Pastor Steve Poe believes that the destructive patterns currently visible in the Church — from pastors falling due to sexual impropriety to a widespread lack of discipleship — are the result of bad habits. Thus, for the Body of Christ to thrive, it must identify and break free from these patterns and replace them with God-honoring habits.
“The Church has been lulled to sleep,” Poe told The Christian Post. “Probably at the fault of the clergy, we’ve been hearing a feel-good gospel. Everyone has become apathetic and indifferent, and we don’t want to do the work it takes to take on the nature of Christ.”
He added: “As pastors, we’ve got to be willing to call people out and say, ‘Look, if you’re serious about wanting the life Christ has for you, you’ve got to do the work. You’ve got to take these bad habits and replace them with good ones. It’s a discipleship issue that the Church must address.”
For over three decades, Poe has pastored large, growing churches and counseled hundreds of people. Today, he serves as the lead pastor of Northview Church in central Indiana. Under his leadership, the church has grown in attendance from 500 to over 11,000.
Over the years, Poe began noticing a trend in the Church: People’s poor choices frequently turned into bad habits that eventually caused collateral damage in their personal, social and spiritual lives.
“When you accept Christ as Lord and Savior of your life, it breaks sin’s hold on you. It gives us the power to say ‘no’ to sin,” he explained. “But oftentimes, years after embracing Christianity, I would hear Christians coming back and saying, ‘I don't get it. I'm a Christian, I'm a believer, and yet I still feel stuck.’ The reason they're stuck is that they have these habits that they've developed over several years and they can't just walk away from them.”
In his latest book,Creatures of Habit: Breaking the Habits Holding You Back from God's Best, Poe helps Christians identify and break free from unhealthy patterns and find the life-giving freedom only Christ can offer.
“We underestimate the power of habits in our life,” Poe said. “Habits have a bigger impact on people's spiritual life than just about anything we could talk about, especially when it comes to discipleship.”
In his book, the pastor identifies several common bad habits — from anger and lust to cynicism and pride — and how to break them. It begins with “owning” a habit before making it “invisible,” he said.
“If you struggle with anger, you’ve got to figure out what is making you angry all the time and then make it invisible. What is at the root of your anger?"
He added: "Another thing we can do is find the right community. If there are people that are always complaining, and you’re trying to break the habit of complaining, you need to step away from that community.”
In his book, Poe outlines tangible steps readers can take to break bad habits, such as calming down before reacting and taking a walk. He also shares mental and emotional tools, like how to let go of anger correctly, practicing forgiveness, giving anger an expiration date, and finally, the importance of relying on God’s help for true freedom.
“A lot of the things that we consider emotions are really habits, like pride, for example,” he posited. “You think of pride as a character trait — and it is — but it really doesn't become a problem until pride becomes a habit and defines the way we respond to people. Everything we say is out of pride and arrogance. In the same way, if I begin to respond to people with humility, that can also become a habit.”
“We can't break any of these bad habits in our life on our own. We need God's help to break these habits,” he stressed. “You didn't develop these habits overnight, and you're not going to get rid of them overnight.”
Nearly half of everything a person does during the day is a habit, according to research by Duke University scientists. And there’s a reason the New Testament is full of Scripture passages that deal with the topic of habits, Poe said, citing Romans 12:2, which speaks of “renewing your mind.”
The pastor clarified that emotions like anger, for example, are not inherently negative — in fact, even Jesus exhibited “righteous indignation.”
“It’s when you create a habit out of it that it becomes a problem. In other words, it becomes the way you respond to almost everything,” he explained. “It's not like I need to totally get complaining out of my life. I just need to break the habit of it in my life. The habit is what brings us down.”
As a pastor, Poe said he’s concerned by the negative patterns spurred by COVID-19, specifically citing the decline in church attendance.
“People have just gotten in the habit of watching church online, and so they're not returning to church,” he said. “And yet, Hebrews warns us against creating the bad habit of not coming together in fellowship. It’s dangerous to our spiritual walk."
Church leaders and pastors who exhibit moral failures, Poe added, have failed to develop spiritual disciplines and instead lean into negative habits like pride and lust.
“When we do that, we open the door for the enemy to have his way in our life and we open the door for so much sin,” he cautioned. “When we take on the nature of Christ, it becomes second nature to us. Then, there’s not even an opportunity for sin to enter in.”
The pastor challenged Christians to ask themselves: “Is this habit going to help form me into the image of Christ? Or is this habit going to destroy my image in Christ?”
“I don't think we can underestimate the power of habits,” he emphasized. “Our habits become a part of who we are and our identity. We’re supposed to emulate Christ and grow in the fullness of Christ. We want good habits in our life, and those are basically spiritual disciplines that help us grow.”
“Bad habits destroy our Christ-like identity and take us away from Christ’s image,” he added. “Those can become spiritual strongholds and idolatry in our lives. They are tombstones that keep us from God's best in our life.”