Pastor, Repent of your People Pleasing

Qualifications for Pastoral Ministry

When we think about the qualifications of a pastor for ministry, two primary passages in the New Testament deal most directly with this issue. The passages I’m referring to are Titus 1:5-9 and 1 Timothy 3:1-7.

God, in His wisdom, saw fit to help the church discern how leadership should be selected by giving a list of qualifications that are to be present in the believer who desires to be an overseer, which is, in the words of Paul, a noble task (1 Tim. 3:1).

Some of the qualifications we learn from these passages are that pastors must be:

  • Above reproach (1 Tim. 3:2; Titus 1:6)
  • The husband of one wife (1 Tim. 3:2; Titus 1:6)
  • Able to manage their households (1 Tim. 3:4-5; Titus 1:6-7)
  • Not a recent convert (1 Tim. 3:6)
  • He must not be arrogant, quick-tempered, violent, quarrelsome, greedy for gain, nor a drunkard (1 Tim. 3:3; Titus 1:7)
  • Hospitable, upright, self-controlled, disciplined, respectable, & gentle (1 Tim. 3:2-3; Titus 1:8)

For a complete list of all of the qualifications in these two passages and explanations, Justin Taylor has written a beneficial article that can be found here. My focus, however, is not to go through the qualifications but rather to focus on a qualification that is rarely mentioned and often overlooked. I’m referring to the ministry disqualifying sin of people-pleasing.

Yes, you read that correctly. People-pleasing is a ministry disqualifying sin. Let me attempt to defend this from Scripture beginning with Titus 1:9. The elder “must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to instruct in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it.” The main point is holding fast to the word and teaching sound doctrine, a clear requirement for biblical eldership. But notice the last phrase, “and also to rebuke those who contradict it.” Again, the main emphasis is holding fast to the word, but this is not just to teach the flock but also to protect the flock. As John Calvin said,

The pastor ought to have two voices: one, for gathering the sheep; and another, for warding off and driving away wolves and thieves. The Scripture supplies him with the means of doing both.

– John Calvin

What does this have to do with people-pleasing? Well, think about it for a moment. What will prevent the pastor from rebuking those who contradict sound doctrine? Clearly, a lack of knowledge of Scripture will prevent him from doing so. But People-pleasing will also prevent him from doing this. If the pastor is more concerned with being liked than he is proclaiming the truth, he will not fulfill the charge in Titus 1:9 or the reproof and rebuking that is called for in 2 Timothy 4:2. He will be more focused on what the people think of him than he will be on giving them the truth they need.

Paul and the Galatians

Galatians 1:10 doesn’t make any of our lists on the qualifications of elders, but it did for Paul.He writes this,

For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.” Again, pay attention to the last phrase, “If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.

– Galatians 1:10

Paul places people-pleasing at odds with his calling to serve Christ, and the context helps us understand why. Paul is writing to the churches in Galatia who abandoned the true gospel for legalism, a false gospel that does not save. Paul addresses this in Galatians 1:6-7,

I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel—not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ.

– Galatians 1:6-7

If Paul were more concerned with what the churches in Galatia thought of him, he would have been too afraid to give them the rebuke they needed for abandoning the gospel, and, in his own words, he wouldn’t be a servant of Christ. So Paul’s ability to call out the churches in Galatia demonstrates he is no longer enslaved to the fear of man and that his only focus is pleasing God, which must be the aim of every pastor.

The Snare of People-Pleasing

Proverbs 29:25 says, “The fear of man lays a snare, but whoever trusts in the Lord is safe.” People-pleasing is a snare for pastors for two reasons. First, people-pleasing reveals a problem in the pastor’s heart. When a pastor fears man, he values their opinions more than he does God’s. Second, people-pleasing is a snare because it will prohibit the pastor from telling people what they need to hear most: truth. People-pleasing is at odds with gospel ministry because it attempts to soften or remove the offense of the gospel to please man. 

It is understandable why this is a temptation for pastors. In today’s “cancel culture,” they too can be canceled for what they say. Additionally, many pastors face increasing pressure from the culture and on social media. But at the end of the day, the ultimate question here is whose opinion matters most? We will all give an account for our lives to God himself, and the pastor will also give an account of his flock. What a shame it would be for pastors to say on that day that they were afraid to tell their congregation the truth because they cared too much about what they thought of him. 

An Audience of One

In 2 Corinthians 5:9, Paul writes, “So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please Him.” A pastor ought to have the mindset that every time he gets in the pulpit, he has an audience of one. His aim must be to please and bring glory to God alone. This mindset will guard the pastor from people-pleasing and hold him accountable for speaking the truth in love (Eph. 4:15).

Inevitably, this will mean a problematic ministry for pastors because the gospel they proclaim is offensive. “We preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles.” (1 Cor. 1:23). But Jesus told us not to be surprised when the world hates us (1 John 3:13) or when they find our message offensive. Although they hated him first, they will certainly hate us as well (John 15:18). 

However, in the end, a world that hates us means nothing to us when we serve a God who has loved us the way God has in the gospel. And it is his love that will empower pastors to kill people-pleasing and faithfully live out their call to the glory of God.

Justin Lakemacher is a guest blogger for Cornfield Theology. He lives in the Minneapolis-St. Paul metro and is the Program Director at Redemption House.