The Tyranny of Approval

“Nevertheless, many even of the authorities believed in him, but for fear of the Pharisees they did not confess it, so that they would not be put out of the synagogue; for they loved the glory that comes from man more than the glory that comes from God.” (John 12:42-43)

The struggle is real. As church/ministry leaders, we are constantly challenged to determine whether our allegiance will be to God, or to people. The temptation to appease others, be approved by others, and be liked by others is ever present. After all, we like our churches packed and our people happy. But is it even possible to preach, teach, and live out the Gospel without offending at least some in our congregation? I think not!

There was a time when Jesus’ approval rating was off the charts. Huge crowds followed him, drawn in by miracles, intrigued by a Rabbi who taught with authority, and hopeful that Jesus might be the one to restore Israel to her rightful place. But after Jesus referred to himself as the “Bread of Life,” and further explained the significance of what he was conveying, many of his followers turned away, and Jesus’ approval ratings began to tumble.

We tend to think of the temptation of Christ as a singular event that took place over 40 days in a desert. But in his humanity – Jesus was fully human, after all – is it possible that Jesus was most vulnerable to temptation not when he was alone and isolated, but when his popularity had peaked, when he was surrounded by adoring crowds, when his approval rating was at its apex?

As it relates to Jesus, we can only speculate on the answer. But as it relates to ourselves, my belief (and experience) is that we are most vulnerable to pleasing people over God when we feel most appreciated, most approved, most liked. The struggle is real.

And to be fair, there is nothing inherently wrong with being appreciated, approved, and liked – provided that you are, with the utmost integrity, serving and leading to glorify God rather than to receive glory for yourself.

So …

Put on the armor of God daily.

Make prayer a priority rather than an afterthought.

Covenant with your leaders to lead together in the unity of Christ, with a shared commitment to glorify God rather than please people.

Find at least a few people that will hold your arms up when the battle is intense.

Discern and define values for your church or ministry that when followed will glorify God above all else.

Work to create a culture where change is normal and ongoing rather than exceptional and intermittent.

Be kind to yourself. The struggle is real.

 “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.” (Col. 3:23-24)