I am going to use this place as my confessional booth for a moment.
I care deeply, too deeply, what other people think of me. I want people to think I am smart. I want people to think I have it all together. I want people to like me or, rather, to love me.
This natural tendency of my heart is continually calling and accusing and pushing me.
My need for approval in ministry
This need for approval is a part, though I don’t know if I am cognizant how big a part, of the reason I am in the ministry. It shouldn’t be a reason why I do what I do, but it is.
In pastoral ministry, we use the vocabulary of calling and vocation, and rightly so. To be faithful in the long-term of ministry, one must have a calling from God and sense a vocation to the work, but my guess is I am not alone in seeing many aspects of my ministry as ways to fill the need of approval from others.
Don’t get me wrong. I feel a call from God on my life, and pastoring this great church God has given me is definitely my vocation. He has called me and equipped me to love and lead his people.
I am in ministry first and foremost because of the call of God on my life, but there is also a big part of my heart that loves what I do because of the close relationship with others and the love I find in these relationships.
These relationships fill a need in my life that is mostly good and right. We are meant to know the love and encouragement of the church, but sometimes this need for approval shows itself in spiritually unhealthy ways.
It takes a special kind of person to get up week in and week out and claim to speak truthfully and authoritatively from God’s word. Pastoral ministry is filled with personal relationships, and, in those relationships, there are many opportunities to be patted on the back.
I don’t know all the reasons why my heart needs this approval or why these pats on the back seem to bring so much joy — there is much I could examine in my own heart — but they do.
Naturally, you can see how this can be a problem for one called to minister to the people of God where we are to help lead the church to repentance and transformation. Seeking the approval of man comes into direct conflict with rightly preaching the word of God.
So, I must continually check my motives and my heart and seek to be faithful to my calling and pleasing to God above seeking to be pleasing to man. This is my constant struggle.
But, the truth is that there is danger for all of us in seeking the approval of man to satisfy our souls because man cannot ultimately satisfy or approve of us. We need the approval and love of our Father in heaven, and, in the gospel, we find it.
God’s pleasure in us
The proclamation of the gospel that in Christ I am approved, I am loved and I am accepted, is the truth countering my unhealthy need for the love of others.
In my baptism, as in the baptism of Jesus, God looks down on me in Christ and proclaims, “This is my son in whom I am well pleased.” The approval of man I long for finds its ultimate fulfillment in the satisfaction of my heart in Christ. I am his and he is mine.
In Jesus, I am welcomed. In Christ, the Father is well-pleased with me. It is not based on anything I have done, unlike so much of the approval of man, but based solely on what Christ has done for me. The love of God is sure. I can rest in the pleasure the Father has with me in Christ.
It is out of this sure love I can minister most effectively. It is out of this sure pleasure and acceptance that I am made truly whole.
Maybe you are like me. Maybe you struggle with needing to know and hear the approval of others. For whatever reason this may be true, you can know this longing finds its fulfillment in Jesus.
The approval of man proves fickle. The approval of God, which is ours by our faith in Christ, proves faithful. Trust Jesus and hear the declaration of God over your life: “This is my son, this is my daughter, in whom I am well pleased.”
Quit seeking the approval of man because in Jesus you are loved and accepted by God. I remind myself of this truth every day.
This is my confession.
Zac Harrel is pastor of First Baptist Church in Gustine, Texas.