Written By Tyler Edwards, USA
Tyler Edwards is a pastor, author, and husband. He has served in full-time ministry since 2006. He currently works as the Discipleship Pastor of Carolina Forest Community Church in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. He is passionate about introducing people to and helping them grow in the Gospel. He is also the author of Zombie Church: Breathing Life Back Into the Body of Christ.
I’m writing to you to express, what is for me, one of the greatest challenges of ministry: I want to please you.
Growing up I was a people pleaser. I wanted everyone to like me, and I went to outrageous lengths to ensure that happened. While not all pastors are people pleasers by nature, a pre-requisite to this job is loving people. All throughout the Gospel, Jesus tells us to love our neighbors, our enemies, and each other. You can’t be a true minister of the Gospel without loving people. And when you love people, there is a strange internal desire to please them, to make them happy.
For most pastors, we are tempted to assess how well we are doing by how you respond to what we are doing. Why? Love always desires to be loved in return. Well, that doesn’t seem like such a bad thing. Why is that the greatest challenge in ministry?
Here’s the issue: we live in a society that is all about us. Our culture teaches us that life is whatever we want it to be. The customer is always right. We live in a world that caters to our wants and desires, and as a result we think our opinions and our preferences matter.
Let me be clear: there are two kingdoms in our lives. The first is our own. The music you listen to, movies you watch, causes you support—that’s all your kingdom. In your kingdom, your opinion means something.
But the church is not your kingdom. Too often we come into church treating it like it exists to please us. We act like we are experts in what the church should do and how it should operate. We have preferences. We have opinions. We have our kingdom. Just because those preferences and opinions matter in the world around us it doesn’t mean they matter in the kingdom of God. Your opinions are important, but they should not be the foundation of how the kingdom of God operates—God’s Word is the only authority on that.
When you come to us telling us all about the cool stuff your last church did, that’s not helpful. This church isn’t the same as your last one. When you share these thoughts with us, as pastors, it feels like being compared to an ex-girlfriend or boyfriend. I struggle with that.
Can you imagine what it would feel like to be in relationship with someone who kept comparing you to someone else? It’s maddening. We are all a part of the body of Christ, and each church has a unique culture, calling, and design. Trying to make your current church more like your last church can threaten what God has called that church to be.
When you tell us how the music is too loud, or not your style, or something does not fit with your preference, it puts us in a state of tension. This is what makes loving people one of the greatest challenges of ministry.
As pastors we walk a line. We love people—which means naturally we like it when people love us back, when they are pleased with us, when they appreciate what we do. It’s emotionally hard to have to constantly listen to petty complaints.
Imagine someone came into your home and told you, “I see you painted the walls grey. I don’t really like grey.” Imagine you invited them over for dinner, and after eating it they complained about what you cooked, how you cooked it, or started telling you how you could make it better in the future. You might be a little offended. Someone has come into your home and criticized choices that you made. Now the church is not our house, but the service is something we design to try and connect the Word of God and His truth to the world around us.
When you come in and you complain, what we hear is: you’re not doing what I think you should well enough. Hard truth: we don’t work for you. You are not our target audience. God is. Our first and most important goal is to be faithful to what God has called us to do. When we believe we are being faithful, and you start complaining about personal preferences, you are putting our love for you at war with our love for God. If I can be extra transparent, you are tempting us to be unfaithful, to appease you instead of pursuing the vision and direction God has given us.
Sometimes the issue is relatively harmless. Like worship style. God’s primary concern isn’t about our style of worship. He’s concerned with the heart we have in worship. If you have an opinion about worship, so does everyone else in the building. A church of 500 people will have 489 different opinions about worship. Can you imagine how difficult it is to hear all those different opinions and try to balance them?
Here’s the problem: the more we try to appease personal preferences, even in areas that don’t ultimately matter, the less we are thinking about God. We are no longer thinking about how to honor God, but instead are thinking about how to please you. Thus, our focus shifts from the Kingdom of God to the Kingdom of you.
Does that mean you shouldn’t have an opinion or share constructive, helpful ideas? No. There is a difference between having an opinion, and dispensing your opinion without consideration. There are three primary factors that determine whether your feedback is helpful or draining:
1. Is it the right time to be sharing your feedback? There’s a difference between sharing an opinion when asked, and just making a passing remark on Sunday morning when there are 50 other things going on.
2. Are you invested? Most of the people who tell us their opinions are not involved. They are spectator consumers. If my wife doesn’t like a paint color in my house, that’s a bigger deal than if the random delivery guy doesn’t. Before you share an opinion, consider this, are you invested enough for your opinion to reasonably carry weight in the governing decisions of a church? I want to hear from people who are actually interested to be involved in church.
3. What are you willing to do? When people bring me an idea, I toss it back at them: hey I really like that, let’s talk about how you can lead that charge. Most of the time they shrink back. “I don’t want to; it’s just an idea I had for you to do.” If you aren’t willing to champion the idea, maybe it’s not a good enough idea to share.
We love you. But we love God more. Being torn between two loves is never fun. If we do not follow what God has led us to do and be, we are sacrificing faithfulness to God in order to please people, i.e., sinning. But if we stay on course, we seem uncaring to the people we are supposed to love and minister to. Perhaps, church, you can consider this:
The kingdom of God is not about you. You are not the focus. You are not the center of attention. In fact, every call of Jesus towards faithfulness, discipleship, relationship with Him, is a call to die to ourselves. That means our opinions, preferences, values, ideas. Help us faithfully lead the church by not being a stumbling block in our way. What we need are men and women, young and old, who love Jesus so much that their focus becomes how we can, as a church, become more faithful to Him in the way we do church and live our lives.
Ministry is hard. You take a lot of hits. You get a lot of criticism. We don’t need more “I’m just saying. . . .” We need more encouragement.
Barry is one of my favorite people on the planet. A few years ago, I was leading a serve team Barry and his wife were on. He was probably in his late sixties. The church we were at was very contemporary. The music was loud, very well produced, and high energy. As the band was playing, Barry looked over at me and said: “I love this.” I was surprised. I told him, “No offense but I didn’t think someone your age would be into this kind of music.” He said, “No, I can’t stand the music.” He pointed at the crowd. “What I love is seeing young people worship Jesus, passionately loving Him. That’s way more important to me than having the kind of music I like.”
That’s what we need. People who understand that the mission is more important. People who encourage, who support, who champion something to help it work even when it isn’t their preference. We need people who care more about God’s kingdom than their own.