You Can't Make Everyone Happy

Craig Groeschel on the addictive need to please, and what finally set him free.

“Hello, my name is Craig Groeschel and I’m a recovering people-pleaser.”

If there were a 12-step group for those obsessed with the approval of others, I’d certainly introduce myself this way. For as long as I can remember, I’ve battled this desire to be liked.

Growing up, I had to have clothing with the right labels or I’d feel less than adequate. I had to have the right friends, join the right social clubs and drive the right car (which I never did) to be accepted by those around me. Most decisions I made were laced with the underlying questions, “What will they think?” “Will they like me if I do this?” “Will this help me fit in?”

Receiving applause for being a good pastor was like taking my first hit of a highly addictive drug.

When I became a pastor, I assumed serving God full-time would overcome my desire to be accepted and loved by people. My whole focus would finally be on God, right? I couldn’t have been more wrong. Receiving applause for being a good pastor was like taking my first hit of a highly addictive drug. From the first time someone said, “Great sermon, Pastor Craig,” I was hooked. And with the passing of time, I needed stronger doses of approval to get the same high.

It wasn’t long before my need to please dictated everything I did. I had to be the first to work and the last to leave. My messages had to be powerful—and funny. My prayers had better be moving.

After a couple of years of performing for the church, I realized I was working for the approval of my peers. I was preaching for the approval the crowd. I was praying to be heard by people and forgot about being heard by God.

It was exhausting. And ironically, it turned me into someone I didn’t like very much—and neither did the people close to me. I was a workaholic. I paid more attention to people outside my family than the people I loved most. I felt like an imposter.

I had to learn it the hard way, but I finally learned the truth: Becoming obsessed with what people think is the quickest way to forget about what God thinks.

Rather than living for an audience of one, I was acting for the applause of the crowd. Can you relate? Do you find yourself consumed with what people think? Are you making decisions that aren’t true to who you really are? Do you spend more time on your public profile than your personal relationships?

There’s just one solution to this problem: The fear of God is the only cure for the fear of people. In my life, people had become too big and God had become too small. I was driven by my ego rather than the glory of God.

Becoming obsessed with what people think is the quickest way to forget about what God thinks.

Richard Rohr calls our ego our “small self.” Our small self is so insecure that it must be noticed, liked and applauded. But our small self isn’t our best self. It’s not who God created us to be.

Since our small self is consumed with itself, it leaves no space for pleasing God. The toil and struggle we pour our small selves into is futile since we can’t please all the people all the time, anyway.

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To overcome my disease to please, I constantly tell myself, “I can’t please everyone, but I can please God.” Daily, I must lay down my small self on God’s altar. Each time I do, I remind myself that I’m not who others think I am. I am who God says I am. God says I’m a new creation (2 Cor. 5:17). My sins are forgiven and washed away (Eph. 1:7). I am God’s masterpiece (Eph. 2:10). I am a joint heir with Christ (Rom. 8:17). I am greatly loved and accepted by God (Rom. 1:7). As I lay down my desire to please people, only then can I experience the freedom of focusing on just one thing: pleasing God in all I do.

It isn’t easy. Just like an addict stays clean one day at a time, I must keep my ego in check daily so I can live for the One who matters most.

To remind myself of this each time before I stand to preach, I pause and take one small, deliberate step forward. With this purposeful step, I’m reminding myself that I’m stepping out of my small, people-driven ego. And I’m stepping into who God says I am: His child. So with His help, I’m not preaching (or leading or ministering or living) for the applause of men, but for the glory of God. Like Paul, I make it my goal to live out this verse: “Obviously, I’m not trying to be a people pleaser! No, I am trying to please God. If I were still trying to please people, I would not be Christ’s servant” (Gal. 1:10 NLT).


Mike Betancourt


Mike Betancourt commented…

First of all Craig, thank you for your courage to be honest. When leaders are willing to lay down their lives and be vulnerable enough to be honest like this, it gives others the courage to be honest as well.

People pleasing definitely comes from a sense of not feeling good enough. It happens early on...some of us are wounded as children...some of us grow up in performance-based households (*cough, *cough, Christian household). Others of us have grown up in abusive homes. As we grow into adults, we build personalities around those wounds. Beneath the personality of the people pleaser is really that little boy or little girl inside of us still asking, "Am I good enough? Are you proud of me? Do you love me for me?"

When it comes to people pleasing, I am the worst of them--even writing this comment I'm thinking of how someone might think I'm so I know I definitely need God to daily remind me of who I am to Him...His beloved child whom he is crazy about.

Craig, I pray that when you preach, you can see God sitting in the front row, listening to your sermon with a tender look in his eyes...eventually cheering with a big smile on his face, "That's my boy!"

Just for the record :), there are 12-step groups for people pleasers, except they are called co-dependents.

Nathaniel Marshall


Nathaniel Marshall replied to Mike Betancourt's comment

"When it comes to people pleasing, I am the worst of them--even writing this comment I'm thinking of how someone might think I'm so"

Dude, I am RIGHT there with you. Even when I admit to my faults, or recognize that I am in need of grace and forgiveness (which is a genuine recognition), there's a part of me that is wondering, "Am I saying this to please God, or so that they think I am pleasing God by recognizing my need?" It's such a twisted, deep issue. I struggle with it every second of my life, constantly aware of whether people are looking at me or not, wondering what others see when they see me worshiping, or praying, what they hear when they hear my words as I pray or teach, whether or not it moves them, etc., etc. It's putrid. I hate it with a hot, fiery hatred, yet it won't burn away hahaha May the white-hot purity of God's righteousness burn away the dark, dense thorns of self-exaltation.

Arnold Gamboa


Arnold Gamboa replied to Nathaniel Marshall's comment

I guess, as they say, the first step to solving a problem is recognizing it. It's so nice to see that we recognize our desire to please people.

James Mortimore


James Mortimore replied to Arnold Gamboa's comment

Thank you all for your comments, and i can safely say i can relate to many of them, particularly Mike B.

I agree with the assertion that many of these issues, in my own experience, come from childhood wounds - and is very deeply rooted and hugely twisted and complicated, leaving what feels like a small child trying to mix it with all the other people that have it all sorted. So many of my own needs to please people come from a deep seated fear of rejection - and so i felt in my teen years and throughout my 20's, i almost became a mirror image of the person i thought the other person or people wanted me to be. By doing this, i was popular with almost everyone i met - i was the nice guy - but deep down, i had no real relationships of substance, and regularly confronted people in my head rather than risk doing it 'out loud', for fear that by confronting someone with 'me', postively or negatively, they wouldn't like what they saw and i would be rejected. That fear of rejection and tagged-on fear of confrontation means ive spent the last 3 years, since i had some quite painful self-revelation, trying to 'find myself', a self that previously has just been a projection.

I myself come from a Christian family, headed by a vicar, and like many Vicar's children, i rebelled against the overtly religious lifestyle i was raised in, and it has taken until my early 30's to come back and ask the questions for myself about faith, but I know everything i struggle with has a theoretical answer in Jesus, though its hard to untangle my own beliefs amidst the finding of 'self'.

Thanks all for your honesty - as people have said, someone putting themselves out there first up often leads to other people following suit, though i am very aware myself that its much easier to be vulnerable in cyberspace than it is in face-to-face, real relationship, so worth bearing that in mind.

Keep up the good work Relevant!

Andy Chapman


Andy Chapman commented…

Craig, you are not alone! We all find ourselves there too often than not. The thing I remember and must ask myself daily is why would I waste my time aiming at moving targets I will never hit when there's a target that I can hit every single time. We waste so many precious resources (time, money, energy, love, creativity, etc) working to be liked by people we probably don't really like to begin with, adopting fads and cultural identities that will be different tomorrow, and trying to achieve a measure of "success" (money, power, pride) that is never enough to provide security or complacency. I believe that next to apathy, lack of true confidence (found through our identity in Christ) is the greatest weapon the enemy uses against the Church and believers today. If we could ever conquer our apathy and insecurities, we could revolutionize the world...

Liisa Rettedal


Liisa Rettedal commented…

After being in a college service at a church for a number of years that had a culture of social immaturity and cattiness (especially among the women!) along with many other truly wonderful elements, I took a bit of a leave from regular church services. It was incredibly eye-opening! Although I stayed in close relationship with believers of all ages and maturity levels, and continued loving God with my new husband, as I unplugged from the dynamics of Christian culture at church I was amazed at how disfunctional it was at times despite the great things included in the services! I have been part of several wonderful churches over the years, but I could see the threads of performance/ unhealthy social dynamics in all of them. :)

Over the last few years I have been slowly returning to my "real" relationship with God, minus the "show" elements. I pray (or don't pray), worship, read my Bible, etc. when I truly feel moved to, not to perform or try to gain approval. I was SHOCKED at how often in previous years I had said/done things out of mixed motives, and these days I am wanting a much more real, authentic relationship with God and fellow believers. Not that I am cured by any means of my people pleasing, but at least now when I walk into a church service I feel like my eyes are opened and if I don't feel like doing something on a legitimate level, I don't. I feel so much more free! It is amazing the things we get used to, especially growing up in the church, that are unhealthy yet part of the culture around us. Although I have been aware of the idea of people pleasing for 20+ years it really took that step away (not from God, just church services in general!) to open my eyes to my behavior. Jesus, help me to continue to grow in security in YOU and to care less and less each day what everyone else thinks...

Chad Miller


Chad Miller commented…

I really enjoyed this. I have never thought of the link between being a workaholic and a people pleaser, but it is so true. Nice thoughts and I appreciate your transparency coupled with the daily steps you take to allow God to change your thinking.

David Zirilli


David Zirilli commented…

This is so timely. Thank you Craig. I just wrote a blog on this same topic.

I guess I got a little more personal, but the key is the same. As a pastor, I allowed the thing that motivated me as a kid to help my Mom make dinner motivate me to counsel someone or to preach a sermon. It has been a constant struggle for years. And, eventually, it bore fruit that got me fired.

I love the admonition, "It isn’t easy. Just like an addict stays clean one day at a time, I must keep my ego in check daily so I can live for the One who matters most."

That's the only solution and some days it is easier than others.

The verse I have clung to is: "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong." 2 Cor. 12:9-10

Thanks again. Keep leading.

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