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Pleasing the People - Part One

People pleaser.

You’ve heard the term. Perhaps you know that it relates to you. It makes you uncomfortable so you become defensive.

Isn’t ministry all about serving people? Don’t the Proverbs talk about reputation in a positive light? A good reputation and respect are worth much more than silver and gold. (Prov. 22.1) What’s wrong with a good reputation? And how you can get that without serving people and being seen to serve them?

All true. No question. It’s good to serve. A good reputation enables a leader to lead. It gives a person credibility, which leads to trust. But none of this has anything to do with pleasing people.

A good reputation can be established without ever becoming a ‘people-pleaser.’

The term itself is unsettling, isn’t it? There’s something inherently weak about the concept. Serving people, yes. Pleasing people, no. Why is this?

The first reason is obvious. Leaders should serve God, not people. It’s as simple as that. But there are other reasons, which have to do with drivers. Drivers are those motivations inside us which give impetus to the choices and decisions we make. We like to think that God is our sole motivation, but the reality is we’re all broken. And because we’re broken, the pure driving force of ‘serving God’ has become corrupted. We’re actually driven by a whole variety of things which have nothing to do with God. This is particularly serious for leaders, because these drivers damage our ability to lead people with integrity.

The weakness within a ‘people-pleaser’ relates to the need to be accepted and liked. A good place to start is simply to ask the obvious question,

Why do I seek acceptance from others? What’s driving that?

The reality is we all need love and the desire (yearning?) for acceptance appears to be some kind of distorted expression of that. But where is it coming from? Insecurity about ‘being liked’ can have multiple sources, from poor parenting to bullying at school to poor social skills and the inability to form healthy friendships. And let’s be honest, none of us is totally and completely secure. We’re human, after all. Yet the answer is always the same. Christ, our firm foundation, of course, but also those who love us (friends, spouse) telling us over and over that we’re loved and accepted by our God. Being rooted (Col 2.7) is also a wonderful image.

A second helpful question is,

Are there certain kinds of people whom I seek to please more than others? Wealthy, charismatic church members exert power and at times, they seek to exert their will over you as the leader. Unless you understand what’s happening and why your urge to please is being gratified (and at times manipulated), then you will quickly succumb to the powerful. Sometimes it’s coming from the other end of the spectrum – a desire to be seen as compassionate by the needy. So it’s not the wealth and status, it’s the fact that you seek approval apart from God. God’s acceptance and love simply aren’t enough, so you find yourself seeking love from others in an unhealthy way. It’s the kind of ‘love’ which strokes your ego when God seems insufficient.

What’s the answer aside from the obvious? There are some things which need consideration, but nothing will ever work better than the obvious: luxuriating in the presence of a gracious God who loves us. At times, he may not seem sufficient, but that’s a lie. He is always, always sufficient, always good, always faithful and when we seek to live for him alone, everything in life lines up. So let’s start there.

Next time, I’ll be looking at some other practical steps to tackle the ‘people-pleasing’ beast.

This week, we’re releasing an article by David and Odile Pollard on cross-cultural marriages. Especially for those who lead churches which include many nationalities, this is an excellent article to equip you to serve a multi-cultural congregation. Click here.


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