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GETTING COMFORTABLE WITH DISAPPOINTING PEOPLE

Jesus—more than once—disappointed people. There, I said it.

This profound truth was brought to my attention several weeks ago while recording a podcast with Josh Spurlock, the founder of My Counselor Online. His words hit like a ton of bricks . . .  “Jesus often disappointed people.”

My mind raced to several instances in Scripture where this very scenario played out:

  • Many of His followers thought He came to overthrow the Romans and reestablish Israel’s governmental rulership. In Acts 1:6 those closest to Jesus gathered around him and asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” He replied with a command to wait for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, and a promise that they would preach the gospel in Judea, Samaria, and the uttermost parts of the earth.
  • In Luke chapter 12, Jesus refused an invitation to referee a dispute between two brothers regarding their father’s inheritance.
  • Earlier this week I read the account of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem. He rode a donkey into the city, with the crowds shouting His praise, hailing Him as their king. They thought He would take over politically and set things right. He didn’t.

I’ve heard more than one pastor tell me the reason they overwork is they don’t want to disappoint people. And while that might sound heroic, even spiritual, on multiple occasions we observe that Jesus didn’t do what people expected Him to do. And yet the Scriptures tell us He finished His mission.

As a twenty-nine-year-old lead pastor, I operated under the false assumption that it was my job to make everybody in our church happy. This flawed thinking process eventually gave way to a long stretch of anxiety and depression.

And it begs the question, “why?” Why do pastors, ministry leaders, even business owners find themselves in moments where they’re deathly afraid to disappoint people? What drives such unrealistic (and unhealthy) behavior?

Reason 1: A misguided understanding of leadership

Our job as a leader is to . . . wait for it . . . lead. To lead people where God wants them to go, even when they don’t want to go there. To make decisions that might be unpopular on occasion. To comfort people, to teach them—but also to challenge them when needed. Don’t get me wrong—I’m not suggesting we adopt an uncaring attitude, or become lazy in how we lead. I am suggesting we inject a healthy dose of realism into our leadership philosophy. If Jesus occasionally disappointed people—and He was perfect—why do we imperfect humans think we won’t occasionally do the same?

Reason 2: Fear/Insecurity

For most of my pastoral ministry, I was a serial people-pleaser. I wanted to be liked, affirmed, thought of as a “good guy.” I had no clue that fear and insecurity were driving me. I spiritualized my approach, thinking such behavior was godly, right, and good pastoring. But what it led to was overcommitting, overscheduling, and giving people power over my sense of value . . . and even power over my happiness. Twelve years of that approach landed me in the pit of unrelenting anxiety and suicidal depression. Proverbs says, “The prudent man sees danger ahead and takes refuge.” Leadership fueled by people-pleasing and insecurity is anything but prudent.

At times it seems as though the “I’m afraid to disappoint people” mentality has reached epidemic proportions in the leadership world. Is it any wonder then, that leaders suffer rates of depression and anxiety much higher than that of the general population? If we ignore this idea of getting comfortable with disappointing people, it can take those of us who lead into a dark place emotionally. It also promotes a lack of health in those we lead. It’s not good for them to believe we’re there to respond to their every whim.

So . . . what can we do about this? How do we get more comfortable with the idea that sometimes, people will be disappointed with us?

Remember Who we belong to

We have responsibility to the people we lead—integrity, compassion, courage, etc. But we have a larger responsibility to Jesus. Pleasing Him and people sometimes go together. Sometimes they don’t. Ultimately, we will give account of our leadership to Him.

Figure out what’s broken on the inside of us

What wounds are we carrying from the past that cause us to fear disappointing people in the present? We probably won’t figure out what’s broken on our own. We’ll need the help of a counselor, a coach, or a mentor to help us dig into this one.

Be realistic

If Jesus let people down . . . if perfection disappointed people . . . we must accept the reality that we occasionally will too. Jesus didn’t disappoint people because He was lazy or didn’t care or didn’t give His best effort. He disappointed them when their agenda for Him was at odds with His Father’s agenda for Him.

So my dear leader friend . . . if you want to lead better, longer, and enjoy it more . . . you must get comfortable with the reality that you can’t please everyone all the time. You will periodically disappoint those you lead, because there will be moments when they want from you what Jesus doesn’t.

Rooting and praying for you,

John

John Opalewski

Author John Opalewski

John Opalewski is a graduate of Oral Roberts University. He served as a pastor for fifteen years. He has worked in the business world for nearly two decades, serving in multiple leadership roles. John's experience as a leader in both the church and business arenas has made him a sought-after international speaker, coach and mentor.

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