Pleasing People versus Pleasing God

“Remember that you are called to be faithful, not successful. A Minister of God is called to be faithful in the eyes of God, not successful in the eyes of the world.”

These words were spoken by Rev. William (“Flan”) Flanagan. Flan was one of my clergy mentors who served at St. Andrew Presbyterian Church in Newport Beach, CA, where I experienced my spiritual conversion and call to ordained ministry.

Flan followed those words of wisdom with these prophetic words: “Some church members think that the minister’s job is to please them and to make them happy. But ministry isn’t about people-pleasing. Ministry is about God-pleasing.”

Flan’s words remind me of a provocative list of “ifs,” entitled “Keeping Everyone Happy?”

The following is a summary of comments made about a pastor in a typical church: If her sermon is longer than usual:
“She’ s putting us to sleep!”
If her sermon is short: “She hasn’t bothered to prepare!”
If she raises her voice: “She’ s shouting!”
If she speaks normally: “She’s mumbling!”
If she is out-of-town: “She’ s always on the road!”
If she is at home: “She’ s not visiting people in hospitals!”
If she is out visiting: “She’ s never at home!”
If she is in the Pastor’ s Office: “She never visits home-bound church members!” If she talks finances: “She is too preoccupied with money!”
If she doesn’t talk finances: “The church is going bankrupt!”
If she takes her time with people: “She wears everyone out!”
If she is brief: “She never listens!”
If she starts the worship service on time: “Her watch is fast!”
If she starts a minute late: “She holds everyone up!”
If she is young: “She lacks experience!”
If she is old: “She should retire!”
And, if she dies? Well, of course: “No one can ever take her place!”

Whether one serves as a minister or as another role, being consumed with people-pleasing is ultimately a lose-lose predicament. The 15th Century poet and monk, John Lydgate, said it well: “You can please some of the people all of the time and all of the people some of the time. But you cannot please all of the people all of the time.”

Moreover, the expectation of a minister or of an individual to please all people all the time is both unhealthy and unrealistic. A minister or an individual will be rapidly depleted, and those who expect to be pleased by a minister or by an individual will be eternally disappointed.

However, pleasing God is essential if one is a God-seeker and a Christ- follower. In the epistle of John, 1 John 3:22, we are guided by these words: “We receive from God whatever we ask, because we obey God’s commandments and do what pleases God.”

Richard Baxter was a Puritan church leader and theologian in the 17th Century. Baxter’s essay on “Pleasing God,” written in 1682, is still honored today.

1. If you seek first to please God, you have but One to please, instead of a multitude; a multitude of masters are harder to please than is one master.
2. That One is pure and is not pleased with deceit or dishonesty.
3. That One is acquainted with your heart and knows the motive of your actions.
4. That One is just and does not put upon you contradictions or impossibilities.
5. That One that is constant and is not pleased with one thing today and another thing tomorrow.
6. That One is gentle and does not require you to hurt yourself to please Him.
7. That One is divine and is not subject to human passions, which blind human minds and incite human injustice.
8. That One is Truth and is not moved by gossipers or maligners or false accusers.

Richard Baxter makes the case that, if we please God in our day-to-day lives, then we will know heaven
while still living upon earth.

Certainly our North American culture and often our families of origin coach each of us to seek to please people. Consciously or unconsciously, people-pleasing is a full-time occupation for children, women and men.

But within the universal family of God, we who are faith-seekers are principally called to please One greater than ourselves.

So, who are you? A people-pleaser? Or a God-pleaser?

Beside you in the journey of faith,
Rev. Barbara