Are you a People Pleasing Pastor? Take this Assessment and Find Out

I based my third book, People-Pleasing Pastors: Avoiding the Pitfalls of Approval Motivated Leadership on significant research around people pleasing. As a scripturally based book, it incorporated fascinating insight about how our brain influences our leadership and our tendencies to appease and please others in unhealthy ways. To discover how pervasive people-pleasing is in the ministry I gathered research from two sources. I contracted Lifeway Research to survey over 1,000 pastors about people pleasing and I added to this research the results of a similar on-line survey of 1200 pastors I did for a total of over 2200 pastoral responses. In this post I’ve created a simple self-evaluation for pastors to determine how much people pleasing affects them.

My research revealed that 70% of pastors agreed that people-pleasing affects their lives and ministries at some level. In the on-line survey I included an option for pastors to anonymously tell their people pleasing stories. I got 100 pages of heart wrenching stories, single-spaced!

Here’s one pastor’s sad story.

In a church that I pastored, there was a major power struggle with several members who remained very close friends with the previous pastor who actively worked to wield control through these members. I often felt unable to measure up, always trying to ‘minister’ to these folks in hopes that I could win them over, and yet being angry that I couldn’t. After two years I left the church and left the ministry. And I felt like a failure as a pastor and as a husband/father.

Is people-pleasing affecting your ministry?

Take this short assessment to see if it is. Mentally check which statements are true of you.

  1. In my church’s board or leadership meetings, sometimes I don’t speak up on an issue for fear of creating tension.
  2. Too easily I say yes to someone’s request for me to do something. Later I regret having put that on my plate.
  3. I will go out of my way to attempt to change someone’s mind who wants to leave my church or ministry.
  4. Sometimes I get angry at myself for not having stood up or spoken up for what I believe.
  5. I have kept on a non-performing staff person or volunteer leader too long before making a change.
  6. When I need to be firm with someone else, I inordinately delay the conversation and/or after I do have the conversation, I realize I didn’t say everything I should have said.
  7. Sometimes I try too hard to be nice.
  8. It bothers me when I upset someone. I tend to blame myself for his or her distress.
  9. I tread lightly around some people in the church because of their moodiness.
  10. When those around me are angry, I become the peacemaker by trying to get them “un-angry.”

How many did you check? If you checked…

  • 1-3: People-pleasing could become a growing issue in your leadership unless you do something soon.
    • Keep this issue in prayer and stay vigilant of your tendency in the area(s) you checked.
  • 4-6: People pleasing is most likely hindering your leadership and may get worse.
    • Find a safe, wise leader in your church or a local pastor with whom you can confidentially share your struggle. Become accountable to him so you can stop unhealthy people-pleasing before it gets out of hand. See my blog here on what to look for in a safe person.
  • 7-10: You’re probably angry, anxious, and fearful most of the time and people-pleasing is clearly hurting your leadership.
    • Consider seeing a good counselor who can help you ferret out the cause and help you lead less from an approval motivation.

As you deal with your pleaser tendencies, consider this verse.

The fear of human opinion disables . . . (Prov 29.25, The Message)

How have you seen people-pleasing tendencies affect your or other’s ministries?

You can learn more about the book here and view a cool animated video trailer of the book.


“People-pleasing in the ministry: I just took an interesting assessment on people-pleasing.” (tweet this quote by clicking here)


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7 Ways to Make a Graceful Exit and Leave Your Church Well

Unless you stay at the same church your entire life, you will leave one ministry or church and go to another, perhaps several times. In fact, the average pastor in the U.S. stays at one place about four years. I’ve served at six different churches in my 35 years in ministry and have always sought to leave well. At my current church I hope I’ll have another 10 years of fruitful service. I’ve learned, however, that leaving is more of an art and is often difficult. Here are 7 insights I’ve learned that have helped me make a graceful exit.

  • Deal with your baggage. Leave with a clear conscience that relationships have been made right, as much as is possible.
    • Acts 24:16 So I strive always to keep my conscience clear before God and man.
    • Rom. 12:18 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone
  • Don’t leave angry. Process your pain. If you struggle with anger after you leave, get coaching or counseling to avoid bitterness.
    • Hebr. 12:15 See to it that no one misses the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.
  • Leave on top. That is, leave your ministry as healthy and as strong as possible.
    • Col. 3:23 Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men….
  • Speak well of the former leaders, both lay and paid. Don’t leave a trail of gossip. Don’t undermine the leaders or anyone else who may have hurt you. Don’t burn bridges. Leave in such a way that your and Christ’s reputation remain intact.
    • Prov. 22:1 A good name is more desirable than great riches; to be esteemed is better than silver or gold.
  • Let go of ownership. You are no longer in charge. You may be tempted to still influence it from afar. Guard against that.
  • Pray that God would bless the ministry even more with the new leader who replaces you.
    • 1Kings 1:37 “May the Lord be with Solomon as he has been with you, and may God make Solomon’s reign even greater than yours!”
  • Grieve well. Change brings loss. You will lose familiarity, relationships, and influence even as you gain those in your new ministry. Don’t be surprised if you grieve. The Apostle Paul grieved when he left the church at Ephesus for the last time.
    • Acts 20: 35 In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: `It is more blessed to give than to receive.'” 36 When he had said this, he knelt down with all of them and prayed. 37 They all wept as they embraced him and kissed him. 38 What grieved them most was his statement that they would never see his face again. Then they accompanied him to the ship.

Years ago I heard a talk by Ellen Goodman about leaving well. This quote captures the spirit of a leader who makes a graceful exit.

There is a trick to the Graceful Exit. It begins with the vision to recognize when a job, a life stage, a relationship is over-and let it go. It means leaving what’s over without denying its validity or its past importance to our lives. It involves a sense of future, a belief that every exit line is an entry, that we are moving on, rather than out.

What insights would you add to this list?


“I just learned some good insight about how to gracefully leave a ministry.”(tweet this quote).


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5 Ways to Minimize Ministry Silos

Patrick Lencioni brought the concept of silos into the leadership conversation with this great book, Silos, Politics, and Turf WarsSilos occur in organizations and churches when leaders act like their ministry or team is the only one that matters. A silo attitude results in that leader or team only supporting, giving, or attending functions that pertain to them. It can be kill a ministry and result in many problems. In this post I suggest ways to minimize ministry silos.

First, what problems do ministry silos cause? Here are a few.

  • Unhealthy competition
  • Jealousy
  • Hurt feelings
  • Pride
  • Lack of trust
  • Fighting over limited resources
  • Foot dragging
  • Politics

So how can a leader minimize ministry silos? Below I suggest a key foundation and then 5 pillars to build on that foundation to rid your ministry of silos.

If you want to change your culture to minimize and remove silos, build from the bottom up. Build a solid foundation on the Biblical concept of unity. Teach and train your leaders often about unity remembering that unity does not mean uniformity. God gives each of us unique gifts and abilities which creates a healthy church. Keep these and other Scriptures in front of your leaders.

  • Psa. 133.1 (NIV) How good and pleasant it is when brothers live together in unity!
  • Rom. 15.5 (NIV) May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you a spirit of unity among yourselves as you follow Christ Jesus,
  • Eph. 4.3 (NIV) Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.
  • 1Cor. 1.10 (NLT) I appeal to you, dear brothers and sisters, by the authority of our Lord Jesus Christ, to live in harmony with each other. Let there be no divisions in the church. Rather, be of one mind, united in thought and purpose.

Next, place these five pillars on that unity foundation.

  1. Make sure you have a clear, shared vision. Keep your church’s mission/vision/values before your leaders. If you’re fuzzy on mission/vision/values, I recommend Will Mancini’s book, Church Unique.
  2. Build trust between all your leaders. When leaders trust each other it increases the trust neurotransmitter, oxytocin, which builds camaraderie. The more people trust each other, studies show that they will co-operate more. (De Dreu, 2012).
  3. Encourage your leaders to talk to each other. Schedule consistent leadership meetings so that leaders can hear each other’s stories and needs. Start a leadership e-letter and send it to every leader. The more in common leaders share with other leaders, the more productive and motivated they’ll be.
  4. Remind leaders that it’s not all about them. Remind them that they are part of a larger purpose and that great teams look out for each other. Foster this attitude among your leaders. “How can I help my fellow leaders, even though it’s not my ministry?”
  5. Teach leaders to step inside each other’s shoes. When we see life from another’s perspective, we are more giving and more likely to help. It’s a concept called mentalizing (Waytz et al., 2012).

How have you dealt with ministry silos in your ministry?

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References:

De Dreu, C.K.W. (2012) Oxytocin modulates cooperation within and competition between groups: An integrative review and research agenda. Hormones and Behavior, 61 (3), pp.419-428.

Waytz, A., Zaki, J. & Mitchell, J.P. (2012) Response of Dorsomedial Prefrontal Cortex Predicts Altruistic Behavior. Journal of Neuroscience, 32 (22), pp.7646-7650.

Can Something this Simple Supercharge Staff Morale?

Several months ago I began something with our staff that has been a huge hit. It’s simple. Any staff can do it, whether in a church or a business application. And it boosts staff morale and excitement when we do it. I encourage you to try it with your staff. It’s called a “Blue Sky Thinking” morning. In this post I explain what it is and how you can do it to supercharge your staff morale.

“Blue Sky Thinking” is a creative brainstorming technique to help leaders think outside the box. The origin of the phrase, although rather obscure, implies the emptiness of the sky and thus, blue sky thinking means thinking with no preconceptions (i.e., thinking outside the box).

Before I give you our steps, I’ve listed below the benefits I’ve observed in our church staff.

  1. It stirred creativity.
  2. It allowed freedom to not have to ‘produce’ something. Rather it provided space to focus on issues we tend to put off.
  3. It fostered deeper relational connection when we shared what we learned.
  4. It encouraged our staff to affirm each other.
  5. It made us more vulnerable to each other as some tears have even been shed.

So, here’s what we do.

STEP 1: I schedule the first Tuesday of each month for our blue sky day. I send an email and ask each staff person to spend at least two hours alone that morning in a place that encourages creative thinking and minimizes distraction.  They may choose a coffee house, a park, their office (with the shades drawn to block distractions), or even their home. The key is to pick a place as distraction-free as possible.

STEP 2: During their blue sky session, I encourage them to dream, pray, and think about some ministry or personal issue they need to give attention to. The sky’s the limit. I send these questions in the reminder email a few days prior to spur their thinking. They don’t answer every one, but they pick one or two to stir their creativity.

  1. What is a problem I need to solve in my job? What can I do about it?
  2. What is a process I need to improve? How can I improve it?
  3. If I could, I would (do this in ministry)….
  4. What gives me the most energy in ministry and how can I tap into that even more?
  5. What’s going really well in my role and how can I infuse what’s making it work into other parts of my job?
  6. What is God impressing on my heart?
  7. What if what I am currently doing in ministry just quit working all of a sudden. What could or would I do differently?
  8. What is God teaching me and what do I need to do in response?
  9. What is an area I’ve not thought much about, needed to, but have not scheduled think time?
  10. What is a wild and crazy idea I have? Play around with it.

STEP 3: That day in our staff meeting after we’ve finished our blue sky sessions, we each share what we did in our time. Each staff person takes about 5 minutes to share. I then give us an opportunity to ask questions or comment. Sometimes no one comments. Sometimes the comments are very profound and affirming. I take notes and always affirm each staff person for something I noticed in their blue sky session before the next person shares.

Every time we do this, our morale gets a boost and each of us leaves that staff meeting feeling affirmed and excited.

I encourage you to try this simple experience and see what it does to your staff’s morale.

What kinds of team experiences have boosted your particular staff’s morale?

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Top 10 Healthy Ways to Handle the Church Critic

One well-worn adage goes, “The two things you can’t avoid in life are death and taxes.” I’d  suggest one more adage for those in ministry. “Two things you can’t avoid in ministry are…people late to the service and … church critics.” In this short post I suggest 10 ways to handle the church critic.

Having served in full-time ministry for 35 years, I’ve experienced my share of critics. I’ve responded well to some and not-so-well to others. When I’ve sensed a good heart from the critic, I tend to respond with more grace. And, I’ve learned to appreciate this advice from Abraham Lincoln. “He has a right to criticize, who has a heart to help.

10 healthy ways to respond to my critics (actually 9, I’d love to hear your 10th).

  1. Give them your ear, but within reason. Don’t allow someone to destroy you with caustic criticism.
  2. Let your body language communicate that you are really trying to understand their criticism.
  3. Avoid an immediate retort such as, “Yea but,” “You’re wrong,” or some other defensive response.
  4. Breath this silent prayer, “Lord, give me grace to respond and not react.”
  5. Before responding, take a few moments to check what you’re about to say. President Lincoln suggested that we when we get angry we should count to 100 before responding. That may a bit of overkill, but counting helps us avoid reacting.
  6. Look for the proverbial ‘grain of truth’ in the criticism, and learn from it.
  7. If you see more than a grain of truth and you can’t process it alone, seek feedback from a safe person in your life. (see my post on What to Look for in a Safe Person).
  8. Ask God to keep you approachable to your critics (within reason). You probably don’t want to vacation with them.
  9. Learn from your critics on how best to deliver criticism to others. When someone delivers criticism that you received well, ask yourself what they did that made it easer to receive. For those who botched it, remember to avoid those tactics.
  10. …… what would add as a tenth?

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