Skinny, nerdy, and lacking much athletic ability, I grew up trying to get people to like me. Although I didn’t compromise my Christian values to gain popularity, I used other techniques to gain approval. Those techniques included profusely offering compliments to others, smiling a lot, and avoiding ruffled feathers. Slowly I developed people pleaser tendencies that followed me into ministry. Several years ago after I realized that I was becoming a people pleasing pastor, I began to change how I relate to my board that I’ve described below. Although I’ve made progress, I’m still in recovery.
For my just released book, People Pleasing Pastors: Avoiding the Pitfalls of Approval Motivated Leadership, I researched over 2,000 pastors and saw myself reflected in many of their stories. In one phase of on-line research pastors could anonymously record their pleaser stories. I gathered over 100 single spaced pages of stories, many of them heartbreakers. Here’s one pastor’s story that struck a chord in me.
For the first three years after coming to First Church, in the fall I would bring a list of recommended goals for the coming year for the church board to consider adopting for the church. The third year I did it, the board asked me to discontinue this practice as they did not want the church to be a “pastor-driven” church. They stated that someone other than the pastor should drive the goal-setting process. This was a hard blow for me as I saw it as a rejection of me as their leader. They wanted me to be their chaplain, but not their leader. I honored their request and stopped bringing recommended goals to the church board. However, I never really got over that experience and I have remained fearful about trying to take an active leadership role with the board ever since. Perhaps this is part of the reason why I feel bored here and want to move on, but have no idea where to go next.
I felt the pain of this pastor because I’ve been tempted at times to replace my leadership role as a pastor with people pleasing. However, at my new church in London, Ontario, I have an excellent relationship with the board that I attribute to these new behaviors. I feel like I am fully free to lead yet not people please.
- I listen a lot. I don’t assume I know it all. Having moved from the U.S. to Canada, I not only am having to adjust to a new church, but to a new culture as well. I’ve adopted a posture of listening and learning and in the first 60 days I’ve met with over 100 people in various venues simple to listen. The word has gotten out that I really want to listen. It has given me solid credibility with the church.
- I over-communicate. Each week I send our board a quick summary of my week’s activities and learnings. I’ve also added a new feature in our weekly Sunday bulletin called, “Where’s Waldo (a.k.a. Charles).” In a paragraph I share a synopsis of what I did the week prior. An 80 year old church member told me that she enjoys reading what I’ve been doing. She said she never knew what a pastor did during the week.
- I’ve become intensively collaborative. Many U.S. pastors have come to Canada and have failed because they’ve assumed a very dominant top down leadership style. It does not work in Canada (and probably not as well in the U.S. as it once did). I’ve enjoyed listening to other’s ideas and incorporating their suggestions into my leadership. I’m not people pleasing in doing so. Rather, I’m honoring how the body of Christ should work together.
I still have a ways to go in my people pleaser recovery. But I’m making good progress and enjoying the journey.
What have you discovered that has helped you avoid people pleasing tendencies?
InterVarsity Press will release People Pleasing Pastors in February but it is available for pre-order now. You can learn more about the book and view a cool video trailer here.