I have a confession to make. I'm a chronic people-pleaser. I didn't get here over night and learning to handle the condition in my life and learn to manage it is a daily struggle. If you have the people-pleaser gene you hear every comment of every person through this filter: I Must do something about what was just said to me. Once people know you respond this way, they tend to over-use and abuse you because they know the rule: pull the string and get a response. Being godly is not about people pleasing. Jesus wasn't a people pleaser... he was a Father-pleaser... Jesus was holy and whole.
People pleasers can learn to say "no" but they must also learn to release the anxiety that comes with the results of saying "no." Once you refuse to please the person, you actually disrupt yourself. It's easier to say yes and bear the brunt of whatever comes sometimes than it is to say no and bear the anxiety. Anybody out there with me? So what is a chronic people-pleaser supposed to do in terms of following Jesus? Quite simply, we please God first and let Him deal with the demands of people.
God is not a people pleaser. In fact, much of God's interactions with His beloved creation are not "pleasing" at all. Quite the opposite. God is more dis-pleasing than pleasing because God is holy... higher... eternal... wiser... greater. God doesn't need to please you to get your vote because He is already the Supreme King of the Universe, Casting a vote against God only harms yourself. Being a wise leader that appropriately handles the numerous expectations of people is part of a pastor's job. We are the ears that hear the vast array of feedback (especially negative) that comes from the flock. Here are some lessons I've learned as a pastor who is learning to overcome chronic people-pleasing.
1. Know when to engage and disengage. Some feedback requires response, but not all feedback requires response. Weigh every situation and consider every source of feedback. If the source is good, sound, just and accurate in their assessment, then listen carefully and learn. If the source is emotional, reactive, self-seeking, pot-stirring and such, then listen carefully and teach the person (albeit with difficult truth) about what is happening in them. Sometimes it's godly for me to learn from feedback and sometimes its godly for me to teach out of feedback.
2. If you've been spinning plates for people unnecessarily, let the plates fall and break. If you find yourself caught in the trap of constantly responding to people's demands, that cycle of behavior is unhealthy and must stop. If you hand is constantly spinning that plate balancing on the top of the pole, there comes a time when you must release your hands of the plate. Quite simply, it's not a pastor's job to manage someone else's life. Being a good shepherd means you raise healthy sheep, not dependent sheep. If I die tomorrow, who will respond to everyone's demands? People will survive without the over-engaging involvement of a people-pleaser. Step away from the plates and let the people learn to manage.
3. Is God Pleased? ... THAT is the question. I am a pastor of people, but I am first a child of God. You can only serve one Master. Either you will please people and not please the Father, or you will please the Father and not please people. I've learned that people pleasing takes energy that otherwise is best given to my relationship with God. If I'm going to seek to fulfill anyone's expectations I will seek to please the One who died for me, not the one who would rather I die for them.
4. All Good Leadership Takes People Through Difficult Change. You can't be a people pleaser and lead people to spiritual growth. All spiritual growth that lasts comes through a crucible. The best lessons in life are learned in the meat grinder. Good leadership knows how to recognize those moments and help people through them, and not giving in to the temptation to just keep everyone comfortable. Good leaders lead... we're not flight attendants or waiters... we're there to help people develop in their own godliness, getting out of God's way to let Him do His work in other's hearts.
In general, pastors are called to lead others and teach others to do the work of ministry. It is not the pastor's job to do all of the ministry. There is much more that could be said on this topic. For instance:
Brett Heintzman is passionate about the spiritual formation of God's people. These writings are designed to draw us close to God and to help us live out of the riches of His presence. It's all about being in the world but not of the world.
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