By Jenny Whitaker
Who do you work to please?
I know the “church answer,” and we’ll get to that, but at the end of any given day, who are the ones you really aim to please?
For me, it’s my pastor (I serve as the children and family ministry director at our church), my husband, our kids, parents and families in our kids ministry, editors, and, yes, sometimes even strangers (why I finally decided to take a break from social media).
If you know a people pleaser in ministry, check on them. We are not okay. In ministry, there are a lot of people to please, and on a good day, there are a variety of ways to please them, which is a lot to keep up with.
I’ll be honest, though: Until recently, being a people pleaser in ministry seemed to work (even if it shouldn’t have). The truth is—or was—if I could simply make enough people happy enough of the time, things were good.
But now we’re in the middle of a pandemic, where being a people pleaser and a ministry leader are no longer compatible.
People pleasing has been a battle of the flesh I’ve fought for years. There are seasons when the battle has left a wake of destruction and depression, and other seasons when there have been more victories than defeats.
So, when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, and ministry leadership—leadership of any kind, really—became a role that required me to abandon all hope of people pleasing, I wasn’t surprised that I felt paralyzed.
Here are some Scriptures that have helped me keep moving forward as a ministry leader, and face each day with courage, hope, and peace.
1. Colossians 3:23
“Whatever you do, do it from the heart, as something done for the Lord and not for people.”
This is not an unfamiliar verse, but somehow, for me, it carries more weight now than it ever did before. I began praying that this would be true in my life and sharing this truth with anyone who would listen—especially fellow ministry leaders.
If we’re doing this work for anyone other than Jesus right now, we won’t survive.
It’s easy to become personal punching bags, there’s spiritual warfare being waged, and we’re not exempt from that warfare. We keep working even though much of what we are doing right now seems to be unsuccessful and unfruitful, and it feels overwhelmingly like if we do one thing we’ll lose another.
Considering all of this, people pleasers will inevitably be brought to our knees.
2. Romans 8:26-27
“In the same way the Spirit also helps us in our weakness, because we do not know what to pray for as we should, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with inexpressible groanings. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because he intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.”
I bet you’re expecting verse 28 but stay with me. This passage brought an unexpected word of application into my life about my posture as I approach the work God has called me to do as a ministry leader.
It helped me to consider that perhaps on my knees is right where God wants me to be right now. I’ve always known that being a people pleaser was a weakness, but it was easy to conceal as a strength until COVID-19.
We can claim the promise, know the hope, do the things, and still miss the good God has for us by believing that our good—even when reduced by a pandemic—will be enough. It won’t. It was never meant to be.
Prayer reminds us of our position, which can help us move from paralysis to perseverance.
3. Romans 8:28
“We know that all things work together for the good of those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.”
Here is some good news: God is the One who causes all things to work together for good. Not us. That’s where we’re set free—from success or failure, pleasing or disappointing, gaining or losing. In this pandemic, we’re finally free to do what we were always meant to do.
I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t still struggling, but that’s why these three verses are so important to me right now, and I hope they will also be helpful to you.
Perhaps, you’ll allow me to leave you with one final word of encouragement if you’re struggling as a fellow people pleaser: “He comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any kind of affliction, through the comfort we ourselves receive from God.”
Not only will He comfort us, He will use us—our weaknesses included—to comfort, encourage, and help one another.
If you know a people pleaser in ministry, check on us. God is doing a mighty work.
Jenny is the children and family ministry director of Bradfordville First Baptist Church in Tallahassee, Fla., where she lives with her husband and three children. Jenny is a writer for Lifeway Kids curriculum and enjoys training children’s ministry leaders across the state of Florida.