How Prevalent are People Pleasing Pastors?

This February Inter-Varsity Press will release my third book titled, People Pleasing Pastors: Avoiding the Pitfalls of Approval Motivated Leadership with a forward by Dr. Ed Stetzer. When I began writing the book, I sought to discover how prevalent people pleasing motivations existed among pastoral leadership.  What I found  confirmed my suspicion.

people pleasing leaders

I commissioned several phases of research on nearly 2,300 pastors that included men, women, young, old, poorly educated, and highly educated from both large and small churches in North, Central, and South America. Surprisingly 79% of those leaders in one survey of 1,000 pastors and 91% in another survey of over 1,200 pastors admitted to people-pleasing tendencies to some degree in their respective ministries.

In one survey I provided a opportunity for pastors to anonymously share their pleaser stories. So many pastors responded that I compiled over 100 single spaced pages filled with heart breaking stories of how people pleasing hindered their ministries. My research also dug deeper to find out the negative effects pleasing caused. Leaders responded that when people pleasing influenced their leadership, these difficulties occurred in their respective ministries.

  • Difficulty in leading the church as you believe you should: 32%
  • Difficulty in accomplishing personal and spiritual goals: 31%
  • Difficulty with the lay leaders in your church: 29%
  • Difficulty in handling the same situation down the road: 27%
    • In the Lifeway sample of pastors in churches over 250, 37% said this was an issue.
  • Difficulty with your staff: 23%
    • In the Lifeway sample of pastors in churches over 250, 38% said this was an issue.
  • Difficulty in your family: 17%

Even though people pleasing can negatively affect our spiritual leadership, we can make changes, which is the gist of my book. In fact, I believe that when we appropriately deal with our pleaser tendencies, we’ll experience these positive effects.

  • greater creativity
  • healthier teams
  • vision clarity
  • renewed passion
  • more internal peace
  • clearer decision making
  • successful conflict management
  • decreased anxiety
  • less defensiveness
  • clarity in hearing God’s quiet voice
  • more fruit from spiritual disciplines
  • less mental distractions

If you’d like to see a cool video about the book, you can view it here. The book is available now for pre-order on all the online sites.

I can’t give you a surefire formula for success, but I can give you a formula for failure: try to please everybody all the time.

–Herbert Bayard Swope, American editor and journalist; first recipient of the Pulitzer Prize

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Some content taken from People-Pleasing Pastors by Charles Stone. Copyright(c) 2014 by Charles Stone. Used by permission of InterVarsity Press, PO Box 1400, Downers Grove, IL 60515. www.ivpress.com

Rejection: How if Affects Leaders

Disapproval and rejection can sting and wound. We’ve all felt it. What do we do when important people in our lives (or even those that we don’t deem important) reject us? How do we respond as did Jesus when he was rejected and scorned?

1Pet. 2.23 When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly.

Years ago I experienced deep disapproval and rejection from some key church leaders. Essentially they told me that I wasn’t a good leader nor could I inspire people when I preached God’s Word. I was devastated and the effects lingered for months. At the time I didn’t process this rejection well. In retrospect, however, I now understand why this hurt so much and what to do about it.

God created our bodies and our mental command and control center, our brains, with two overall systems that profoundly impact how we think and feel. Our refleXive system (think X-system) is the one that acts without thinking. When it controls, our emotions often take over. The other system, our refleCtive system (think C-system) is the one that helps us think clearly and biblically when our emotions want us to do otherwise. When our X-system controls, we become highly emotional and reactive which dampens our C-system’s ability to think clearly and objectively. However, when we submit our C-system to the Holy Spirit, we are able to think more in line with the Apostle Paul’s command in Philippeans 4.8.

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable — if anything is excellent or praiseworthy — think about such things.

Because I failed to appropriately filter their disapproval with the mind of Christ (His thoughts and perspective), my response prompted my brain to release neurochemicals, called catecholamines, that revved up my C-system. This in turn further diminished my ability to think and lead effectively in these three ways.

  • Mental exhaustion: My brain’s check engine light was always on. One part of our brain (the anterior cingulate cortex) senses inconsistencies we detect in verbal or non-verbal messages we get from others. Because those leaders often gave me mixed messages about my performance (you are a great guy… you don’t inspire people), that part of my brain was constantly ‘on.’ I become mentally exhausted which bred even more anxiety about the situation.
  • Easily defensive: My brain’s impulse control brake pads wore thin. I’m usually able to control my emotions and avoid defensiveness. However, because the stress had tired my brain and body, the part of my brain that helps control impulses and emotions (the ventral lateral pre-frontal cortex) had little ‘brake pad’ left. As a result, I was not able to carry on objective conversations about their perspective,which would have helped. Instead, I became defensive, didn’t listen well to their viewpoints, and reacted to small irritations at home.
  • Inability to concentrate: My brain’s mental etch-a-sketch could not hold a creative thought long without losing it. An important part of the brain (the dorsal lateral pre-frontal cortex) gives us the ability to plan, hold items in memory, and think abstractly. However, I could barely concentrate which impacted my ability to think creatively when preparing a sermon or when planning a new initiative. My brain felt like an etch-a-sketch constantly being shaken causing the picture on it to quickly dissolve. I often defaulted to mindless activities such as reading CNN several times daily rather than focusing on the more important mind-taxing tasks ministry demanded.

When leaders feel rejected, these internal processes will occur unless with the Spirit’s power we proactively take action to counter them. In my next post I discuss how we can counter these tendencies when we feel rejected.

When others have rejected you, what negative consequences have you seen in your leadership?


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