By Alexander W. G. Seidel

In my many years as a church leader, planter, board member, or plain old attendee, it is remarkable how many of the leaders I’ve worked with struggle with an inordinate need for approval. I include myself in this struggle. I think we would all agree that it is nice to be liked, respected and affirmed for a job well done. But life becomes fraught with peril if we enter our vocation to fulfill a deep need for approval. This is especially problematic for those that choose the vocation of pastor.

I am speaking here about church leaders who start out with the best of intentions and perhaps even an authentic call to ministry but end up slowly getting drunk on the attention they receive from being a pastor. Years ago, I recall speaking with a pastor that had recently been defrocked due to a moral failure. He recounted to me the deep sense of call he felt when entering the ministry and how, while at the helm of a large church, he noticed himself getting fed by all the attention of the congregation. It felt good to be needed. He noted how he felt himself getting addicted to this attention. His story was filled with other addictions as well, but this one all but destroyed him. More sadly, given the inability of the church to handle his deep brokenness with grace and restoration, he turned his back on his faith. I still grieve for this man.

Suffice it to say, my pastor friend had many deep pains going back into his family system. The approval he never got at home, he sought out in all manner of illusory ways. Even the noble role of a pastor becomes illusory when it becomes the main avenue towards unfulfilled approval. In one group (and tradition) I was part of, many of the emergent leaders were young men of divorced parents. The group became a place of approval, almost father-like due to its very patriarchal flavor. The immaturity of that culture contradicted the doctrinal knowledge that was expressed within it. Who do you suppose was attracted to this church?

An inordinate need for approval, expressed in any way, impacts the congregational culture. Rather than expressing Christ embodied in the community as catalyzed by the pastor, the leader seeking approval becomes the object of everyone’s affections. This leads either to spiritual immaturity or, with an authoritarian pastor, a legalistic culture. Neither flavor will lead to healthy church growth, spiritual maturity or, longevity.

As you consider these ideas, some questions might help you understand if the inordinate need for approval is your struggle:

– When people talk about why they go to your church, do they frequently say it’s because of you, your sermons, etc.?
– What type of people are you attracting to your church? More importantly, are you the one attracting them?
– Are people generally growing in maturity spiritually and otherwise as a result of the general discipleship and ministry of the church, or are only a few growing due to largely your efforts?
– Does your church have pathways for people to discover their gifts and engage in ministry (replication of leaders) or does it run on the plug-a-person-where-there’s-a-need method? If the latter, how much might you be stifling congregational spiritual growth to keep yourself in the limelight?

We hope you honestly consider these questions because the struggle described here is not uncommon. If you would like to know more, or would like support in escaping the approval trap, please contact us. We’d love to encourage you in your journey.

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