Ministry Matters, Pastor's Wife, Pastors' Wives, Relationships

Ministry Matters: 2 Things People Pleasing Will Do For You

She sat across from me with a list in her hand- a list of infractions from her point of view. A list she had obviously been compiling for quite a while. During the course of that {very long} meeting, I heard, among other things, “You’re a pastor’s wife; you should be doing (this), (this), and (this.)” Just a few minutes after that she uttered, “You’re not really a pastor’s wife. Why are you doing (this), (this), and (this)?”

She was out of control and I was trembling with fear, but at the conflict of these two statements I actually laughed inside and half smiled outside. I relaxed a bit, knowing exactly what we were dealing with- a person who wanted to be pleased but couldn’t be pleased…and yet she still expected me to please her.

I knew in that moment that I could not please her, and I felt the release of deciding to no longer try. It simply couldn’t be done. I realized afterwards how sucked in I had gotten over recent months with trying to please her- not because I cared all that much about what she thought, but because all of my efforts had fallen into the category of “bettering the relationship.” I really thought (almost subconsciously) that if I used some simple people pleasing strategies, our relationship would get better.

If I do this, it will strengthen our relationship.

If I say this, it will keep the peace. 

If I give a gift, the person will come around.

If I use politics here, it will keep things moving forward and prevent them from falling apart…or falling out. 

The problem is…these efforts rarely, if ever, work to actually better a relationship that is built, even unknowingly, on such sinking sand. Because it’s never been about you to begin with. It’s been about them and their expectations and wish to control.

Another meeting. Another woman. It was her turn to present an accusation, so she did. “You’re not friendly enough,” she said. I couldn’t recall ever being unfriendly to her, but in order to give her the benefit of the doubt of my not being friendly enough {what does that mean?), I apologized and promised to make more effort to build a friendship with her. I followed through in the weeks and months that ensued after the meeting, and noticed right away that my attempts were not received or returned. I told my husband one evening, “She doesn’t want a friendship. She just wants to have something against me.” And it was so- she was actually the unfriendly one, causing my attempts to fail completely, which in turn gave her the perfect opportunity to accuse me of unfriendliness.

And round and round we go when we’re caught in the tailspin of people pleasing.

Friend, you can’t do it. You just are incapable of doing it. And more than that, you can’t please God when you’re doing it. This is sobering!

Paul in his letter to the Galatians had something to say about people pleasing:

“For do I now persuade men, or God? Or do I seek to please men? For if I yet pleased men, I should not be the servant of Christ.” Written in the context of believers getting distracted by “another Gospel.” He goes on to say that the Gospel he preached is not man’s Gospel. His calling wasn’t man’s calling, therefore the specifics of his calling weren’t to be dictated by men- only by God. Truly, he knew whereof he spoke, having fought valiantly against Christ, only to be transformed by that very Gospel of Christ. Can you even imagine how many former friends, mentors, and probably family turned against him after his conversion and calling?

But Paul was steadfast in his calling and commitment to Christ. This made all the difference in his ability to tune out the demands of people and tune in to Christ. I hear the incredulity in his voice as he reasons with the Galatians, basically saying to them, “Why are you even trying to please people? And why are you even trying to please both people and God? Don’t you know that you can’t serve both?” Interestingly, the Greek word for serve actually means (bond)slave. So Paul is facing the Galatians with this question, “Whose slave will you be? The slave of people? Or the slave of God?”

For some reason {maybe because God is so infinitely loving} I cringe when I think about being a slave to people. I relax when I think about being a slave to God. He will only always ask what is right, what is fitting to His will for me.

In summary, Paul’s words bring to light two things that people pleasing will do for us:

1. People pleasing will foster unhealthy, disingenuous relationships.

Relational conflict and struggle is never permanently resolved by people pleasing. People pleasing is a temporary fix that is rooted in {our own} fear. And it likes to keep demanding and expecting more and more from you for a person, then 10 persons, then a whole church full of persons- so many persons you think you might lose your mind. Not to mention all of the different expectations that each of those persons have for you. If you’ve been a pastor’s wife for more than a couple of years, you’ve come face to face with this reality. It simply can’t be done. Yet we keep trying, and I’m convinced that we sometimes don’t even realize we are caught up in it because our efforts look a lot like reaching out to mend or strengthen a relationship. Not that it’s wrong to do this. But only God can give us the wisdom to know the difference of what our heart motives are, and what/who we are really striving for. In the light of this wisdom, you may sometimes opt to hold your peace.

2. People pleasing will keep you from pursuing God’s will with courage and confidence.

People pleasing hinders you from moving forward to do what God has called you to do, both on a daily basis and in the long term (daily habits create the long term.) It’s tough because some of the people who are closest to you will be the ones who don’t understand, directly oppose, or move away from you in silence. They will be fellow believers. Jesus Himself experienced this when He was on the earth, when “they of His own household” did not believe. You know what? It’s okay to do something that people don’t understand. God is not limited by others’ opinions, by your fears, by the wrestle in your heart that is holding you back from serving Him only. It helps me to sometimes say boldly in my mind or even out loud, “I do not care what people think. I live for an audience of One.” This helps me to orient my mind away from the clamor of people and into the peace of God. Fixing your heart on God gives confidence and courage.

The reality is this: if you opt to be a people pleaser, you can’t serve or please God. And if you opt to be a God-pleaser, you can’t serve or please people.

It’s a mutually exclusive situation. It is so in families. It is so in friendships, in ministries, in churches. We pastors’ wives know this perhaps more than anyone except politicians. That said, it’s a decision that meets everyone in the human plight.

So, who will it be today that receives your efforts and affections to serve and please? People… or God? If I make it sound easy, I lead you astray. We all know it’s a constant choice, in matters both large and small. And it’s always a choice with consequences, either immediate or long term.

The fear of man brings a snare; but whoever trusts in the LORD shall be safe.

{Proverbs 29:25}

You can’t ever truly please people. It’s a useless, exhausting experience.

But God is well pleased when we simply live by faith, for His eyes and His glory alone.

Because God has oriented things in such a way that it is impossible to choose both, we will be always making a choice.

May we always choose rightly.


A Kindred Spirit