As Christ-followers we have an others-focused attitude. This can be good or bad depending on your motivation. Paul wrestled with this in Galatians 1:10, “Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings, or of God? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ.”
When putting others first comes from a God-centered motivation, it’s a beautiful outflow of the sacrificial love we receive from God. It’s selfless and tempered by an equal desire to see ourselves and others respect and live by the will of God. This leads us and our small groups toward greater security in God’s love, and allows us to love others in a healthy way.
When putting others first comes from a people-pleasing motivation, however, it’s ultimately an outflow of insecurity. People-pleasing can be motivated by fear of rejection, low self-image, or even a mentality of unworthiness. These take your leadership off the rails because we try to earn people’s love and respect. Insecurity based in these false perceptions of ourselves propels us into unhealthy patterns of relationship.
Christian artist Lecrae once said, “If you live for people’s acceptance, you will die from their rejection.” Small groups are intentional places where we try our best to live out our Christian values. We’re called not to live by each other’s acceptance, but by God’s acceptance. Are you a people-pleasing small-group leader? Below you’ll find three ways to move into a healthy way of leading others:
One of the most common challenges that people-pleasing group leaders face is the non-unanimous decision. Every group makes decisions, and as a leader you will need to lead your group through the decision-making process. When everyone is in agreement, this is a breeze, but that doesn’t always happen.
If you have any people-pleasing tendencies, it can feel as if you’re stuck between a rock and a hard place. How do you move forward without disappointing someone—or multiple people—in your group? There are several ways to move forward in a situation like this.
First, rest in God’s leadership. Before your thoughts run away, remember Psalm 46:10: “Be still and know that I am God.” Regardless of the relative success of any given decision, the overall fruit of the small group is utterly dependent on God. A great verse to remember if planning makes you worry is Proverbs 16:9: “In their hearts humans plan their course, but the LORD establishes their steps.” It’s the group’s job to make a decision and plan a course, but the steps and actual growth that occurs is far more directed by God than by our plans.
Second, don’t feel limited by arbitrary constraints. Is your group stressing about figuring out childcare? Concerned about a future study? Unsure about letting a new person in? There’s no written rule that the decision has to be made by the end of the night, that the study has to be completed in the number of nights indicated on the packaging, or that some creative solution can’t be found along the way. When stress kicks in, we’re far more likely to think inside the box. When you sense yourself going inside the box, free yourself from the constraints and allow yourself—and your group—to think creatively about a solution.
Finally, one of the best strategies available for people-pleasing leaders is to lean into the power of the “provisional decision.” Whether deciding on a babysitter, different night of the week, or book to study, you can label it an experiment and encourage everyone to evaluate the pros and cons along the way. Identify a length of time you’ll try out the decision before reconvening to decide if you want to continue. Not only will this give you, the leader, an easy out if things don’t go well, it also invites every small group member into the process.