For the last four years, I was a personal development junkie. I believed that mindset was everything especially if you wanted to be successful. So I devoured books, podcasts, courses, seminars, and coaching in the pursuit of becoming the best possible version of myself.
Then in May of 2019 something in my spirit felt uneasy and I started asking the question, “do these concepts align with my Christian faith?”
I felt like a dog with a bone as I researched various self-help topics and compared them to scripture. What I found was honestly shocking.
I could find threads of truth that aligned with parts of the Bible giving me reasons to hang on to everything I’d been learning. At the same time, I found many ideas that flat-out contradicted God’s word.
I know that there are countless women who want to make a difference in the world and are desperately seeking to find their God-given purpose, but they’re turning to the self-help world for answers. As I have seen first hand, pursuing your personal growth and development can be helpful but also spiritually dangerous.
That’s why in this post I want to bring awareness to three spiritual dangers lurking in the personal development industry that you may not even know about.
Spiritual Danger #1: Deception That Leads You Astray
When I started on my own personal development journey, all I wanted was to discover something about myself that would allow me to get out of my own way and start producing results that I couldn’t seem to create by myself.
In the beginning, I learned all kinds of strategies and coping skills that genuinely helped me get rid of negative thought patterns, push past limiting beliefs and start achieving some goals.
But the more I explored, the more I got a cocktail of leadership concepts mixed with new age spirituality masquerading as science and psychology.
While I was in it, I couldn’t see the new age principles — heck, I didn’t even know what the “new age” was. Nevertheless, I was 100% blind to the deception even as a Christian who has been following Jesus for over 20 years.
It wasn’t until I started asking that question, “does this align with my Christian faith”, that I realized so many of these so-called “self-help” ideas actually conflict with the Bible. For example…
- Self-help gurus preach that “there’s nothing wrong with you; you’re whole and complete” but the Bible says we are all sinners in need of a Savior (Ephesians 2:4-5, Romans 3:23-24)
- Spiritual junkies say “ask the universe – the universe has your back” but the Bible condemns those who worship the creation. (Deuteronomy 4:19, Deuteronomy 17:2-5, Job 31:26-28, Jeremiah 8:1-2)
- The world says “follow your heart and do what’s true for you” but the Bible says the heart (which is the control center for your attitude, thoughts, feelings, intentions, words, and actions) is deceitful above all things (Jeremiah 17:9, Mark 7:21-23)
- Many coaches say “you alone have the power to create your life” but the Bible says you can make plans, but ultimately the Lord establishes your steps. (Proverbs 16:9)
When you compare these ideas thought-for-thought, they stand in stark contrast to one another.
Apart from the context of God’s living word, these self-help concepts can seem harmless and true, but by their deceptive nature, they can slowly lead us away from God and away from a full life in Christ.
If you’ve been following any of the prominent self-help gurus, you may notice they mention God from time to time.
That may pique your interest so you think “Ok, this is a good person to learn from”, but the problem is that many influencers promote unbiblical spiritual belief systems or ideologies such as “christ-consciousness” or pantheism.
- These new-age beliefs deny that Jesus Christ is the only way to Heaven. (John 14:6)
- They deny that Jesus was fully God and fully man.
- Instead, they say Jesus was simply an “ascended master”, who came to show us the example of how we can achieve the same level of consciousness that Jesus had while he walked on the Earth.
- They also hold the belief that God isn’t a personal God in Heaven, but rather an impersonal energy in the universe that lives in all things. (2 John 7)
Teachers like Oprah Winfrey, Marianne Williamson, Deepak Chopra, Gabby Bernstein, Jen Sincero, Richard Rohr, Rhonda Byrne, Bob Proctor, Jack Canfield, Eckhart Tolle, Esther Hicks, Norman Vincent Peale, and many others create content with this ideology as their foundation.
The greatest problem of all is that many of these teachers claim to be Christians or use Christian theology language to make it sound like it aligns with your faith. This is where the deception creeps in. These teachers use scripture or the name of Jesus as they teach their new age spirituality, but their ideas flat-out contradict the Bible.
HERE’S THE BOTTOM LINE:
Although some of the self-help industry’s teaching seems true, it’s deceptively littered with new age spirituality and humanistic psychology that denies the gospel or preaches a slightly different version.
Following self-help teachings that promote any “new age” spirituality or concepts that contradict scripture, including the law of attraction, can thwart your spiritual growth in Christ and lead you away from God.
Before you blindly follow leaders inside of the personal development industry, do your research and always compare what you learn to scripture (2 Corinthians 10:5), because that is our ultimate authority. (2 Timothy 3:16)
Spiritual Danger #2: Chasing Your Personal Growth & Development Can Lead to Idolatry
Now, I get that not all topics taught in the self-improvement industry are spiritual in nature.
In fact, many of the principles that helped me the most were taught in a secular setting completely void of any discussion about faith or spirituality. There, I learned about goal setting, leadership, integrity, business, habits, success, stress management, and so much more.
I remember one time I was at a weekly Landmark Worldwide seminar meeting and I was asked to examine my life on paper. What do I say about my life versus what I actually do in my life?
I wrote down that my Christian faith, spiritual life and walk with God were most important to me, but I realized I was always too busy to volunteer at my church, and finding 5 minutes each day to spend time in God’s word was a chore.
There I was at a 3-hour seminar on a Wednesday night, but I couldn’t find time to serve my own community at church. I felt like I was punched in the gut when I saw that juxtaposition and mismatch of what I said versus what I did.
On my way home from that meeting, I called my pastor.
We set up a meeting and I got plugged into the church. I told him that if I was volunteering I didn’t just want to hold a door open or hand out donuts on a Sunday morning. I wanted to build meaningful relationships in the lives of our Youth. To this day, I am still actively involved and love mentoring my group of teenage girls at church.
I say all of this to point out the fact that my own personal development journey has produced good fruit. God used that secular seminar for His glory and my good (Romans 8:28). However…
There came a point where I valued and craved that insight that I would get about myself through personal development above my relationship with God.
It became an idol.
I read book after book. Binge listened to podcasts. When one course ended, I signed up for the next seminar. My desire to unlock my fullest potential was insatiable.
Meanwhile, my time alone with God was practically non-existent.
Sure, I went to church every Sunday, read the Bible verse of the day, said an occasional prayer, and listened to worship music in the car, but that was as deep as it got.
The scary part was I didn’t know it was an idol until I took a step back from all things self-help.
That question, “does this align with my Christian faith” kept coming up and I couldn’t give a straight answer to certain podcasts and seminars so I just decided to take a break from it all.
As I grappled with that question day-after-day and researched like a mad man, the Holy Spirit convicted me. I could no longer deny that personal development was, in fact, an idol for me.
That leads me to ask you some questions that require some honest self-inspection:
- Do you value your own personal development above your relationship with God?
- How much time do you spend on improving your mindset through self-help resources versus the amount of time you spend meditating on God’s word?
- Does your soul light up and crave more when you learn new strategies and discover insights about yourself that were previously hidden in blind spots?
Every time you exalt your self-development over God, it’s sin. God’s word clearly condemns idolatry from Genesis to Revelation.
If you feel convicted right now that personal development is an idol for you too, there are a few things you can do:
- Confess your sins to God and ask for forgiveness. (1 John 1:9)
- Rearrange your life so that you turn away from your sin.
- You may need to take a break from all personal development books, podcasts, courses, seminars and coaching programs that do not have a Biblical foundation.
- You may want to replace all the time you spend on self-help with Bible study. Personally, I choose to read the entire Bible cover to cover in 90-days right after I felt convicted. I think it’s important to immerse yourself in God’s word more than any other resource.
- Set up structures and boundaries to make sure personal development does not become an idol again. (Matthew 3:8)
- Share your conviction and your experience with someone that you trust – preferably, a sister in Christ. Ask them to pray for you, check on you and hold you accountable.
- After a season of reading the Bible exclusively, you may want to reintroduce some outside sources of personal development.
- Before you follow anyone’s coaching or advice, do your research! Evaluate whether they share the same Biblical foundation that you do. At the very least, make sure there aren’t new-age teachings and remember to always weigh everything you hear against God’s word.
- Also, be sure that the time spent and the value you get from outside resources never take precedence over your walk with God.
Spiritual Danger #3: Seeking Self-Help Can Lead to An Unhealthy Self-Fixation
I understand that a preoccupation with our self can also be considered idolatry (as we discussed in spiritual danger #2), but there’s more to explore.
We live in a culture that bombards us with messages that say we’re “not enough”. So naturally, we respond by trying to fit our culture’s standard of perfection. We strive to be skinnier, happier, popular, more relaxed, mindful, and successful.
In our quest for perfection, we have become self-obsessed as a culture. Just look at the momentum of the self-care, self-love, self-acceptance, and self-improvement movements. They are pervasive.
As a Christian, it can be easy to be swept away in these movements, put ourselves center stage and lose sight of Christ if you’re not careful.
I certainly was swept away.
When I was heavy into my personal development journey, my focus was always about me, my goals, and my dreams. I was empowered to create my own reality so I relied on myself. In that season, I didn’t seek God because I didn’t need him. I believed that I was in control. I had all the personal power.
While there’s value in taking personal responsibility and learning about your self, apart from God your path to self-improvement can quickly lead to self-centeredness, self-indulgence, entitlement and even narcissism.
I think Dr. David Benner¹ said it best, “Self-knowledge that is pursued apart from knowing our identity in relationship to God easily leads to self-inflation…. It can also lead to self-preoccupation. Unless we spend as much time looking at God as we spend looking at our self, our knowing of our self will simply draw us further and further into an abyss of self-fixation.
So, how do you measure up?
- Do you think highly of yourself? (Romans 12:3)
- Who do you rely on most? Your own worldly wisdom or God? (2 Corinthians 1:12, 1 Corinthians 3:18-19)
- Are you so focused on your goals and creating your own reality that you rarely seek God? (Matthew 6:33)
As a follower of Christ, you’re called to more than a self-obsessed life. Earnestly follow Jesus and watch how your life transforms.
I believe personal development can be a helpful resource to your growth and development, especially when it helps you get into action, live with integrity, and accept personal responsibility. However, there are serious spiritual dangers lurking in the personal development industry.
- Don’t be deceived
- Avoid anyone who teachers a counterfeit gospel
- Don’t let personal development become an idol
- Don’t develop an unhealthy self-fixation
Instead, “put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes.” Ephesians 6:11
What do you think about this topic?
- Have you been trapped in one of these three spiritual dangers?
- Can you think of another spiritual danger that I didn’t include?
- Do you agree or disagree?
¹I quoted Dr. Benner from his book “The Gift of Being Yourself” because I believe he shared some good insights about the connection between the knowledge of ourselves and the knowledge of God, however, I do not agree with everything Dr. Benner teaches.