Confessions of a People Pleaser

By Nancy Wilson

Tropical Storm Irma pushed many people from Florida into our little Georgia burg. The few hotels were full of refugees wondering when they could go home. I stood behind one such woman in the line at Walmart. We chatted about her home and the microwave meals she was buying to cook in her room. She mentioned being bored and looking for things to do. It was the perfect set up. Our church still served dinner before Wednesday night service, which started an hour after that conversation. All I had to do was ask her to join us. I didn’t. I worried she would be offended.

That wasn’t the first time, and it definitely was not the last time I’d allowed my people pleasing to affect the gospel. If I sat with a counselor, we’d uncover all kinds of reasons for my compulsion to make sure everyone around me is happy. But why doesn’t matter. It happens and consequences ensue. I soften God’s Word so it will be more palatable. I sit quietly when I should speak up. I say yes to everyone’s need, neglecting my ministry and overwhelming myself.

Many women in ministry suffer the same problems. By nature, working with others requires that we be concerned with their needs and strive to make them happy. Plus, let’s be real, an unhappy congregant can cause problems in the church and sow discord within a once-united group. There has to be a balance between people pleasing and ministering the gospel.

That balance comes from Galatians 1:10 – “I’m not trying to win the approval of men, but of God. For if pleasing people were my goal, I would not be Christ’s servant.” The Holy Spirit taught me three strategies for dealing with my people pleasing through this verse.

You Can’t Please Everyone — So Please God

One Sunday morning, a friend of mine was dealing with a problem in Children’s Church. As she rushed across the sanctuary, she saw two women talking. Woman #1 said hello. My friend groaned inwardly because she knew Woman #1 would be offended if she didn’t stop to speak to her. She stopped, despite the Children’s Church emergency, and spoke with the two women. Woman #1 was happy, but Woman #2 was offended my friend interrupted the conversation. In her situation, she literally couldn’t please everyone. No matter which course of action she chose — offense would occur. Her circumstances opened my eyes to the fact that pleasing everyone is impossible. If an event forces me to choose between serving God or pleasing a person, I choose God.

Pray Before Saying Yes

One time, I was trying to balance homeschooling, caring for my parents, leading women’s ministry, teaching a Bible study, and doing research for a charity. “I’m overwhelmed,” I whined in prayer. God replied, “I didn’t tell you to do all of that.” Ouch! His rebuff reminded me that I am his servant. He’s the one who gives me marching orders. If I want to glorify the Lord and work with my whole heart, I need to make sure I stay within His will. So now I pray about every offer that comes my way — even if it’s a legitimate need.

Stay True to the Vision

God instructed me to create a simple playgroup for stay-at-home moms. It met once a week at various playgrounds around town, we hung out, and I ministered to the young women. Then, one mom asked if we could meet more than once a week. Another asked if we could meet at local attractions and not just at parks. Another asked if we could close the group because it was too big. And on and on. Of course, I wanted to please them, so I said yes to all requests. Before long, the group looked nothing like the original idea. Protect the vision God has given you. Measure all requests against His original plan. If the request doesn’t match the intent, gently turn it down. In the end, ministry is your goal, not popularity.

I’d love to say I stopped caring about others’ opinions of me, but I still do. However, God gave me these strategies to manage my people pleasing. When I apply them, I’m happier and my ministry thrives.

Published March 7, 2022