Seeking to Be Liked (Chasing After an Elusive Prize)

Have you ever tried to catch a butterfly?

A butterfly is elusive. So is chasing after the elusive prize of being liked by all.


M. Craig Barnes has written a very helpful and encouraging book, The Pastor As Minor Poet . This book can be encouraging to any minister (regardless of this person’s specific role) who works in congregational ministry. So many ministers today are confused about their own identity as a minister. Far too often, the competing identities only leave the minister confused and bewildered. Pastoral ministry is then reduced to what Stanley Hauerwas calls, “a quivering mass of availability.” This self-identity is often rooted in the desperate chase after an elusive prize, the quest to be liked.

Barnes describes what he often sees in the Doctor of Ministry students in the seminary where he teaches:

All of them have been at it long enough to collect wounds, and many have not healed well. Some of the wounds came from the congregation. Some were self-inflicted. For too long many have been dancing on the borders of total burnout, trying to fulfill the contradictory expectations of the congregation and their own expectations about success. None of them wants to be remembered as the pastor who was there when the church closed its doors. So they are compelled to succeed, which means they have to do something to keep people coming in those doors. But here’s the rub: Whenever they succeed in meeting the expectations of either the older parishioners or the desired visitors, pastors feel deep in their souls that they are simply con artists. They hate having to be whatever is necessary to keep the old guard reassured and the seekers enticed. They learn to be strong but sensitive, profound but playful, prophetic but consensus-building, always available with an open door but always in touch with the sacred — whatever is necessary to engender approval, no matter how inherently inconsistent, all for the elusive prize of being liked. (p. 11)


What is your own experience with chasing to be liked? How can this serve to damage a person’s ministry?

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6 thoughts on “Seeking to Be Liked (Chasing After an Elusive Prize)

  1. I have spent too much of my life–and even through this Christmas holiday–on vacation even–being sick to my stomach over the stuff people don’t like. And I do mean sick. There is always a contingent whom you can’t seem to please. At its worse, this is paralyzing. I have been here 12 years now and some of those years have been highly productive. I am trying to reach a place where my goal–a daily goal–is to just be a blessing to somebody…

    I am rambling, but thankful for your tweet that lead me to read this blog.

    • Les, so many of us can relate to what you are saying. I too spent far too much time and energy concerned with a few who are so unhappy (while often neglecting people who are maturing and also need ministry). I finally came to a place, Les, where I began to put more energy into managing myself and my responses to such people. This helped — a lot! However, this is something that I constantly have to constantly be attentive to.

  2. Two years into “the ministry” I realized this very unfortunate situation was at play in God’s call on my life to please Him. Having to please those who pay your wages, at that point, was just one of many bad realities I saw at work in the hired pastoral system. God opened my eyes to see that I could serve Him with greater freedom and more eternal reward by giving up the hired system and serve for free. In 1 Cor. 9, Paul says he would rather die than give up the boast that he ministered for free. He sites freedom and reward for refusing the right to be paid. This is also taught in Acts 20 & 2Thes.3.
    God gave me a job and I determined I would never be held hostage by anything other than obedience to Christ. As a “layman” I served in almost every ministry in the church, but realized I was still serving in a severely broken institutionalized system and everyone says it’s all normal. No one wanted truth to trump their traditions, not even the Pastoral staff. Now that I moved beyond institutionalized faith completely I experience complete freedom to only follow Christ among saints who have no power plays to make, and have confidence that God’s reward is much better than a paycheck from men.

    • Tim, your story could be repeated by many others. It is so important that wherever a minister serves that he can do so with integrity. I think that is very possible while being financially supported by a group of believers. However, when a check becomes a focal point in a ministry (perhaps the fear of no longer ministering there) then that ministry has been reduced to something less than a calling. Thanks so much, Tim.