Charles Stone pegged pastors and church leaders well with his book People-Pleasing Pastors, which I highly recommend.
I have struggled with people-pleasing for most of my life. As a kid, I think I had a positive tendency to want to obey authorities in my life, but as an adult, I managed to add to that dynamic a tendency to avoid any correction or conflict. And the only alternative is to keep everybody around me happy while bottling up my own feelings of frustration and disagreement.
And whatever we keep stuffing inside eventually leaks, or explodes, and I’ve been guilty of both.
As Charles points out, Pastors are particularly prone to people pleasing. We want people to like our sermons, to feel good after our counsel, to agree with our vision and leadership, and to feel better about themselves for having been around us.
- Used Book in Good Condition
- Stone, Charles (Author)
- English (Publication Language)
- 236 Pages - 01/10/2014 (Publication Date) - IVP (Publisher)
While some level of encouragement and affection toward others is healthy and biblical, if we’re not careful it can ultimately feed our ego, present itself as a false humility, and change the way we lead and live.
I would even argue that the nature of how we do “church” in an American context exacerbates this problem dramatically. In a consumerized, capitalistic culture, we tend to see everything as a product to be enjoyed, including church. And in the same way that we will leave a one-star review on a restaurant for messing up our order, we often voice our preferences and our displeasure about church including our feelings about whether the pastor is meeting our expectations or not.
Here’s a bit of good news for undershepherds, and anybody else in church leadership – a list of people you have permission NOT to please anymore…
You’ll always have some. They’re not always wrong, but often convey their feedback in a rather wrong spirit. And sometimes, they’re really wrong.
All common is the empty chatter of the critic whose voice we need to simply ignore. Hear this big truth: It is only as we come to fully embrace our true identity as a child of God that we can deflect untrue and unloving criticism from others.
Listen to the criticism of good friends who seek your betterment and ignore the rest while finding your confidence in the truth God speaks about you as His child.
To put it another way, there should be some people who have permission to speak boldly into your life where you need correction. And then there are strangers and acquaintances with mere opinions about you, who don’t know your heart. Value the former as “wounds from a friend” and throw away the latter.
The power players.
For Pastors, these may be Deacons or a board of Elders, or that lady who controls the money, the thermostat, and the unofficial coffee table business meetings about you.
In the business world, it is often boards, bosses, or fellow employees seeking to climb the ladder even if your head makes a good rung to step on. You don’t have to please any of them. You may be called to serve them well as though you’re serving Jesus (Colossians 3:22-25, where the word please is used a little differently), but you aren’t called to keep them happy.
Every time you acquiesce to the voices of those who express disapproval of the way you’re leading them, you sacrifice a little bit of your God-given influence within the organization. Pastors, in particular, are called to oversee without becoming lords over people. In other words, God often calls you to lead forward even when everyone doesn’t agree. Just ask Moses. Or Peter. Or Jesus.
I sometimes reflect back over moments in my own pastoral life and wish that I’d had the guts to risk getting fired or at least criticized for sticking to what I believed God wanted me to do next. But what I find, sometimes, are moments that I yielded to the pressure in the name of patience and gave up an opportunity for growth, choosing to please power players rather than do whatever it takes to reach the next lost person.
We all want affirmation from our peers and colleagues. We want them to know that we’re like them and that they can like us with confidence. But you’ll never be conservative enough for some of your peers, or liberal enough for others. You may never have the approval of the Reformed camp, the Charismatic camp, or the Ecumenical camp. While one peer is calling you out on your soft stance on some issue, another will proclaim that you’ve been too harsh and unbending.
In light of the fact that you can’t keep your peers happy and gain their approval of all of your opinions, decide to be who God has called you to be while respecting who God has called them to be. When you do this, you’ll feel released to love and encourage your peers who lean in all kinds of different directions from you.
A non-believing world.
My philosophy of ministry was drastically altered in 1999-ish when I first read The Purpose Driven Church, in which Pastor Rick Warren devotes two chapters to explaining the seeker-sensitive approach to worship.
Rick couldn’t predict what would happen after the release of the book. A lot of church leaders took his ideas and ran with them… right off a cliff. That is, “seeker-sensitive” was hijacked, and, instead of being about communicating the gospel in a language a post-Christian culture can understand it often became offend no one by avoiding the truth.
Our evangelistic commission from Jesus compels us to be wise, sensitive, loving, and grace-filled as we patiently present the gospel to a world in a way that can be understood and experienced. But Jesus never asked us to water down or alter his message.
Living to please your spouse and kids can harm you, your marriage, and your relationship with your children. You can love your family, serve your family, protect and provide for your family, and enjoy your family without falling into the trap of just trying to keep your spouse and children happy with you.
If you’re living to please your church, your wife, your kids, or your critics, you’re headed for spiritual and emotional burnout. Furthermore, you’re pulling away from God who is, as the Scriptures describe Him, “the one with whom we have to do.” (Hebrews 4:13)
You have only one person to please – your Creator. Serve others. Encourage others. Seek to accept and work alongside others well. But live to please an audience of One – Jesus, the author, and finisher of our faith.