Problems of a People Pleasing Pastor

I think most pastors think they are doing pastoring the right way. Many even think they are doing it biblically.

Perhaps some are, but I think the major influence on how a guy pastors is simply personality. I come from a people-pleasing family. Serving people and being empathetic is what we do. We feel things for people and do what we can to help. This all sounds good and there are many verses that say we should do such things.

However, most of my empathy, care, and service was done out of fear. People pleasers are afraid of rejection, among other things. Much of my service was not done out of spiritual conviction but out of fleshly fear. This was especially true when my church began to shrink and I wasn’t getting paid much. I couldn’t afford more people to leave.

I would say my family and I were on the extreme end of people pleasers. My dad was probably the most people pleasery person ever. I was never as bad as he was. People liked him as their pastor, but he also attracted bullies. Bullies identify weak people and take advantage of them. I was pretty successful at attracting them too!

Both my dad and I did a lot of good for a lot of people, yet we also have long lists of people who took advantage of us, people who trampled on us and we were not always able to stand up for ourselves. We can justify it as Christlikeness; in reality it was simply fear.

Then there are those on the other end of the spectrum. Those who are oblivious to other people’s feelings. They don’t mind fighting and arguing. They are confident in who they are and what they believe and kind of don’t respect anyone but their own brilliant selves. They are sometimes known as Calvinists. I tease, I tease. Sort of.

These are the pastors who when I express my frustrations and failures as a pastor tell me I wasn’t called to ministry. They don’t empathize at all; they simply pile on and tell me how utterly awful I am. They are right to the extent that I was wrong, but they go too far. They don’t understand that the reason they don’t have the same experiences as a pastor as I do is because they are oblivious to all the things that make people with my personality miserable. I felt them too much; they feel them none at all. Both are problematic.

(One way to tell which end of the spectrum you are on is this: when someone argues with you do you enjoy it and it makes your day, or do you get tight and can feel your pulse in your eyes?!)

I think the best pastor is a combination of both, knowing when to please and when not to. Paul said if he yet pleased me he would not be the servant of Christ. The same Paul also said he became all things to all men so that by all means he might save some. That’s the balance.

I was unable to hit it. Most of my inability was wired into me. I was raised to fear people, although I have gotten better. Yes, I did lots of nice things and took many shots without responding and served. But I also resented the people I had to serve, especially if there was no reciprocation. That’s what people pleasers do. We please people with the assumption they will please us back. If I visit this person they will come to church. They don’t. I get bitter.

The non-people pleaser doesn’t get this at all. Their response to that paragraph is “yup, you are one sick person. Never should have been a pastor, that’s for sure.” Pause for a second though. Perhaps your response is a sign that you are too far the other way. You don’t weep with those who weep, you belittle those who weep.

A good pastor would have balance. They know how to serve out of love, out of Christlike compassion, yet also know how to confront and speak truth. I could and did speak truth, but felt awful about it for days afterward. Sick to my stomach at times when people had problems with what I said. Was that right? I don’t know. I know I cared deeply about people hearing the Gospel.

I don’t yet know the answer to either side of the spectrum. How does a pastor reach the right balance? I don’t know, that’s why I resigned! But I also know, after a year and a half out of ministry, where my problems came from. I’m still seeking to address this issue in my personality and in my faith even if I never pastor again. I want to do things right. I want to fix what is wrong and make progress.

In the end, the fact that you do pastoring a certain way and it feels good or “works,” or it feels terrible and “doesn’t work,” doesn’t necessarily mean anything. God’s opinion on the matter is what counts. I’ve learned that my personality dictated much of what I did as a pastor. This wasn’t always good and was sometimes terrible. We’re all in this together, aint none of us perfect. There is hope though! Growth is always out there for us to go for. Keep going for it.

4 thoughts on “Problems of a People Pleasing Pastor

  1. Thanks for the honest sharing. I think Many people project their idea of “God” upon the PASTOR. And yes, many people believe God is there to PLEASE THEM.

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  2. This is painful to read, FP – but hopefully, helpful to write. In our family, people-pleasing and the need for approval always seemed to go hand in hand – as if every person we met was grading us, all the time, and only an A+ was adequate. It would be helpful to have a solid sense of God’s approval; then each individual person’s would matter a lot less, and even the inevitable human disapproval would be bearable. Easier said than done. Best wishes

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  3. Thank you for sharing brother. I fall on the people pleasing side but have matured in this over the years. But one thing is I never expect anything back- I trust people but then expect the least from them. You are always in my prayers.

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