Approval Rating: The danger of social dependency

Most forms of leadership and success nurse from the breast of popularity.13 4 Baby Goats 3 (8)

Democratic Presidents achieve their office and power by acquiring the most votes. Movie stars, musicians, and artists of all flavors bet their futures on notoriety. Business tycoons and navigators of the corporate ladders depend upon the favors of those above them as well as the marshaled support of those below them.

As social creatures, we all need the approval of others. However, as reviewed in Claiming Christ, when Christian leaders do what they do to please others, they no longer remain servants of Christ!

The very social dependency upon which most of this world revolves is the very same prostitution that can disqualify Christians. There is a whole history as to why the Apostle Paul felt it necessary to contrast his ministry against that of others within the church who apparently conducted themselves with an eye towards gaining the approval of fellow believers. Without detailing the whole context, here is his view of ministry-for-approval:

“Am I now trying to win the approval of men, or of God? Or am I trying to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a servant of Christ” (Gal 1:10).

The simple fact is that the genuine gospel of Christ contains inflammatory and difficult truths—so much so, that Paul questions the Galatian believers about him having become an “enemy for having told the truth”.

Throughout Scripture, the most common dichotomy between true and false prophets involves this approval factor. Faithful teachers preach the truth, no matter the consequence or reception by others. False preachers are more concerned about keeping their job and often mask their pursuit of success and power by claiming a heightened degree of gentleness and sensitivity to the plight of others—as if that excuses scriptural obedience.

It is true that we are also called to seek the good of others, and in that sense to please others. The problem, is a matter of motivation. Christians are called to love others, but to seek to please God. Whenever we confuse our ministry with needing the acceptance and approval of fellow Christians, we adulterate our pure devotion to Christ.

The first century Pharisee’s were renowned for their prowess at garnering attention to their ministries and claims of righteousness. In more recent times, an elder defended his church’s reasons for not using the scriptural guidelines for ordination, because if they did, then they would have no elders to run the church.

Many pastors struggle with the tension between teaching what the Bible says verses the reality in many churches that if they lose the majority support of their congregation, they will get dismissed. Sadly, I have seen many examples where truth becomes the Cinderella of step-ministers.

One husband retorted, “that is a serious matter and it is true, but I could never say that to my wife.” A top televangelist responded to a question regarding why he avoids talking about sin to his audience with the motive: “people just want to be encouraged”.

In another case, I read the account of one of the most influential theologians alive today who defended his early portrayal of Jesus from the synoptic gospels while avoiding the inclusion of John’s gospel. His stated reason was that in Christian academia, few scholars respect the historical reliability of John’s gospel, and so if he had used that book, no one would have read his work. Now that he is popular, he was asked if he would redo his portrait of the historical Jesus, and he said no. His popularity has come at a price, and he cannot go back.

Youth director, Pastor, Sunday school teacher, parent, student, paid and unpaid Christians…Why do you do what you do?

When facing conflict between truth and desire, are your decisions influenced by what others think? None of us are immune to such longings for acceptance, but do you realize that mixing Christian service with the desire to win even partial favor of your audience will void your usefulness to the Lord?

Of course, speaking truth can cost you your job. It can leave you feeling very alone. It can even get you killed by those who think they are serving God (according to Jesus own warning).

It is time to count the cost. Remember, in spite of what it may look like around you, there are seven thousand who have not bowed the knee to Baal. You too can place your ministry, destiny, and needs in the hands of God rather than the voting committee.

From whom do you desire to hear the approving words, “Well done my good and faithful servant”?


About grahamAlive

Christian Author
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2 Responses to Approval Rating: The danger of social dependency

  1. Richard Elfers says:

    Kevin, I agree with your message. I do have one caveat, though. Christ grew in favor with God and man as a child. As I found as a teacher: “Students don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” Caring about people draws them to you, and you to them.

    While your message is correct, it needs to be tempered with the fact that if we are living Godly in Christ, we will be loved by fellow Christians. How else can we live in harmony with others in the church?

    Thoughtfully in Christ, Rich

  2. grahamAlive says:

    Yes, this is not an easy issue to identify. That is why I tried to clarify it in the post as follows:

    “It is true that we are also called to seek the good of others, and in that sense to please others. The problem, is a matter of motivation. Christians are called to love others, but to seek to please God.”

    The statement that Jesus’ grew in favor with men does not reference either his motive or the preponderant view of whether or not he “pleased” people. I would suggest that the Cross demonstrates what most people felt about him.

    As far as evaluating our motives according to what other “Christians” think, I believe that is the very issue Paul was addressing. In context, he was not talking about non-believers, but others in the church. Unfortunately, speaking the truth is not very popular.

    If anything, I may have tempered my comments too much. This is what Jesus had to say to believers in God about this issue:

    “Woe to you when everyone speaks well of you, for that is how their ancestors treated the false prophets.”

    If our motive is Christ-like love for others, then pleasing them is not an issue; it is when our effort to please others is motivated by how it might benefit ourselves that sin enters the picture. That is what is meant by engaging in a culture of men-pleasers.

    Hopefully this will clarify the angle I believe Scripture takes on this issue. Thanks for your thoughtful input.

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