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

The Voices in Our Heads

Written by: on March 23, 2023

        My parents were first generation Christians who each experienced a radical life change when they accepted Christ.  My mother converted from Judaism to Christianity through a neighbor who convinced her Jesus was the Son of God; while my father walked the aisles to “Just As I Am” at a Billy Graham Crusade.  To say my early upbringing in the faith was intense is an understatement.  From learning to spell “resurrection” to daily Bible readings after dinner, where all the neighborhood children would join us if they happened to knock on the door, I heard the message loud and clear: God has something to say that is important.  So for a while I listened, I even wholeheartedly believed until the day my Dad drove our family to the Bill Gothard seminars.

In reading Bobby Duffy’s book, Why We are Nearly Wrong about Everything, I looked up a few words to keep in mind the differences between the words bias and heuristics. Bias can be defined as, a disproportionate weight in favor or or against an idea or thing, usually in a way that is closed-minded, prejudicial, or unfair. Or as Daniel Kahneman calls them–”Systematic errors.”[1] Heuristics can be defined as, “Any approach to problem solving or self-discovery that employs a practical method that is not guaranteed to be optimal or perfect or rational but is sufficient for reaching an immediate short-term goal.”

By the time I reached chapter 11 in Duffy’s book, Dealing with our Delusions[2], I was convinced to write about my experience with the most delusional teachings I’ve ever received, how I learned at an early age to recognize bias and the ways I relied on my availability heuristics[3] to simplify cognitive overload.

Bill Gothard was a graduate of Wheaton College who founded the Institute of Basic Life Principles where he taught ultra fundamentalist views on family life based on the Bible. A hyper-conservative minister, he emphasized the man or husband as authority and head of the household; he claimed women should submit to their husbands without question, and children should be homeschooled.  Using the image of an umbrella, Gothard created a workbook showing God’s proper authority structure: God is the big umbrella, man is the umbrella under God and then women/children are the smaller umbrellas under the man.

As I’ve written before on our DLGP blog,[4]  I sincerely loved God, prayer and the Church as a young, sensitive girl.  My first introduction to Bill Gothard’s teaching entered my life when I was 13-years-old.  Gothard’s foundational premise?  If you abide by his (Gothard’s) seven principles God will bless your life.[5] Here are some of the first teachings I heard as I sat down in the Philadelphia Convention Center with thousands of people:

 “The most godly hairstyle for women is long and curled, preferably blond.”

“Cabbage Patch dolls are demonic because they cause infertility and difficult births.”

“You will be protected from harm if you obey these teachings and if you don’t follow the teachings, you will have one disaster after another.”

“Rock and Roll music is from the devil. Just listen to the beats and you will hear Satan’s voice.”[6]

Nothing Bill Gothard taught matched the mental pictures in my head of who God was nor reflected God’s radical love from Scripture in our nightly readings with my parents. As Marshall McLuhan[7] theorized in the 1960s, the medium places a filter on the message that significantly influences how the message is interpreted. My teenage brain was underdeveloped in problem solving; yet, when I heard him blaming the way women dressed causing the opposite sex to sin, a warning bell rang in my ears. Bill Gothard was my first introduction to bias.  Immediately, I turned to my Dad and announced I was leaving and never coming back. It wasn’t until graduate school in my early 20s that I learned to pay attention to the mental shortcuts I relied on for simplifying problems so I could avoid cognitive overload. Outside of the Holy Spirit’s help, I have no clue what rose up within me to not focus only on what was out there, what I was being told. From that point forward, I viewed every Christian teacher with some skepticism.  Both Duffy and Kahneman say that’s exactly the point: it’s partly how we think that causes us to misperceive the world.[8] [9]  I am still learning to think well without misperceptions.

When I pray about what kind of leader and teacher I want to be, I am encouraged by last week’s reading when Simon Walker says, “As leaders, the crucial quality we need is the courage to stop. The courage to wait and be still.”[10] 

I want to be a leader and teacher who doesn’t exaggerate which, “leads to delusion, while a tendency to “downplay” leads to accurate assessment[11].  Duffy reminds me that my errors are not because I am deliberately misled, but “our delusions need to be seen as arising from a complex system of forces, both in our heads and in the world, that reinforce each other.”[12] 

 What is it like for you when you are still and waiting on God as a leader, thinker and communicator? How does waiting and being still help you think rightly?

[1] Kahneman, Daniel. Thinking, Fast and Slow. 1st edition. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2011.

[2] Duffy, Bobby. Why We’re Wrong About Nearly Everything: A Theory of Human Misunderstanding. Illustrated edition. New York: Basic Books, 2019.

[3] Kahneman, Thinking, Fast and Slow.  on p. 7, the author writes about availability heuristic, a mental shortcut simplifying problems to avoid cognitive overload.

[4] https://blogs.georgefox.edu/dlgp/?s=The+Writing+Life

[5] https://iblp.org/about-iblp/iblp-history/bill-gothard

[6] https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/saved-by-the-city/id1557930520  The hosts interview a Bill Gothard “survivor.”

[7] McLuhan, Marshall, and Quentin Fiore. The Medium Is the Massage. 1st edition. Berkeley, CA: Gingko Press, 2001.

[8] Kahneman, Thinking, Fast and Slow.

[9] Duffy, Why We’re Wrong About Nearly Everything.

[10] Walker, Simon P. Leading Out of Who You Are: Discovering the Secret of Undefended Leadership. Piquant Editions, 2007.

[11] Duffy, Why We’re Wrong About Nearly Everything.

[12] Duffy, Why We’re Wrong About Nearly Everything.

About the Author


Pam Lau

Pamela Havey Lau brings more than 25 years of experience in speaking, teaching, writing and mediating. She has led a variety of groups, both small and large, in seminars, trainings, conferences and teachings. Pam’s passion is to see each person communicate with their most authentic voice with a transparent faith in Jesus Christ. With more than 10, 000 hours of writing, researching, and teaching the heart and soul of Pam’s calling comes from decades of walking alongside those who have experienced healing through pain and peace through conflict. As a professor and author, Pam deeply understands the role of mentoring and building bridges from one generation to another. She has developed a wisdom in how to connect leaders with their teams. Her skill in facilitating conversations extends across differences in families, businesses, schools, universities, and nonprofits. Pam specializes in simplifying complex issues and as a business owner, has helped numerous CEOs and leaders communicate effectively. She is the author of Soul Strength (Random House) and A Friend in Me (David C. Cook) and is a frequent contributor to online and print publications. You can hear Pam’s podcast on Real Life with Pamela Lau on itunes. Currently, Pam is a mediator for families, churches, and nonprofits. You can contact Pam through her website: PamelaLau.com. Brad and Pam live in Newberg, Oregon; they have three adult daughters and one son-in-law. One small, vocal dog, Cali lives in the family home where she tries to be the boss! As a family they enjoy worshiping God, tennis, good food and spending time with family and friends.

16 responses to “The Voices in Our Heads”

  1. mm Kim Sanford says:

    Wow, by God’s grace you were a very intelligent and self-composed 13 year old if you could recognize and flee these wacky teachings!

    How wrong Bill Gothard was on so many points (to the detriment of many who listened to him!) and yet I can’t help but think that he must have felt strongly that he was preaching God’s truth. That scares me because, while I’m hopefully not teaching my followers anything nearly as heretical, I’m sure I don’t have it all perfect either. So much humility is needed! And also, remembering James 3:1 “Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly.”

    • mm Pam Lau says:

      Truth be told, I didn’t share even the most harrowing story that happened to me during that week of seminars because I didn’t want my cohort to associate it with me! (My pride?). You raise an excellent question and observation in that Bill Gothard truly thought he was right. Remember the book by Jim Baker titled, “I Was Wrong?” At least he had the sense to admit he was wrong albeit from prison. What your comment makes me want are more teachers and communicators in my own life helping keep me accountable. Am I open to this? Do I really mean it? I sure hope so considering the verse your mention. Thanks for your comment.

  2. Jenny Dooley says:

    Hi Pam,
    Thank you for sharing your story. You were a very self-differentiated 13-year-old. That is so impressive that you were able to realize some thing was off and set a boundary for yourself. To answer your question, being still and waiting for God is very life giving for me. I am not a fast mover or fast thinker. That doesn’t mean I am the best thinker. I have been questioning my thinking skills all semester! I need time to reflect and be quiet especially with big decisions that impact other people. I used to think I was too slow and too quiet, but I don’t think that any more. Waiting and being slow helps me formulate my thoughts and grounds me. Centering on God’s presence with me brings a lot of peace! I think it helps me remember to use my common sense. When something doesn’t feel right I need to heed that gut feeling. Like you did. If I’m rushing or trying to fix I can miss that vital clue. If I don’t slow down to consider my thoughts and feelings with God, anxiety will kick in producing quick decisions and judgments that usually aren’t helpful. Inviting God into System 1 thinking helps me slow down so I can get to System 2 thinking and quiets the crazy stories I can so easily tell myself. Your story makes me wonder what kinds of experiences and thinking led Bill Gothard to develop his teachings and methodologies.

    • mm Pam Lau says:

      Jenny, As I read your response/comment, I thought you were talking about me! I am such a slow thinker. In fact, writing these posts each week is incredibly painful for me because often I don’t know what I’m thinking before the post is due! Like you, if I don’t wait on God, spend quality time journaling and asking my questions, I stumble and make a fool of myself everywhere because I have such strong opinions. Often, in my natural state, I am so wrong. My husband is a huge help for me in this in that he is a pragmatist. He immediately sees all sides to an issue whereas I am still thinking about why I am feeling so strongly about something. God must know this about us as human beings which is why the Scripture given to us “to be still” is a relief to me most days.
      You bring up such an important question about Bill Gothard so I did a quick Google search and discovered he spent 7 years working with at-risk young adults/teenagers before he wrote his 7 principles. I do know he’s been charged with 30 counts of sexual misconduct from 30 different women. And he never married. It pains me to think so many vulnerable Christian families bought into his thinking and teaching. We crave order and being told what to do more than our freedom. Maybe? Thanks for your very thoughtful response. I appreciate you, Jenny!

      • Jenny Dooley says:

        Now I think you are writing about me! My blog post writing is painfully slow. I feels as though I write the equivalent of 3 posts before I find the thread and start deleting. I have a tough time picking one thing and sticking to it!

        Rigid views and rules often mask a lot of painful secrets. I really enjoy Ruth Haley Barton’s books. I do believe it is in creating safe spaces to talk about our secrets, wounds, past etc… that we find freedom.

        • mm Pam Lau says:

          Jenny, I wonder if we could all talk about how we approach blog writing/book reading each week to gather some pointers? Sometimes I read the other cohorts blogs just to hear their thought processes. But like you, I feel like I need to know what I want to say faster. Others?

  3. Travis Vaughn says:

    Pam, thanks so much for telling this story. And I agree with Kim Sanford and Jenny Dooley…you exercised a great deal of self-differentiation to perceive something was awry with Gothard’s teaching, at such a young age!

    Regarding your questions — More recently, waiting and being still before God has involved some spiritual practices I did not have in earlier years of my spiritual formation. But if I’m truthful, this is an arena of my formation that is still very much a work in progress. I do involve others speaking into my decisions more than I once did, in part because I know I am prone to being wrong (my awareness has grown, I should say), prone to making decisions too quickly, and prone to NOT waiting on God. This is hard, for sure.

    • mm Pam Lau says:

      Have you read any of Ruth Haley Barton’s work? In particular, I have relied on her book, Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership or An Invitation to Solitude? (I’ll look for the links when I am not in an airport). When my husband and I experienced a tragedy in our third year of marriage, we came across Richard Foster’s work on the inner life. I think we were 25 and 28 years old at the time and both raised in the Christian faith. We had not been trained or taught in what the spiritual disciplines looked like and how we could grow closer to God through silence, fasting, prayer, celebration, etc. Looking back, I cannot imagine how the next thirty years of our work and ministry could have survived (I should say our souls!). Thank you for your comment and post. And yes, I was alarmed at what I heard at 13 years old. My Dad tells me I was extremely aware of what others thought and tried to say as a young child. Not sure what that is. My teachers either loved me or were not sure what to do with me. I am so thankful for my husband and his family who embraced my nature from day one! Would love to hear which books you read as you are “waiting on God” as a leader.

      • Travis Vaughn says:

        I have NOT yet read any of Ruth Haley Barton’s works, but both of those books, particularly Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership, are books that I am hoping to read, soon.

        I first learned of Richard Foster’s work when I was in college. The next author I read in the “spiritual disciplines” vein of things was probably Donald Whitney and then later Dallas Willard. I would say that Pete Scazzero’s work has been especially meaningful in recent years. I think at one point Henri Nouwen’s little book “In the Name of Jesus: Reflections on Christian Leadership” was probably in my top five favorites. Right now, most (all?) of the books I am reading are around this doctoral project, including the books in this course. I can’t think of any of them that are in the “waiting on God as a leader” framework. Great question.

  4. Scott Dickie says:

    Thanks for sharing Pam…and good question. For me, slowing down and waiting allows me to ponder the ‘why’ behind the activity or assessment. When I am overly-busy, I find myself taking things at face value: Someone tells me, “That was a good event”. Ok…great.
    But if I have time to ponder and think, I can at least identify the why of that statement: That leader said it was a great event because a bunch of people showed up and that feels good…..but that’s not the goal! How did it move us towards the vision? Why are we doing that thing anyways? A more current example…”I need to come up with a 3 year plan”….that’s the pressure I feel. Why? Because that’s what leaders do and I’m a leader. Ok….maybe….but maybe not? That’s one style/way of leading church (which is more associated with the church growth mentality of the 90’s/00’s that I actually don’t like that much!), so maybe I don’t have to do it that way? God….what way are you asking me to lead? I can’t get to these vitally important recognitions when I’m running and system 1 is giving me all my feedback.

    • mm Pam Lau says:

      I love how you wrote your inner dialogue for us to join you in waiting/listening for God’s Voice in your ministry and leadership. I am curious what your regular patterns/practices look like within a year to listen to God as the Lead Pastor of your church? Do you take silent retreats for a day or two? When I first moved to Oregon, I scheduled a day at the Trappist Abbey once a quarter for about 15 years. Some days I just sat on a bench on the grounds in complete silence because I was tired mentally and spiritually. Other days I brought specific challenges to pray about. I am finding it more difficult to set aside days like this since the Pandemic and I am not sure why. Does your board give you the freedom to be in that kind of solitude?

  5. mm Jana Dluehosh says:

    Pam, I am moved by your experience! I began to struggle with what I was being taught around that time too. I didn’t have words or even the awareness you did, I think I just deep down knew I wasn’t fitting into it. It took me until college and later to differentiate what it was I was experiencing and feeling. I have had to counsel a lot of women in the church whose husbands don’t go to church and then struggle with “submission”. Ugh. Anyway, how have you found the ability to keep skepticism and not find yourself cynical? Or if you do find yourself cynical, how do you know the difference for yourself?

  6. mm Pam Lau says:

    Your work/counsel with women who struggle with patriarchal teachings/submission and wanting to please God is important. I am so grateful you are stepping into those spaces and being a safe haven for women.
    I want to answer your question about fighting cynicism and skepticism honestly and openly. As a 21-year-old, I made a vow that I would never be married, have children or work in ministry. That’s how cynical I was about Christian marriage/family. When I met Brad, my husband of 32 years, he and I were reading the same book called Bible as Literature by LeLand Ryken. I’d never met a Christian man with such a tender heart, sharp mind and commitment to Christ who was humble! Within all our interactions, he supported whatever God called me to in work and ministry, not once making our marriage about his career/ministry. Whatever we did, it was about “us” and “ours,” while honoring Christ as Lord. So on a personal level, I give credit to Brad for being an example to men of what it looks like to love a woman with closeness and freedom.
    How I stay aware and not become cynical in my faith is a much longer answer. As an 8 on the Enneagram, I don’t easily trust what others say, teach or proclaim. I can smell hypocrisy and “fakery” a mile away. This is why I search, read, ask questions and surround myself with a certain kinds of human beings. I am a truth-teller and I need truth-tellers as close friends. As you can see that takes a lot of energy.
    In my late 20’s a group of women asked me to teach them the Bible. At the time I was a full-time English professor at a college in Pennsylvania and I was cynical about Bible studies. Admittedly, I didn’t know the Bible enough to teach it. When I began to read Scripture with the goal of teaching it, my heart started to ask questions like, “What does God say about my pain?” or “Why did God let my brother-in-law and sister-in-law be killed in a car accident?” Suddenly, I found myself face to face with God responding to me. I found my questions reflected in the Psalms, Lamentations and Jeremiah. Then, I would teach it to others not because I was the expert but for the opposite reason: I became the lead learner. We didn’t have the Rachel Held Evans or Priscilla Shirers who used their voices to rise above the Christian sub-cultures then. So in my small world, I decided to teach myself. If others wanted to hear what I was learning from God, they would invite me to come teach or speak. This is what saves me from cynicism and it’s why I write. Without the deep dives, without the haggling with God in my own private world, I would be even more of a mess than I am! Since we live one city apart, I would love to tell you the story about the time God intervened in my life when I was going through a very cynical time and His message to me was, “Bow your mind to the Spirit.” These are the kinds of questions I believe are paramount for leaders, especially those in the faith. Cynical responses are deeply hurting our young people–they tell me that all the time. How are we doing in that area?

  7. mm Dinka Utomo says:

    Hi Pam! Thank you for your post. I like how you reflect on Duffy’s writing and connect it with the biased family relationship.
    I found your reflection connecting Duffy’s ideas with a biased perspective that can also be found in Christianity to be very interesting, especially with your example of the hierarchical relationship between husband and wife and Christ. I was wondering, in your opinion, to what extent does the Holy Spirit play a role in the life of a theologian or pastor to prevent them from being influenced by the biases that they may have inherited from their predecessors?

  8. mm Pam Lau says:

    Wow! What a brilliant and thoughtful question! You are making me want everyone in our cohort to chime in on this one! Before I respond, I want to think about my answer. My feelings on this issue run deep; I need to pull up a more pragmatic self!

  9. mm Pam Lau says:

    Good Morning, Dinka! (Is it still 1 AM for you?)
    Thank you for asking, “to what extent does the Holy Spirit play a role in the life of a theologian or pastor to prevent them from being influenced by the biases that they may have inherited from their predecessors?

    What caused me to pause when you asked your question was the part about my opinion. As our readings have consistently reminded us, our thinking is often wrong. I have learned that my opinions are biased and I often respond to topics/issues I care about with an enormous amount of emotion at first.

    When I consider the Trinity and the relationship that is shared among The Father, Jesus and The Holy Spirit, I see a collaboration, a unity, rich camaraderie and an agreement with One Another that we as human beings long for. It’s unavoidable that what we have learned from our mentors, teachers, predecessors is from a bias. We all communicate from some kind of bias. Perhaps what we need more of is what we are doing in this program–thinking, reflecting, becoming intentional about change. Last week, one of the prominent churches in Portland announced that they were planning a two-year reflection and question time about the role of women as elders. Their current position was based on the teachings the pastoral staff received while in seminary. Now, they are holding public meetings where they will discuss, open the Scriptures and dialogue about differing views to come to their own conclusions. My respect for this leadership team has sky-rocketed for this approach. Might that be where the Holy Spirit dwells in unity with us as we seek Him in humility, in groups, in conversation? People are coming together on equal ground not with one pastor or leader having the most authority. It’s within collaboration and open, honest discussion where I believe bias and certain points of view can be changed, even negotiated. I don’t think you are talking about Gospel Doctrine – I think we are talking about principles. Would love to hear your thoughts!

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