I’m a Pastor…and a People Pleaser.

In this excerpt from Luke, Martha is upset because she isn’t receiving help at home. This reading reminds me of my family gatherings during my childhood. There was no communication, no delegation—just codependent, resentful “people pleasers” grumbling away in the kitchen while the rest of the family was distracted elsewhere.

At age 29, as a client in a drug and alcohol treatment center, I kept hearing the same phrase: “I’m a people pleaser.” “You are people pleasing.” “That is people pleasing.” This was a brand new concept to me. I had been around this behavior my whole life, but I had no idea what the phrase meant. Why wouldn’t you want to make other people happy? I just didn’t understand what this had to do with my addiction and mental health.

"Do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself?"

Denial is a recurring theme in my story of addiction and mental health recovery. I completed 5 months of treatment in 2010 and didn’t think I was much of a “people pleaser.” In my mind, if you “people pleased,” you took on the bulk of the work, always said yes, apologized when you shouldn’t, pretended to agree with things, feared conflict, and wanted everyone to like you. With little self-awareness, I thought I was immune to “people pleasing.” Now, as I reflect back on the spring and summer of 2010 when I lived in a residential treatment center, I was people pleasing left and right. Looking back, upon completing treatment, I jumped into a decade straight of people pleasing.

I didn’t think I was much of a "people pleaser."

One of the most difficult points of discernment as a pastor is assessing the motivation behind my vocation. Pastors have amorphous job descriptions, and many of us manage our own schedules. Every ministry position I have ever taken has followed a predecessor who rarely took days off or vacation. I don’t blame the majority of ministers out there who struggle to fit in time off. Ministry is a juggling act. Pastors want to be well-liked, and many of us struggle with people pleasing.

It’s no shocker that lots of Christians think their faith means always saying yes, apologizing for nothing, pretending to agree just to keep the peace, avoiding arguments, and trying to please everyone. In those times, we might come forward with a petition like Martha’s: “God! Why do I have to do all the work myself?”

Nine times out of ten, I become overwhelmed and overworked because I have been trying to please everyone. I’ve said yes too many times. I’ve over-volunteered. I have jumped at the chance to say yes. I have problem-solved issues and complications that were not mine to deal with.

If you think you people please... don't beat yourself up!

If the concept of people pleasing resonates with you, if you’ve found yourself seeking approval from others, if this reflection has prompted you to reconsider why you habitually say yes, there’s no need to hang your head in shame. Everybody people pleases in some form or another. Abstaining from people pleasing is likely impossible. My hope is this reflection sparks a little awareness about the motivation behind your actions

Make sure to comment below and join the conversation!

Seth Perry

Seth Perry

ELCA Pastor -Devotional Blogger- Mental Health Recovery Educator-Living Well with Bipolar Type 1


14 Responses

  1. I acknowledge that I am a workaholic but have never considered myself a people pleaser. I work because I like to…to please myself more than anyone else. To be honest, I probably worked (at my paid employment) far more than the average person because I preferred an interesting and stimulating job to staying at home cooking and cleaning. I was already a rebel going to work when my children were still young toddlers, not because we needed the money but because I felt trapped cooking and cleaning at home. (It was the 1960s when most women waited until their kids started school to go to work.) I loved my work, still do.
    I have no problem saying no. I am an effective delegator and try to address potential conflicts head-on. But one thing you said caught my attention. You said: “I have problem-solved issues and complications that were not mine to deal with.” Wow! That’s me. I find myself easily lured into situations where a problem has arisen that either poses what I see as an interesting challenge or seems to me to be easily resolved when others are struggling. Of course, problems generally aren’t easily resolved and so I get involved with things that consume my time and energy when I really didn’t have to be involved in the first place. Especially now, in retirement, I need to remember to focus my energies on what’s most meaningful. That means steering clear of problems that aren’t really mine to deal with. Thank you.

    1. You’re welcome!

      I like that you said “focus my energies on what’s most meaningful.” I still struggle with people pleasing to this day. The important thing is to go easy on myself. I’m a work in progress.

      Thank you for your thoughtful input!

  2. EXACTLY! Such beauty in your humbling words. Thanks Seth! Take heart in your ability to discern and express yourself so deeply

    In Christ;,
    Steve B

  3. Pastor Seth, your devotion is so true! I was a ‘people pleaser’, too, having grown up in a dysfunctional family.

  4. I like Steve’s comment “Anything in its extreme is not what God wants or is even healthy.” And your word “Moderation” We all have those different levels of people pleasing from easy, to moderate and yes, the difficult ones too. We all want to be the people pleasers and to always do it with a full heart. If our joy in doing so falls behind, then we need to gather ourselves, breathe and listen to His words.

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People pleasing doesn't seem detrimental. Why wouldn't you want to make other people happy? Have you ever considered the cost?