Book Notes | People Pleasing Pastors


This past week I read Charles Stone’s new book People-Pleasing Pastors: Avoiding the Pitfalls of Approval-Motivated Leadership (kindle version).

This book is unlike any other I’ve read. First, it hits a topic that every pastor or leader (and probably most humans) struggle with: people pleasing. This is an enormous deal for pastors and churches. Second, it combines stories and real life examples with a ton of helpful research on how our brains work and what drives leaders to care what others think. Third, it ends with some incredibly helpful insights to fight people pleasing in your leadership.

I can’t recommend this book high enough.

Here are a few things that jumped out in my reading:

  • Healthy and successful leadership has little to do with what I can do to get others to like me.
  • Chronic criticism is, if anything, often a sign that the leader is functioning better!
  • Christians, perhaps uniquely so, struggle with people pleasing because we’re “supposed to” be sweet and nice. And some professions, by their very nature, draw people into them because they offer opportunities to help others. Ministry and politics both fall into that category. Both pastors and politicians, if rightly motivated, want to help and serve others. However, that very desire often makes us most susceptible to people pleasing.
  • I wonder how the decisions I made that were motivated by a desire to please somebody in the church resulted in missing God’s best.
  • What makes people-pleasing, approval-motivated leadership so detrimental? It’s subtle, often counterintuitive and stifling to a spiritual leader’s passion and joy if left unchecked.
  • The ultimate test to determine whether or not our people pleasing is wrong is whether or not it promotes the gospel.
  • We know we’ve pleased others in a healthy way when they are better off when we do it and when we sense God’s peace in our hearts.
  • As a leader, when I seek consensus or appeasement in a situation, rather than lead from a place of principle and vision, I abdicate my authority and nobody “wins.”
  • People-pleasing leadership gets its direction and behavior from outside (people we strive to please) rather than from inside (personal values, convictions and vision).
  • Our emotional response to a church event or a difficult relationship issue often does more to raise our anxiety than the event itself.
  • When we refuse to give in to people pleasing, those pushing us to change lose their power over us and over our ministries.
  • A pastor who understands and accepts how God uniquely fashioned him won’t be as motivated to seek others’ approval.
  • We are affected by the emotional influences from our past, and I believe the Bible’s genealogical lists reflect this. The more we learn about generational influences the better we can free ourselves from their unhealthy patterns, especially people pleasing, because it often finds its roots in prior generations.
  • The following family dysfunctions often contribute to people-pleasing patterns: Perfectionistic parents who set the bars so high that their children seldom received affirmation and love from them. Affirmation in these families was conditional. Nagging “oughts” and “shoulds” still whisper in the minds of those children long into adulthood. Being super nice or compliant garnered approval from parents. Pastors who came from these homes subconsciously think that being nice in their churches will likewise make people happy. Growing up in a home where one or both parents were alcoholics. Having parents who excessively doted on their children or extravagantly praised them.
  • When a pastor doesn’t pay attention to the emotional blips in his own soul, he can set himself up for needless pain and diminished leadership effectiveness.
  • A ministry leader’s least healthy responses to anxiety most often show up as emotional reactivity—that is, not being able to restrain emotions.
  • A leader’s mood profoundly influences those around him as people tend to reflect their leader’s tone, whether it’s good or bad.

To see other book notes, click here.

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