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Nothing good ever comes from a ministry devoted to pleasing people ~ Chuck Swindoll

The fear of man is a snare ~ Book of Proverbs

When I think about my first fifteen years of pastoral ministry, so much of it was tinged with a subconscious thirst for people to like me. Unknowingly, I craved approval. After a teaching session, if nobody came up and said: “good job,” I felt a smothering sense of failure. I would replay the talk over and over in my mind. Sleep became elusive. People-pleasing was becoming very unhealthy.

I was a serial people-pleaser. Insecure, finding my identity in what people thought of my work, hungry for the approval of men. I gave people way too much power over my happiness. If you and I don’t carry a healthy sense of self into our respective callings, danger lurks.

Pastoral ministry is people-centric in many ways. If you don’t like people, ministry is not for you. Pastors, to be successful, need a high likeability quotient. Likeability is the ability to produce good emotions in others. But there’s a big difference between being likeable versus being a people-pleaser.

So . . . how do you know if you’re a people-pleaser, in the unhealthy sense of the word? Here are a few sure-fire signs:

Sign 1: The inability to say no

“No” is not a curse word. The problem is—“no” is not always the right answer. Lazy people say “no” all the time. The freedom to say “no” is not a license for being a boat anchor. It’s not permission to bury your God-given gifts. But learning when to say “no” and what to say “no” to—guilt free—is absolutely critical to your longevity in ministry. If saying yes to an invitation, or to an open door, will cause your assignment or primary responsibilities to fail—”no” can be appropriate. Use your life’s mission as a filter to help you decide what you will and won’t do.

Sign 2: You need attaboys (or attagirls) to feel good about life

Living for the approval of the people you lead is an emotional roller coaster. It’s a recipe for burnout, anxiety, and depression. You’ll end up working for your identity instead of working from it. We can get so wrapped up in the applause of people (or lack of it) that we allow our sense of identity to form around their approval (or lack of it). If we get our identity from leading people instead of leading people from our identity in Christ, we set ourselves up for all kinds of trouble. Your identity, if you’re a Jesus-follower, is this: you are an adopted son or daughter of the living God. You are unconditionally loved by Him. You don’t have to work for that identity . . . you can work from that identity.

Sign 3: You are conflict-avoiding

If you love conflict, I’m not sure you’re healthy. If you avoid conflict at all costs, I’m not sure you’re healthy. One thing I do know for sure—if you refuse to have difficult conversations with people, you’re stunting your leadership capacity.  Leaders who intend on leading for the long-haul need steel in their spine. And that includes a willingness to deal directly, honestly, and lovingly with difficult people. It occasionally means having tough conversations you’d rather avoid.

Now there are more than three signs we might be people-pleasers, but hopefully you get the point. As 2020 is now upon us, can I challenge you to wave goodbye to people pleasing this year? For good?

Listen to the wisdom of Rev. Swindoll once more: “My responsibility is to deliver what God’s people need, not what they want. As I do, that truth hits me with the same authority as it does the folks with whom I communicate. May God deliver every honest pastor, every truth-seeking church leader, and every Christian from the bondage of pleasing people.”

I’m rooting and praying for you to have an amazing and adventurous 2020!

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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