“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?”
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.
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.
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).