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Honest Reflections of the Impact of Caring Too Much About Man's Approval

This blog is a continuation of yesterday's blog "Confessions of a Pastor Who Was Exhausted from Caring Too Much About What People Think and Didn't Even Realize it" which can be read HERE and is part 3 on a series called "Sabbatical Musings"

Yesterday's entry was about the EFFECT that caring too much about the approval of man can have on the heart.  Today's is going to be about the IMPACT that it can have on relationships, our worship and the effect on the overall mission of the church. 

Before I get into and confess the thoughts I've had throughout the summer as I've reflected on this idea of people pleasing, I just want to lay out WHY it's such a big deal. It is something that most of us struggle with to one degree or another. It is something that people realize about themselves to varying degrees based on how honest they are willing to be with their heart and how deep they want to dig.  But is it really that big of a deal

Yes. 

It's a really big deal and I'll give you a few reasons why: 

  • It is a violation of the first commandment (Exodus 20:3) because anything we place before pleasing God and obeying God is something that we "place before Him", effectively making that thing another God.  In this case, the search for approval becomes an idol that is placed above the Lord Himself in terms of importance. 
  • Jesus could not have been any clearer that you are not able to effectively serve two masters at the same time (Matthew 6:24).  So when we are serving the master of approval of man we are not able to serve Jesus with a single-minded devotion.
  • Jesus on Luke 10 tells a frantic Martha that "one thing is necessary" and that is to sit at the feet of Jesus and everything else should eminate from that place (Luke 10:38-42). Side note, placing things before that place of single minded devotion left her "worried and anxious" 
  • Leaders are supposed to lead God's people based on God's Word and the promptings of God's Spirit. When leaders lead with an eye toward their approval rating, they are not actually leading and they put their people in danger (Remember the story of Saul from 1 Samuel 13:1-15) 
  • God's mission is more important than man's opinion (Acts 4:19-20) 

I could give several more evidences as well as Scripture to go along, but all of these are different ways of stating the real heart of the issue: 

When man is big to us, God is small to us. When the approval of man is big then we lose sight of the approval that is already ours in Christ. 

Tomorrow, I am going to be getting back to writing on some more general Christian principles that God showed me over the course of the sabbatical, but for today, I want to dive deep into areas that can suffer when the approval of man becomes something far bigger than it ought to be, looming in our thoughts, eroding in our hearts and impacting the course of our actions. This is not comfortable to write these things, but I did not set out on sabbatical to be comfortable. I set out to re-orient my thoughts and heart-desires around the unhindered pursuit of Jesus Christ.

The thoughts expressed below are probably THE REASON I am so grateful for the sabbatical that was gifted to my family and also represent the biggest reasons that I am so excited to get back to God's mission with God's people. They are a result of deep and prolonged reflection, and some may be personal to be, but I pray that they prove beneficial to you as well. 

Areas that suffer when the approval of man becomes something bigger than it should be: 

1. Being a flourishing follower of Jesus- I place this one first for a reason. To be on a follower of Jesus requires (as defined by Jesus in Luke 9:23) us to lay down self, take up a cross, and follow the way of Jesus. When we seek man's approval, we are ultimately doing it to satisfy something within "self" that we are not finding met in Christ. So, laying down "self" becomes impossible when we are motivated by "self preservation". It is a nasty and vicious cycle- one that someone can find themselves in for quite a long time without even being aware of it. Following Jesus requires taking up a cross. Fighting for man's approval usually means circumventing the cross. We cannot deny ourselves while being consumed by what others think of "ourselves". These two postures face opposing directions. 

2. The mission of God- This is the next thing that suffers. This probably deserves its own blog entry.  But for our purposes for today, I want to briefly hit on how mission suffers and becomes small when man's approval becomes big.

Jesus put on flesh and came to this planet on a mission. He was undeterred by the sway of popular opinion. In fact, it ultimately led to his death on a cross (which in the greatest case of cosmic irony of all time, was actually His mission all along) 

Let me hit on two areas pertaining to mission that are impacted greatly when we place man's approval over God's mission: communal life and then on a more personal level. 

Life in community suffers when leaders are swayed by people's approval, opinions and preferences. (Just to be clear, I am not saying that leaders should be detached or not care about the thoughts of the people entrusted to their care). But, leaders should be dogged in their determination to not veer from the call to be on mission as laid out and lived out by Christ (John 20:21). 

Simply put- when leaders allow mission to be hijacked because they are surrendering long term obedience for short term approval, they are choosing to allow the ship to go off course. "Mission drift" has led to the eventual death of every movement.

Movements flourish when there is a strong, clearly stated, agreed up and obeyed mission. Movements begin to shrivel up and die when consensus building takes the place of courageously calling God's people to live on mission. 

The irony of all of this is that the things that can lead to "mission drift" are USUALLY not bad things. In fact, they are often good things. But no leader and no body can be about EVERYTHING. So we have to prioritize in order to remain faithful. When leaders say "yes" to things that do not line up with the stated mission out of fear of what the person might think who is proposing their idea if they were told "no" or "this does not really fit" they are making a conscious decision to subjugate mission to man's approval. 

On a more individual level- when we refuse to live as the missionary people of God whom God has sovereignly placed in a given location around a specific people because of fear of rejection, what people might think, etc, we are saying that man's approval is something that we hold higher than obedience to God's mission. 

That's quite a heavy thought. But it is one that we have to be honest about if we want to be used by God in the way that God has designed us (individually and corporately) to be used.

3. Disciple making- Making disciples is MESSY business. Beautiful, glorious, heart-thumping, heart-wrenching, life-giving messy, messy business. It cannot be sterilized by things like seeking the approval of man and still remain faithful to being God's design for getting down into the muck to make disciples. 

Here's the rub. Making disciples requires us to "teach all that God has commanded" (Matthew 28:16-20). If people were already doing all that God commanded they wouldn't need to be taught. So at some point we enter a conflict where we are called to make disciples but we have to call someone to turn AWAY FROM something so they can turn TO what God has commanded. If we are stuck in a rut of caring too much what people think, we are likely not going to enter into that messy fray out of fear of rejection. At that point, discipleship withers, and if this goes unchecked for too long, discipleship doesn't happen. 

We cannot answer Jesus' calls to make disciples while living for the approval of man. It doesn't work like that. 

4. Another area that really suffers when the approval of man becomes something bigger than it should be is that: we stop calling our people to be disciples who make disciples.

The clear and present danger when this happens is that people begin to see Jesus' call to make disciples as if it is an optional part of the Christian life. 

Jesus did not lay out the call to make disciples as an option. He did not preface it. It did not soften the call in order to keep from offending our sensibilities. And probably most important- Jesus did not lay out 2 separate lanes of Christianity: the ones who make disciples and the ones who do not

So, if all of that is true, then why do so many Christians treat disciple making as optional or as if it is someone else's responsibility? And why would we worry about what they think by telling them that they are inventing a Christianity that is completely foreign to the Bible? 

The church of Jesus Christ needs strong yet meek and humble leaders who are willing to be unwavering in their calling ALL OF God's people to make disciples. 

When we care too much about what people think about us we stop short of calling people who are not involved in making disciples to get on mission and to begin making disciples. So therefore, we stop short of calling them to biblical Christianity. 

I feel like I have led poorly in this regard and I ask for your forgiveness. 

5. True authenticity- this is another area that suffers when we are governed by what people might think about us. When we care too much about man's approval it causes us to be the version of ourselves that we think others will approve of. That's the definition of being a people pleaser. 

When this happens, the version of ourselves that we present to others is often scrubbed, sanitized, false-self. When this occurs, we undermine authentic biblical community. When this happens on a wide-scale we can be in danger of having just enough community to run programs but with a community that leaves us wanting and thirsty for something greater. 

Authentic biblical community is messy. It's painstakingly honest. It's courageous. I am not saying that we need to lay all of our junk out there to the masses for everyone to see (though I am aware of the irony of the statement since that is what I am doing in this series- but I feel called by God for a specific purpose to be unwaveringly vulnerable to help facilitate this type of community by leading by example). 

There's an old, cheesy song where the chorus says "I'm dying inside and nobody knows it but me". Biblical community should be the opposite of that. We should be able to be authentic enough where community is helping us to see and experience Jesus down to even the ugliest parts of our being. When we are overly motivated by what people might think about us, we fall short of that level of authenticity, robbing ourselves and others of the beauty that is supposed to be Christian community. 

6. Our own souls suffer deeply when we care too much about man's approval. Trying to be everything to everyone is exhausting. But it's also dangerous. We become fragmented and lose sight of Christ and therefore lose sight of true self in the process. 

Eventually it leads to a fragmented life where we allow God's Word to govern certain aspects of our lives and man's approval to govern the rest. That becomes a very tangled up knot in our souls. 

I'm convinced that this is the biggest reason that Jesus called me to go on sabbatical. I didn't know it at the time but once I saw it and asked God for the courage to start to deal with the knotted up, fragmented areas of my soul, it unleashed a revival in my soul. I pray that you don't need to go where I went because I pray that you never got to where I got. But if you have caught a habit on being an approval junky, I pray even deeper that you would stop and allow God's Spirit to deal with it. I'm not going to lie to you and say that it was easy or comfortable, but I will tell you that it was worth it. 

You are worth it. 

Jesus and single-minded devotion to the glory of God are worth it. 

7. Last one- (but if you read my journals there are pages of this stuff)- when man's approval grows, God's approval of you in Christ shrinks. The God who said "it is finished", "This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased", the same God who said that we are seated in the heavenlies with Christ: 

If you are in Christ, God has approved of you so stop fighting for an approval that is already yours and has already been graciously given to you as a gift in Christ. 

When Christians really, really fix our minds on the FACT that God has already offered you His full approval in Christ, it really shows us how silly it is to care so much about man's approval. 

It's poverty theology at its worst. It reminds me of this time when I was on a mission trip in a very poor area in Central America and we brought bags of soccer balls to give to the children as a gift. They immediately started fighting for them as we were handing them out. We had to slow them down and remind them "You don't have to fight for these. They're yours. We're giving them to you". 

Imagine how much more energy and vitality we would have if we were able to take that advice. Slow down. You don't have to fight for approval. It's yours. God gave it to you through your union with Christ! 

It's freeing. That's the Gospel. The Gospel is good news. Always. Do not allow approval seeking to make you stop short of the freedom that is yours through the Gospel of Jesus Christ. 

There is much more that I could say, but I am trying to write a blog not a book.  May you know the freedom of seeking the approval of the One who has already declared that you stand approved today rather than the ever-shifting sands of seeking man's ever-shifting approval. 

In love, 

Pastor Eric 

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