Vulnerability is probably the hardest aspect of being a disciple maker, at least to me. For my entire life, I have had high expectations put on me, producing crippling anxiety every time I failed fearing that people would see the real me, the failure. I strove for perfectionism in everything. I thought if people thought I was perfect, they would like me, and therefore more people would want to know Jesus.
Truthfully, this mindset just made me anxious and self-hating all the time. It came to a point where I struggled to sleep, placed unwarranted expectations on those around me, and ultimately nearly burned out in ministry entirely.
Why Ministry Leaders are Prone to People-Pleasing
I don’t think my story is all that uncommon. People pleasing is a trap many ministry leaders fall into. We fear upsetting people and then having those people leave our church or ministry because—let’s be honest—oftentimes believers (wrongly) believe that more numbers equals more success. But that mindset turns ministry into a business transaction in which we have to sell Jesus to those around us, and if we don’t meet our quota for the month, we have failed as Christian leaders.
Another reason people-pleasing is an easy trap for ministry leaders is because the church often confuses people-pleasing tendencies with being good servants. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been told I have a “servant’s heart” for saying yes every time I was asked by someone to do something. In reality, I struggled with saying no for fear of disappointing them, offending them, or worse, something not getting done because I said no.
The truth is that both of these are lies from the enemy to distract us and keep us bogged down in the good things instead of thriving in the great things that Christ is calling us to.
An Alternative to People-Pleasing
How do we combat these lies? With the truth of course! So the question now is: what is the truth? I propose there are three truths that can help set us free from people-pleasing and usher us into the freedom and joy of a ministry built on honesty and vulnerability.
We are human.
The first truth will be a newsflash: we are human. Because we are human, we are finite, which means we have to live within boundaries to be healthy. This means we must know our limits. Each of us will have different limits in different seasons.
I have developed the habit of asking myself five questions before agreeing to anything:
- Do I have time in my schedule to do this well?
- Will I have to sacrifice time with those that are important to me to do this?
- Will this bring the most glory to God?
- Will agreeing to this hurt me in any way- mentally,emotionally, spiritually or physically?
- What do the ones closest to me think about this?
As I work through those questions, I seek out the Lord in prayer. Then I make a decision. This doesn’t take as long as it sounds; I usually make a decision within a day of being asked. The process helps me remember that I am human. My job is not to do everything people call me to do but to do only the things God is calling me to do."My job is not to do everything people call me to do but to do only the things God is calling me to do." -Christina Boatright #collegiatedisciplemaker #threetruths Click To Tweet
Only One Opinion Matters
The second truth is that only one opinion truly matters—God’s. The people we are trying to please are people whose opinions don’t matter anyway. At one time in my ministry, I kept a sign-in list for our free Wednesday lunches. The churches that volunteered saw it as a competition of who got more students. I received negative feedback from some of them if the numbers were low, sometimes even hurtful comments. That’s when I decided no more sign-in sheet; I could keep track of estimated amounts of food without it.
I have never felt so free than when I got rid of that! Did I have some unhappy churches about that decision? Oh yeah. Did I allow it to affect my decision? Absolutely not. I had to do what was best for this ministry and for my own mental health.
It’s incredibly freeing when you remember there’s only One whose opinion matters, and His opinion of us isn’t based on our own efforts and goodness but on Christ’s!
God Never Fails
The final truth that can set you free from people pleasing in ministry is that you are going to fail, but God never does.
I am open and honest with my students about my shortcomings so they can see that even if they fail God doesn’t fail them. This is important in discipleship. Those whom we are discipling need to know that they aren’t going to be perfect at everything but that God is faithful even in their failings. They will learn this by seeing our shortcomings and failures so that they are drawn to worship and depend on God, not us. This kind of honest vulnerability creates much healthier relationships and ministries with a culture of grace and freedom instead of a culture of perfectionism, competition, people-pleasing, obligatory service, and shaming.
The Balance Beam of Ministry
Keeping a healthy balance in ministry is all about being humble enough to know your limits, choosing to care about God’s opinion more than others, and being content with failure. I personally have had far more fruit with honesty and vulnerability in faith than I ever had with people-pleasing and perfectionism.
The Lord is faithful to us. He knows what He has called you to; you can trust Him. He wants heartfelt obedience to Him more than He wants false sacrifice as a guise for people-pleasing. You don’t have to be obedient to be sacrificial, but all obedience requires some sacrifice. I choose to live in obedience, and this means that I have to sacrifice my fears, my idol of people-pleasing, and the lies of the enemy to do that—and so do you.