How Pastors Become People Pleasers – Jim Graff


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“Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings, or of God? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ.”  Galatians 1:10

Our hearts are longing for something. It’s why we please people. We want acceptance. We want value. We want things our heart was created to experience. But listen to where Paul said he found it in Romans 12:1-2. He said, “Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God. This is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – His good, pleasing and perfect will.” 

In the King James, that word “perfect” is translated to “you’ll know the fully agreeable and pleasing will of God.” In pleasing God, your heart will find what it’s ultimately looking for.

So why do we fall into this pitfall of people pleasing? I want to talk today about the causes, and then I want to talk about the cure. I think there are three causes:

1. Our commitment to serve people. We’re pastors, right? If you were to do a profile on us, things like helping people and leading people are going to be high priorities. You could be doing so many things with your life, but you felt called to be a pastor. And there’s something in your heart that absolutely loves to please and to help people. Jesus told us in John 13, “I’ve set for you an example that you should do for others the very thing that I’ve done unto you,” so it’s easy for us to want to please people because we were created to be somebody who pleases people. But our commitment to serve people can be the very thing that causes us to fall into the people-pleasing pit.

Being a God pleaser instead of a people pleaser doesn’t stop our service, but it causes us to serve God and to serve people the way that Jesus did! 

Paul said, “If you make serving people your primary goal, you’re going to end up not serving God in the end” And so many leaders do this. They serve one person, and then somebody else is unhappy. Honestly, some pastors even serve their own wives. They’re trying to keep their wife happy, and if the wife doesn’t find her ultimate joy in her husband or if the wife doesn’t find their joy in serving Jesus together with him, then sometimes, it ends up not only just damaging the home but damaging churches. I can think of one church split that happened because the pastor’s wife wanted to lead the women’s ministry, and the women didn’t want the lady to lead. So it can be a challenge sometimes. 

We want to serve people, but we have to remember our job is to please the Lord and to lead environments into the things that God is revealing to us. 

2. Our charge to keep the unity of the Holy Spirit in the bond of peace. Some smart people struggle with nurturing a growing church family for this reason. They move at the speed of thought. What that means is when they see something’s right, they’re going to tell the church to do it come hell or high water. Sometimes they get to hell.  Sometimes they get to high water. I’ve learned that it’s better to lead my church at the speed of relationship than it is to lead my church at the speed of thought because even if something’s right, it’s a job to get people on board with it. That’s why Paul wrote in Ephesians 4:2-3, “I want you to be completely humble and gentle. I want you to be patient. Bear with one another in love.”

Anytime I feel myself pushing too hard or wanting to do something too quickly, or I feel people are more of a burden than they are a blessing and a joy to me, I’ve learned to take a step back and say, “Okay, if I’m not careful, I’m not going to obey this charge to build a unified environment. I’m going to start moving at the speed of thought instead of the speed of relationships.” 

The Bible says we’re to make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. So sometimes we become people pleasers because it’s the way we’re wired and it’s our commitment to serve people. Other times it’s this charge to keep the unity of the Spirit. 

3. Our confusion regarding God’s call. I’m a first-generation pastor, so when I took over our church, I wanted to please people. The first six weeks were a big struggle. Our church didn’t grow, and then God gave me a word which we made into our goal: We’re not going to see through people; we’re going to see people through. We built this great redemptive environment, and in one year’s time we saw 365 people come to the Lord! It was powerful! 

I really loved the intentionality of our services. I loved the things that God was doing. But as we grew, we learned the mindset of our people was the very common American Church mindset: “If we come Sundays, the pastor will serve all our spiritual needs.” I started getting all kind of calls, not just visiting people in the hospital but visiting their relatives in the hospital. That wasn’t a bad thing. A lot of times I would visit relatives in the hospital, and the next Sunday I would see them attending the church. Sometimes they would become part of the church and help the church grow.

One night I was going to visit the relative of a church member and Spirit of the Lord spoke to my heart. He said, “Jim, you’re never going to do what I have called you to do until you quit doing the things I haven’t called you to do.” I came home that night and talked to my wife about it, and we made a pact that I wasn’t going to live as a people pleaser; I was going to live as a God pleaser.

When we think about it, we can see the cause of people pleasing easily – and that is our commitment to serve people, our charge to keep unity, and this confusion that we carry inside that sometimes we think when we’re serving people, we’re serving the Lord. But we’re not necessarily serving the Lord like we should when we’re serving people!

In my next blog, I’ll share with you the cure to people pleasing. You don’t want to miss it, so stay tuned…

This blog was created using content from the webinar Pitfalls of the “People-Pleaser Pastor”.