team, and the World Zondervan, 2015.

[4] Pragya Agarwal Sway: Unraveling Unconscious Bias, 2020

[5] Freud, Sigmund, 1856-1939. Beyond the Pleasure Principle. New York :Liveright Pub. Corp., 1961.




About the Author


Greg McMullen

Pastor Greg resides in Lake Stevens WA and pastors a small rural church in the Machias area . The Well Church has a large food ministry in which many different cultures come each week to gather food and counsel. The Church has a small school that is bearing good fruit. Pastor Greg has a large family of 10 children and enjoys fishing and hiking.

13 responses to “Is Bias Wrapped In A Dopamine Taco?”

  1. mm Becca Hald says:

    Oh Greg! I can truly relate to the struggles of having a teenager. Mine are just barely out of that stage. My daughter would agree with yours. I held onto Proverbs 22:6 while my children were growing:

    “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.”

    Let me encourage you. When my son moved up to Oregon for college, to say things were difficult would put it mildly. Now, at 23, he is on fire for God. He is a new man. I am so amazed at what God has done in his life. My daughter ended up going to a different church in high school for youth group. We told her that she did not have to go to our church, but she had to go to a church (one that we approved). It was hit or miss for her and by the time she entered college, in the middle of Covid, she was struggling with her faith, hanging on by the barest thread. Now, she is excitedly telling me about how God is speaking to her and she cannot wait to go on a retreat over her Spring Break. The seeds that you are planting are not planted in vain. Even if she does not mention it, she sees what you are doing. She sees Jesus in you. I am praying for you my friend.

  2. Becca,

    Thank you. This was an incredible book that really helped me understand why we constantly look for that “new experience.”

    Thank you for sharing and for the encouragement.

  3. Jenny Steinbrenner Hale says:

    Greg, What a great post, bringing in your real life and up close situation with your daughter and applying that to the theme of Agarwal’s book. I like the way you wove Kahneman in there, as well! I especially liked your ending, giving your daughter grace and acknowledging that she’s finding something valuable in her church experience with her friends. I think it’s great that your daughter is talking to you about these things, as you mentioned.

    Did Agarwal’s book intersect with your NPO in any way?

  4. Michael O'Neill says:

    “A Dopamine Taco.” I love it. I was laughing at the title before reading your post. I can relate to the struggle though. My family ended up leaving our congregation I helped plant this past Christmas season. It wasn’t so much that they served too many dopamine tacos, it’s that their whole philosophy was entrenched in it. Anytime I brought up that I thought we were focusing on entraining too much, my opinions were frowned upon. I told them I was sick of the communion combo meals and that we did not put enough emphasis on the holy ceremony or the holy opportunity to usher the spirit into our worship experience. We did put a lot of time and energy into our lights, videos, and comedy though… I couldn’t take it anymore.

    Don’t sell out Greg. You are a good man with a generous heart and your leadership is obviously Spirit-led. Your daughter will see this one day if she doesn’t now.

    Last point, I do think its good to get the youth anyway you can. I think there is a fine line of too much but I can’t help but applaud any youth ministry that teaches Jesus and still makes the event fun and enjoyable. I think we grow out of this though and some of our Christian leaders, especially the ones who come from youth ministry, never seem to grow out of it. My former lead pastor and campus pastor are both former youth ministers. They are basically doing the same thing with adults now, but without the nerf wars.

    Keep the faith. Love you, brother.

    • Michael,

      Amen. I agree, anything and everything can give glory to God when we allow it to be. When I was younger as youth minister, I used my carpenter skills to build a skate board ramp and airsoft course at our church.

      Soon, friday nights became very busy at the church. I will never forget the conversations with some of the youth.

      I am sorry to hear about you leaving your church. I know you have been frustrated. Bless you my friend. Love you too.

  5. mm David Beavis says:

    Hey Greg,

    In reading your post, I thought “Has Greg not had a Chick-Fil-A sandwich recently?!” Just kidding.

    In reading Agarwal’s book, did this cause any self-reflection and noticing any unconscious biases you have?

  6. David,

    Thank you for reading my post and asking this question. It is a very good question.

    I have actually never had a Chick-Fil-A sandwich, but would love to have one. Sometimes I feel like I should get a gold watch and retire from youth ministry.

    Probably for me, through self self reflection is coming to that place of being very aware of oneself. That even though I have done things many time in ministry, this new leader is experiencing it for their first time.

    I have found at times, I am not celebrating with that person as much as I should because will that outreach, event bring any lasting fruit into the Kingdom.

    I have also come to realize, that I am not doing well with getting older. I have noticed I have had some unconscious biases towards younger leaders that can do things physically that I can no longer do.

    I will probably be that 80 year old person still trying to do it on my own where a younger pastor puts a person with me to protect me from myself.

    Bless you David, I am looking forward to seeing you in London. Thank you for your friendship.

  7. Tonette Kellett says:


    Your reflections are always sincere and honest and I love reading them. I’m praying with you right now in your journey with your daughter. Hang in there brother!

  8. Alana Hayes says:

    Great post Greg! How can we be aware of our unconscious biases and make sure they do not hinder us from making wise decisions? Do you have any advice here?

  9. Alana,
    I believe it was Dr. Clark who said that a good leader know where one begins and ends. In my redneck translator it simply means knowing your limits.

    For me personally, being aware of my shortcomings and putting those shortcomings in check. Often, when someone is talking to me, I want to respond instead of listen. I am disciplining myself to take time to be present with that person, to truly love them.

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