Session 25: The Inner Workings of the People-Pleasing Pastor.

Anthony DeMello in The Way of Love wrote bluntly: “Look at your life and see how you have filled its emptiness with people. As a result they have a stranglehold on you. See how they control your behavior by their approval and disapproval. They hold the power to ease your loneliness with their company, to send your spirits soaring with their praise, to bring you down to the depths with their criticism and rejection. Take a look at yourself spending almost every waking moment of your day placating and pleasing people, whether they are living or dead. You live by their norms, conform to their standards, seek their company, desire their love, dread their ridicule, long for their applause, meekly submit to the guilt they lay upon you; you are terrified to go against the fashion in the way you dress, or speak or act or even think. And observe how even when you control them you depend on them and are enslaved by them. People have become so much a part of your being that you cannot imagine living a life that is unaffected or uncontrolled by them. In John’s gospel, the Jews are said to be incapable of believing because they “look to one another for approval” (John 5: 44). Brennan Manning, Chapter Eight


In my copy of Abba’s Child (page 133), where these two quotes (above) are found, I have scrawled at the top of my page in big bold letters:

Marty Boller. The People-Pleasing Pastor.

Ouch II.

So here’s the rub, fellow pastors and church leaders…

If these words rightly identify you, (and keep in mind, if you say that these quotes don’t point toward you, you’re either 1) a bold-face liar, or 2) you, my friend, with your stone cold heart, shouldn’t be anywhere near pastoral ministry!) then we have a lot to talk about with Jesus, don’t we?

As I see it, there are only two correct options for those of us who want to respond rightly to these challenging words.

Option #1?

Quit. Step aside from the pastoral ministry. Step away from the traffic jam where people and God try to meet; go off by yourself, find your true self that doesn’t need or desire people in your life, and be happy.

At first, this idea of walking away seems attractive, and quite honestly, that’s what many pastors are currently doing. Quitting the ministry. Getting out of it altogether. Tired of the constant buzz to please and pacify parishioners who are looking to be pleased and pacified, the local pastor finally throws his or her hands up in the air and turns the baton over to another sucker who thinks he or she can overcome this people-pleasing spirit hidden deep within all of our souls.

In truth, there are many reasons why Option #1 is not a good one. First, it denies the unique call of Christ in the lives of so many men and women who have been personally invited by Jesus into His pastoral ministry. Secondly, walking away, quite honestly, doesn’t heal the inner wounds of a people pleaser. Oh sure, we pastors can walk away from pastoral ministry, but if this inner crap Anthony DeMello identifies here inside me is not adequately addressed; I’ll just take that same people-pleasing, people-dependent, people-hungry goofiness right into my next job or into my next relationship opportunity with people.


Assuming that we all agree that Option #1 actually sucks, let’s look at Option #2…

Stay in the saddle. Stay with the very people you love to hate and the very people you hate to love and allow God to begin changing the man or woman you currently are. Crazy as it sounds, I’m actually believing that God can transform a people-pleasing pastor into a compassionate shepherd who lives and dwells in the midst of God’s people, but is rarely touched inwardly by that people-pleasing joy sucker that steals all of the life out of the pastoral ministry.

How, you say?

Well, if I knew the complete answer to that I wouldn’t have to read the rest of this chapter in Manning’s book. So, since I truly believe you have that same hope inside you that this ugly people-pleasing spirit inside all of us can be tamed, come back next time and let’s keep talking about this thing, ok?

My prayer:  Lord, if I walk away completely from people in order to defeat that people-pleasing spirit in me, I walk away from Your call to work alongside You as You work with Your people. So teach me, Lord, Your ways of being with people but not allowing myself to be manipulated by people and their needs. For Your name’s sake. Amen.

My questions to ponder: “People have become so much a part of your being that you cannot imagine living a life that is unaffected or uncontrolled by them.” As God begins the process of setting me free from this type of manipulation, what might it look like for me to live and minister in such freedoms? What do I see when I ‘imagine living a life that is unaffected or uncontrolled’ by this people-pleasing attitude?

So what is God speaking to you today as you live as Abba’s child in the midst of His Gospel of Grace?

Over an eleven-week period, you and I will take a deeper look at God’s Gospel of Grace; Exploring the Good News of God’s Unconditional Love & Acceptance. We are using Brennan Manning’s classic book, Abba’s Child – The Cry of the Heart for Intimate Belonging as our guide. In order to keep all the blog sessions organized, we suggest you bookmark our Gospel of Grace home page for ease of use. ENJOY!

Click here to go to the next session…

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