Pastors and the Lure of Popularity

Steve Camp posted some thoughts on a wonderful quote from the good bishop of Liverpool J.C. Ryle:

"Young men, I want you all to be free from this bondage. I want each of you to care nothing about man's opinion, when the path of duty is clear."

Here are a few of my thoughts:

I'll be honest. I am a degenerate people pleaser. That is, I love the approval of man. Lest you think I am trying to compliment myself in an underhanded way like saying that my greatest weakness is I care too much and work too hard then think again. People pleasing is nothing less than idolatry. It places the approval of man above the approval of God.

One of the symtoms of this sin is a tendancy to lack courage and the inability to say "NO". I think about this a lot because being a pastor lends itself to this kind of fear. It is hard to forget that those a pastor is called to lead are the very ones who employ him. I am often given the wise counsel, "Todd, you can't please everyone so don't try," and, "Sometimes you just have to say 'no'". And, of course I can't help but think in those moments, "Yeah, until you are the one I say 'no' to."

I hope this does not sound cynical. Experience however has taught me that the cost to pastors of disappointing someone is extremely high. Pastors face a decision: do they lead with courage or do they do what is safe? For a pastor with a wife, children, and a mortgage it is very tempting to go the safe route.

But in spite of the cost of caring more about God's approval than that of man it is always the "safer" thing to act against our impulse toward self-preservation. This does not mean that we ought to have a careless disregard for the feelings of people. Far from it. But loving people well always involves telling them the truth. Sometimes this means telling them "no." It always means proclaiming God's Word in all its fullness and leading according to that Word even when (perhaps especially when) the direction is unpopular.