It is Difficult to Please Everyone

To what extent should one consider the opinion of the people around him or her? This question is rather painful and has its specific place in the life of the minister's family.

Teodora Nikolova has been a minister's wife for .r2 years. They have two children: their 11-year-old son, Angel, and 3-year-old daughter, Maria Verginia. Teodora is responsible for the Bulgarian issue of the Shepherdess called Hand in Hand, which comes out quarterly. She is also part of the children's ministry team

At noon, in the scorching sun, a father, his son, and a donkey were walking along the dusty streets of Keshan. The father was sitting on the donkey and the son was leading it. "The poor child," said a pass­erby. "It's so difficult for him to walk with his small legs beside the donkey. How can that lazy man sit on the don­key and see his child so tired of walk­ing?" The father took the criticism very much to heart. At the next corner he jumped off the donkey and lifted the child to sit on the back of the animal. But soon another passer-by said indig­nantly,"What a shame! This little slug­gard is sitting like a king on his throne, while his poor father is running beside." The boy was hurt by what he heard and asked his father to sit on the don­key just behind him. "Have you ever seen such a nuisance?" a veiled woman reproached them. "How can they be so cruel to this animal! The back of the poor donkey can hardly endure the weight, and this little lazybones and his father are lying there comfortably as if on a sofa. Poor creature!" The father and son looked at each other and, with­out saying a word, dismounted from the donkey. They had hardly taken a few steps beside the donkey when a stranger ridiculed them: "Thank heav­ens I am not so stupid! Have you taken this donkey for a walk or what? It doesn't serve you at all. It isn't even carrying one of you!?!" The father took some straw and put it in the donkey's mouth. Then he laid his hand on the boy's shoulder and said, "Whatever we do, someone is always displeased with us. I think we'd better decide ourselves what is good for us.

This oriental story, told by Nosrat Peseshkyan in his book The Merchant and the Parrot, asks the question: To what extent should one consider the opinion of the people around him or her? This question is rather painful and has its specific place in the life of the minister's family.

How can we serve the church without being too self-confident, being true to ourselves while paying attention to other's opinions and yet not feeling com­pelled to conform to it, and at the same time not being so dependent on our view that we always conform our service and behavior to it?

As a minister's wife, I often receive calls or have conversations in which church members advise me to suggest my hus­band to do this or that, to talk with this or that man about this or that problem, to preach on this or that topic, not to take the risk of doing this or that, to summon the church council to discuss a particular problem, to change some things in the church or to stop the changes from taking place. Some advice is really valuable, and it is a blessing to take it into consideration. But other ad­vice is totally contradictory and incon­sistent. In most cases, people offer their ideas in an insistent way, thinking that the church's destiny depends on their opinion. They not only want to be heard, they want to see immediate action taken in the direction of their expectations. Is not the minister on his post to serve the church members and solve their prob­lems? As you know, it is not easy to re­sist such pressure.

So why do we sometimes give in to it? There may be many different reasons. Sometimes it might be insecurity. We feel insecure in a new church environment, and we do not have enough informa­tion about the problems and relation­ships there. Then comes the temptation to take into consideration the directions that someone insistently gives us. We even have an excuse to calm down our con­science if it turns out that the decisions we make are not the best. We did not know the situation, we were misled, that was the only possibility we could grab.

Another reason for conforming to people's opinions can be the fear of mak­ing enemies. One of the worst things in the minister's service is to have enemies who hinder his work. That often puts us in a lot of trouble and creates tension in our family life. Why must we tease the people when we express disagreement with them? Won't we win followers and support if we just please them?

The desire to be liked by everyone can be another reason. It is easy to win the sympathy of a small circle of people. Every minister, no matter how mediocre he may be, has his followers. But wouldn't it be great if everyone liked you? And if you truly serve and pay attention to everyone, they will like you. It will be easier for them to follow you, and it will be easier for you to motivate them for work. But the desire to be liked by everyone can be a sign of immaturity and low self-esteem, and it is an egotistic motive for serving others.

A fourth reason can be the awkward­ness of expressing disagreement or, even worse, the lack of personal opinion in combination with a wrong understand­ing of the minister's service in the church. There are ministers who may be flat­tered by the thought that they have never expressed their personal position in the work with their church. They believe that their responsibility as leaders is to main­tain the status quo, to accept ideas that others give them but not to actively in­fluence church life. Such a position can be caused by a fear that the ideas we have supported might fail, or just because we lack of ideas and position.

Why is it wrong to give in to the pres­sure of others? Before answering this question, we should once again under­line the fact that tt4re are and always will be many valuable and useful opin­ions and positions which people around us will express. It is unwise and presumptuous to think that as ministers, we are those who must teach others, and that no one can teach us as far as our ministry is concerned.

The Bible tells us that our personal development is closely connected to our readiness to accept advice (Proverbs 19:27). It describes the unwillingness and impossibility to accept such as a sign of recklessness and pride (Proverbs 12:15; 13:10; Ecclesiastes 4:13) leading to fail­ure (Proverbs 11:14; 15:22).

But the Bible also warns that there might be advice that is dangerous for us: "Cease, my son, to hear the instruc­tions that causeth you to err from the words of knowledge" (Proverbs 19:27, KJ V). We should be ready to decline the pressure exercised on us, especially when the perspective is rejecting decisions that are wise and good for the church. Some­times to distinguish between these two, we will need a lot of sagacity which God is ready to give us whenever we ask for it.

Trying to take into consideration all the views in your service is an impossible task. Those who try to do that will soon realize that they are victims of an enchanted circle from which there is no escape; there will always be people who are not content. That can lead to constant worry caused by a feeling of guilt because you have not com­pleted your work and a feeling of dissatis­faction because you have not reached your goals. But besides being an impossible task, yielding to outer pressure can be danger­ous for the minister and the church. When the minister is more concerned with how to please the church members, he/she takes the risks of being unfaithful to God. This way he/she misses the opportunity to develop as a mature person and leader. The church needs a minister who knows what is right and how to do it, not some­one who always hesitates and is constantly influenced by people.

Ellen White writes in Special Messages for Ministers, p. 271-273: "People who conform to others and want the others to think instead of them are not able to take responsibilities." Today, there are men who could be open-minded, wise men, reliable men, but who are not be­cause they have been taught to follow someone else's plans. They allow others to tell them what to do, and this is why they haven't developed their minds.

If you constantly conform to others, you will not be able to develop your own individuality, you will not know who you are; in fact, God will not be able to use you sufficiently, because you will be more attentive to people than to Him.

"You were bought at a price; do not become slaves of men" (1 Corinthians 7:23, NKJV). "Am I now trying to win the approval of men or of God? If I was still trying to please men, I would not be a servant of Christ" (Galatians 1:10, NKJV).

Here is some advice:

1. The work you do in the church is God's deed, not yours. Do not be afraid that someon, will spoil it. God Himself can defend you. Do not be afraid of the bad consequences for you when you have acted with conscience and you are faithful to God. "In God will trust; I will not be afraid. What can mortal men do to me?" (Psalm 56:4, NKJV).

2. Get used to the thought that not everyone will like you. Do not be so con­ceited. Your efforts to win the sympa­thies of people at any price will be in vain. And your goal is not to please people but to do God's will. God, not man, has called you. You'd better di­rect your efforts and attention towards loving the people in the church, no matter what their attitude is toward you,

3.Learn not to agree with everything. It is a whole new art. To disagree and say "No" is not an expression of dis­respect.

4. Know that you are a leader in your church. You are there because God wanted you to be there. God wanted you to lead. Do not hesitate to do that in a brave, but at the same time, ten­der .say. Your church needs a leader, not someone who is easily influenced and manipulated.

Only when we build a strong identity, can make decisions ourselves, and hold onto our position, will we be able to con­sider the advice and opinions of others without the danger of risking God's deed.

Teodora Nikolova has been a minister's wife for .r2 years. They have two children: their 11-year-old son, Angel, and 3-year-old daughter, Maria Verginia. Teodora is responsible for the Bulgarian issue of the Shepherdess called Hand in Hand, which comes out quarterly. She is also part of the children's ministry team