categories: leadership, personal, preaching
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September 23rd, 2008

by Craig Groeschel

35 comments (+ Add)

Characteristics of People Pleasing Pastors

Even though we know we are called to please God, ministry motives often become cloudy. Without knowing it, we can become obsessed with pleasing people rather than pleasing God.

Here are four characteristics of people pleasers I watch for in my life and ministry:

  • People pleasing pastors take most criticism personally. Any suggestion feels like a personal attack. We become overly defensive and resentful of even mild corrections.
  • People pleasing pastors have an extraordinary fear of rejection. If someone questions our motives, doesn’t like a sermon, or leaves our ministry, it can throw us into a depressed tailspin.
  • People pleasing pastors find it hard to express their feelings. Because we have to “please people,” we don’t feel safe expressing our true feelings and needs.
  • People pleasing pastors have a hard time saying “no.” Because we want to make people happy. We often over-commit. Although we are outwardly agreeable, we are often inwardly resentful.

Do you struggle with any of these? What helps you overcome these temptations?

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  1. Sep 23, 2008 at 5:34 am

    Good morning Craig! I just spoke a reunion of a former church in which I had to stop being a people pleaser. At an earlier age I would say “all the above were me.” in spite of my sanguine personality I was basically insecure. That led me to do all of the above. I wanted to be liked by all. As I got older I realized that was impossible. It really came to fruit at the last church when changes needed to be made after a long traditional pastor and I was the “transition” to getting them made. It was tough sometimes but the current pastor is reaping the rewards of those challenges. I think younger pastors really struggle with this as they try to establish themselves. They don’t want to be seen as rabble-rousers. It may take awhile but moving ahead and change can only happen when tough stands are taken even if it means unpopularity. Good post yesterday and today.

  2. Sep 23, 2008 at 5:50 am

    I’ve learned the best word in ministry is “NO.”

  3. Sep 23, 2008 at 6:30 am

    It’s kinda silly to try and always please people; many times people are too worried about themselves to worry about you! If they aren’t worried about you, don’t worry about them, instead worry about HIM!

    “Do You! It’s a Statement Not a Question.”

    Great Reminder!

  4. Sep 23, 2008 at 6:58 am

    I struggle with all of these. I’ve been in full time ministry for just a few years. I worked a “regular job” before that, which means I went from having one boss to keep happy, to multiple “bosses” plus their wives and kids! Needless to say when I view it like that I will always struggle with it, but when I remember that I work for Jesus I start to do a little better. It’s a major struggle though.

  5. Sep 23, 2008 at 7:55 am

    Okay Craig! You got me on this one!
    Yes to all! The constant life struggle! AHHHHH! Flesh verses Spirit…Feelings verses Truth! The problem with emotion is that it is tangible to our flesh ( it smothers us) and faith is simply believing in the unseen! When I get wrapped up in the moment…I have to make a good and a “spirit” conscious CHOICE! I have to CHOOSE to pause, turn off the “feeling faucet” and look at the situation from a Spirit perspective! (the Word) Do I always succeed? Nope! But I will keep “pressing on!”

  6. Sep 23, 2008 at 8:02 am

    I’ve struggled with all of these - and lived in great fear that I would lose my job. I felt particularly vulnerable as a woman in ministry - we would have people come to our church, meet with our pastor and say “we’ll join, serve and give - if you’ll get rid of that woman on stage”. No joking. I had lost my previous position because of this very scenario so I was living in terror. Nothing I did was good enough. I was a perfectionist who also loves people and wanted everyone to be happy but I also thought if I didn’t keep everyone that way I would lose my one chance at ministry. About two years ago a friend of mine asked me “Jan, do you not trust God’s love for you?”. It really brought me up short and I’ve spent two years praying through that question. What broke me of being a people pleaser was learning to rest in God’s love for me. I don’t have to PROVE myself anymore, God loves me already. I realized that although I had done the hard work of forgiveness, I had never faced or even realized the toll these events had taken on how I viewed myself - apologetic for causing trouble by serving, ashamed at how people complained that we had a woman filling my role, and generally just pathetically grateful to be allowed to work myself to death. I don’t blame someone else for all this - I blame no one but myself. Now that I am more confident in my own calling and unapologetically doing what I feel God has called me to do, I feel much less stress. If I lose my job, God will lead. I feel at peace about this now. For me, the change came when I addressed some issues of my own heart.

  7. Sep 23, 2008 at 8:08 am

    Excellent post! Although I have been in ministry for several years, I still struggle with this aspect of my shadow personality.

    My counselor once shared with me the idea of SELF-differentiation.

    This idea consists on identifying what makes an opposing idea positive. I had to learn how to remove ownership from whatever the issue and recognize that God has another issue in His local church, and by looking for the positive, sometimes you can actually come out better by soliciting feedback (an overrated but essential practice).

    - Mike

  8. Sep 23, 2008 at 8:35 am

    i struggle with all of these and man it’s hard for me. thank you for the reminder to keep my focus on the Lord.

  9. Sep 23, 2008 at 8:53 am

    I do struggle with all of these at various times, but like the old song says: I’ve got to admit its getting better, better all the time.

  10. 10Carrie
    Sep 23, 2008 at 8:54 am

    As a recovering people pleaser, I have been guilty of three out of the four. God had to get me to a place where I realized that the root of all of it was insecurity. I didn’t believe who God said I was, therefore, I tried to find myself in what other people thought of me. And let me tell you that never works out. I agree with Jan, when God deals with issues in your own heart, that’s when the change takes place.

  11. Sep 23, 2008 at 8:55 am

    Craig - My biggest temptation is definitely number 4. I hate to “let people down”. I simply get tired of hearing someone say “well if the pastor had called I wouldn’t have done ________”. So in the past I would say yes to every invitation or request to help with something. I’m learning to guard and manage my time better and worry less about what people think. I’ve also found that dealing with negative talk quickly and teaching on how to handle gossip within the church has helped to deal with some of this.

  12. Sep 23, 2008 at 9:26 am

    Wow - again, thanks for this excellent series of posts.

    I’ve really struggled with expressing feelings / emotions. Basically until this moment, I’ve let myself be very closed to others just because I wasn’t sure how they’d react if they knew that I didn’t have it all together.

    That’s not to say I was a jerk to people or was this introverted cold person, but I certainly kept some boundaries…

    It’s hard to admit to it, but acknowledging that there’s a problem is the first step, right?

  13. Sep 23, 2008 at 9:45 am

    I’m an over-committer. No doubt. I hate the thought of letting someone down. And, my family pays for it in the end. Guess, I can’t handle it all, huh? Great message Sunday.

  14. 14Brian
    Sep 23, 2008 at 10:18 am

    I pastor in rural Oklahoma and deal with all you mentioned! Thanks for the great blogs.

  15. Sep 23, 2008 at 12:10 pm

    I too have struggled (and continue to struggle to a lesser degree) with all four of these. I really like what Mike McCrary had to say about self-differentiation. This is something that I am slowly learning as well. It sure makes a big difference when it comes to people-pleasing!

    I wrote a post about this recently:

  16. 16Jared
    Sep 23, 2008 at 2:14 pm

    1,2, and 4 sound like me!

    Two weeks ago, after my first message, I had a guy (who was helping me coordinate everything) come up to me and say, “How long did you take to prepare that?!” in a laughing, smart tone. I took offense. I became depressed and hurt. It hurt. Sadly, i fell into his trap. My message that I prepared for the next week (which was last week) was completely made to please him. I was thinking the whole time (maybe he’ll see I spent more time on this one!…). I remember throughout the whole message saying stuff and then when I thought I made a good point I’d look at him for approval.

    Sick. Disgusting. Repulsive.

    That night in bed Christ showed me what I did. I felt so convicted and ashamed and repented so strongly…I had fought to please man instead of God. Satan had trapped me…oh but not any more. I’m preaching for God and God alone now…I’ve learned from my mistake.

    Praise God for His unfailing love and mercy. For His direction and vision. Praise God. Amen.

  17. 17Jared
    Sep 23, 2008 at 2:24 pm

    If anybody can respond…I’ve been trying to find the line between helping people and saying “No”. I know that I can help people and be a servant…and I feel that if I suffer to help others than it is for God’s glory (just like fasting). I don’t understand where the line is…I mean I could always say no, but then that wouldn’t be serving. I guess that’s one of the qualities of a leader - discerning when to say no and understanding priorities and importance over other things.

    I guess it’ll just come with time. Any input/help?

  18. 18Jared
    Sep 23, 2008 at 2:29 pm

    The same goes the other way too…I could serve to death. Or I could say “No” constantly…where is the line God sets?

    Is it different for each leader?
    Is it only learned through and over time?

  19. 19Jim
    Sep 23, 2008 at 2:32 pm

    Guilty on all counts! OUCH!!! I’m trying very hard to see clearly enough to make the hard calls that God is prompting, with the confidence between Him and me that will sustain me when the “people pleasing” backlash comes.

  20. Sep 23, 2008 at 3:09 pm

    Jared, I can totally relate to what you are saying! This is something that I have struggled with as a pastor for years. What I am learning (slowly) is to embrace my limits. I CAN”T do it all nor does God want me to do it ALL! Jesus didn’t do everything that He could have or everything that was demanded of Him (and He was God) so I don’t think we should beat ourselves up for saying “No.”

    I also believe that each of us has our own pace of life. Some are able to do more and some are able to do less. We can’t compare ourselves to make ourselves feel better or worse because we are all different.

  21. 21Susan
    Sep 23, 2008 at 4:42 pm


    I think motivation has a lot to do with it. Am I serving to please the person or not ruffle feathers or to make myself look better or am I serving out of a pure heart, freedom in Christ, the desire to be His hands and feet? Have I taken time to reflect and know that God is leading or is the other person setting my agenda according to their desires and my need to be needed — sometimes just saying “I’ll need to let you know” or “I’ll have to get back with you on that” and then spending time in prayer leads to whole new insights and allows for a heart-check, at least for me.

  22. Sep 23, 2008 at 4:56 pm

    This was the subject of Craig’s message this past weekend. Go to the website & click “Watch Messages” or you can see it on the Internet Campus tonight @ 8 PM (CT).

  23. Sep 23, 2008 at 7:06 pm

    Ugh… Craig, I wanna know what it is like to be the most “right” pastor in america :)

    Once again you have hit me right where I live. In the core of me, these points are exactly who I am. It is only through God’s daily grace that I am able to overcome these attitudes.



  24. Sep 23, 2008 at 7:15 pm

    I am not a pastor (I’m married to one) but this applies to me. All four of them describe me at times :(

  25. Sep 23, 2008 at 8:56 pm

    [...] I went home and saw this on a Church Leadership blog I read [...]

  26. Sep 24, 2008 at 3:32 am

    I’m guilty of all the above…One thing that reminds me is the line “The audience of One”

    Your church is our inspiration! Our church planting effort here in Manila, Philippines is being blessed by Lifechurch!

    Thanks a lot Craig & God bless you more & more so that we will be blessed more & more!

  27. 27Mary-K Thompson
    Sep 24, 2008 at 9:43 am

    These are great reminders for a pastor’s wife too.

  28. 28Gil
    Sep 24, 2008 at 9:57 am

    As a former over-the-top “people pleaser” who has worked on my people-pleasing addiction for years, your posts are spot on. Thank you!

  29. 29Jeremy
    Sep 24, 2008 at 10:59 am

    I am a youth pastor and students can be demading that you attent their sporting events etc… I also have 2 small children of my own. I started spending more time with students than I did with my own kids. Thats where I had to draw the line. If you loose your family then you have nothing. So I had to start saying no to students and had to say yes more to my family. It was definitely tough because I felt that I was abandoning ministry but then it was so much tougher when I realized that I was abandoning my family. Christ should be first in your life, then family, then ministry after that.
    Hope that helps

  30. 30Ken
    Sep 24, 2008 at 3:54 pm

    I think we all would agree that we love to hate the kind of things that Craig ask… because it hits so close to home. CRAIG… i love you man!!!

    My mom was a people pleaser but not a family pleaser. We grew up with the same mentality. We always seek for approval but can never be satisfied because it’s not from the right source - our parents.

    In Brave At Heart - John Eldridge said that we can try and try and try… and will always feel unsatisfied because the approval we’re getting is not what we’re seeking for. I do share this feeling. As though what I do is not enough. I do feel lost, confused, and depressed at my decision and the path in my life.

    The one thing I’m working on overcoming this is to hold on to Jesus. If I feel happy - Jesus. If I feel lonely - Jesus. If I feel sad, down, depressed - Jesus. I ask him to reveal to me the source of my feelings.

    Today the source of my feeling was reveal through this blog. I’m not trusting in God enough. I’m not putting all my eggs in His basket. I’m not focusing on what God would think of me but rather what men would.

    I do notice that when I walk in God with confidence, all my fear subside. I hope we all walk with God and walk with confidence.

  31. 31Ken
    Sep 24, 2008 at 3:58 pm

    I meant to say “Wild At Heart”.

  32. 32Jared
    Sep 25, 2008 at 3:18 pm

    Thanks everyone for your input!

    My main problem is that I just don’t understand where the line is…or if it is even right to have a line. I’m willing to hurt myself too much. What if I fasted until I died? That’s what I’m talking about. I don’t understand the line. Can you hurt yourself too much for the sake of worshiping God?

    Maybe it’s that you just keep going until He tells you to stop…

  33. Sep 26, 2008 at 8:14 am

    [...] Craig Groeschel on People pleasing pastors [...]

  34. Sep 30, 2008 at 10:20 am

    Wow…I deal with all of these to an extreme degree. And I’m not sure if I know any methods of overcoming these negative characteristics. In my mind, I’ll always have these fears and the need for acceptance. Being a pastor makes me more vulnerable to rejection than I ever thought possible. Maybe I need to spend some time in the wilderness.

  35. 35Donald Grim
    Feb 4, 2009 at 11:50 pm

    I have been a people pleaser all of my life. It’s been in the last few years that I have learned to deal with it. I have learned alot about boundaries. I recommend the book “Boundaries” by Henry Cloud and John Townsend. I would also recommend finding a support group or boundaries class at your local churches. I took a boundaries class at a friend’s church and I am so thankful that I did. I would take the class over and over again to reinforce the lesson. There was a time when I thought I was helping people when I was actually hurting them by being too involved in their lives. Each person is responsible for their own feelings, attitude, and behavior. Each person is accountable to God alone and no one else. Keep your focus on Christ and He will guide you. God bless!!!