No well-adjusted person likes to displease people. But allowing the approval of others to unduly shape what we do and why we do it can be harmful both to our sense of self and to the life of the organizations and groups of which we are a part. This is a particular danger for pastors of churches. In many cases, pastors are hired by the local congregation, and as a volunteer organization, the effectiveness of pastors rests on the goodwill and support of church members. In addition, church boards may be peopled by those who view their position as a personal fiefdom of power and influence that pastors may be reluctant to challenge.
Charles Stone’s book is based on research conducted by Lifeway Ministries with thousands of pastors. He integrates research findings, biblical material and knowledge from the world of neuroscience to help pastors understand the dangers of people-pleasing, the tendencies in one’s own life to do so, and strategies to deal with these tendencies. He contends that our tendencies to people please are driven by the emotional parts of our brains and that when we grow in emotional maturity, we are less apt to fall into this pitfall.
Stone advocates a seven step approach to this growth, summarized in the idea of becoming a PRESENT leader. This consists first of “Probing your past”–discovering the past patterns in your life, your family and your church that shape your emotional responses. This is followed by “Revisiting your values”, so that these serve as the basis of responses when you are tempted to people-please. Third, he advocates “Exposing your triangles” so that we understand both the normal triangles of relationships in our lives and avoid being triangled, a situation in which we become tempted to fix an unhealthy relationship between two others. “Search your gaps” involves recognizing the particular kinds of people-pleasing patterns to which you are most prone. This is followed by learning to “Engage your critics” by learning calm presence with anxious others. Sixth, you “Nurture your soul through mindfulness”, which involves becoming fully attentive to God and one’s situations through biblical meditation and practices of mindful attentiveness. Finally, he urges “Taming your reactivity”, the ways one might keep their cool under pressure, avoiding the disastrous outbursts that make conflict resolution more difficult.
The book concludes with an interesting exploration of the danger of being a placebo pastor, looking at the early use of “Placebo” in Chaucer as a “yes man” who made others feel better. Stone advocates for living to please God in faithfulness to one’s call.
Three appendices include a seven day devotional resource to included biblical mindfulness, a study guide for using this book with a board or leadership team, and a description of the research methodology undergirding the book.
This book is part of the InterVarsity Press Praxis series and is indeed a very practical resource for pastoral practice. It asks but does not answer the important question of one’s values in pastoral work, something hopefully shaped by one’s sense of calling. In this regard, I might commend Eugene Peterson’s many books, but especially his Working the Angles: The Shape of Pastoral Integrity and his Five Smooth Stones for Pastoral Work. These might be helpful if one struggles to “revisit one’s values” as Stone recommends.