Do you ever watch television shows like “American Idol?” What about shows like “The Great Race” or “Survivor?” Personally, I’m tired of all these “reality” shows where you have to make deals with people so you can eventually rip them off, take the money and run.
I’m also weary of watching untalented people who think they are the next American Idol or superstar. I’m no musician, but I can tell if someone is singing on pitch. Some of the folks who audition for these shows would make Chinese water torture sound appealing. Does it cause you to pause and laugh at how these untalented people react when someone like Simon Cowell gets brutally honest? I’ve wanted a chance to be that honest about some of the preaching (or what they call preaching) on religious TV.
Why are these people shocked? They can’t believe they aren’t going to be a star. Their momma told them they were great. They sound great in the shower. Why can’t the judges see the talent that lies buried beneath them? If they only had a shot at the big time, they know they would get better.
I know you are thinking the same thing I’m thinking. “I’d never put myself through that kind of public humiliation.” In reality, we do. We perform hoping that people will like us. We can be like a little puppy—we like to be liked. That’s a sad motivation for living.
Paul writing to the Galatians says, “For am I now seeking the favor of men, or of God? Or am I striving to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a bondâ€‘servant of Christ” (vs. 10). That is a motivation statement. It’s a defining statement. It’s one every preacher should ask himself. Why do you do what you do?
There was a time in my life when I was obsessed with what people thought about me. I worried in elementary school about being called “four eyes” because I had to start wearing glasses in the fourth grade. I worried about making the team in Little League. My dad was a great athlete, but I wasn’t. I worried about a girl I had a crush on in Middle School. Did she like me? Was I too weird? She rejected me when the starting quarterback asked her out.
Here’s a lesson I’ve learned and continue to learn. It’s invaluable if we are going to live with a God-centered purpose in our lives. IF YOU ASSESS YOUR LIFE BY WHAT OTHERS THINK, YOU’LL NEVER WALK IN FREEDOM. The truth is what God thinks about you. That’s all that matters. Your enemies will never be pleased. Your friends will be too nice to you. Only what God thinks and what God says truly matter.
Yet we have hall fallen into the familiar trap of trying to please people. We’ve done it since preschool. We want to play with the right kids. We do it when we go off to college. We want to be in the right dorm, on the right floor. We want to join the right fraternities and sororities. We want to make sure they invite us to spend hundreds of dollars to get that book that says we are now in “Who’s Who.”
Preachers and ministers do it. We pad our resume. We embrace the “look good at all cost” mindset. We want the bigger church, the perks, the recognition of our denomination and peers. We want to be called on to pray at every barn-raising, goat roping, hog calling and business opening. It means we’re valuable, important.
There was a season when I forgot my roots and what my mentors had taught me. I was caught up in how my peers viewed me, what they thought about me and my ministry. I was sidetracked by the desire to have a successful ministry. I have to constantly remind myself of something I heard Roger Breland say, “God didn’t call me to be famous; he called me to be faithful.” I remember hearing Vance Havner say, “You don’t have to chase key men when you know the One who holds the keys.” My life verse is 2 Corinthians 4:5, “For we preach not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord and ourselves as your bondservant.” I have to be honest: being a bondservant isn’t cool. It’s a whole lot more appealing to our flesh to be nominated for some position, to wear a new suit to the convention and to be applauded by our peers.
Augustine asked, “Do you wish to be great? Then begin by being.” Right after I came to Sherwood as the Senior Pastor, I was asked to serve on a “significant” board in my denomination. I have to admit, the devil began to whisper in my ear, “You’re on your way. You’re going to be a leader in this convention. They see what you have to offer.” It was nothing more than an appeal to my flesh and pride.
Steve Brown in his excellent book A Scandalous Freedom writes, “Religious professionals have to wear an exceptional number of masks to keep their jobs. . . . My intimate knowledge of masks and the damage they do gives me an insight. . . . The masks we wear bind us to a role that kills the very freedom Christ would give his own. . . . When we go through life as actors and actresses, it may feel better and more comfortable for a while; but ultimately it isn’t better, and the comfort is false. There is a great danger that life—real life—will pass us by and we’ll die, never having lived.”
When faced with opportunities or opposition, we each have a choice to make. Are we going to please men or God? Are we trying to get ahead or are we dying to self. When I came back to the center of the mark, I realized that I could not compromise on some things. While serving on the denominational board, we were dealing with issues on which I could not be silent. I was told by my committee chairman that I needed to sit down and just go along. Within six months I was labeled as “the rebel,” “a renegade” and “a trouble maker” because I asked why we were supporting people who didn’t believe the Word of God.
Read carefully Galatians 1:10-12 from The Message translation: “Do you think I speak this strongly in order to manipulate crowds? Or curry favor with God? Or get popular applause? If my goal was popularity, I wouldn’t bother being Christ’s slave. Know thisCI am most emphatic here, friendsCthis great Message I delivered to you is not mere human optimism. I didn’t receive it through the traditions, and I wasn’t taught it in some school. I got it straight from God, received the Message directly from Jesus Christ.”
John MacArthur says, “‘If I were still trying to please men’ refers to the days when he [Paul] did seek to please his fellow Jews by zealously persecuting Christians, assuming he was being faithful to God while concentrating his effort on favoring traditional Judaism. But in light of what he taught and the way he had lived since his conversion, the idea that he was still trying to please men was preposterous. If that were true, he would not be a bondâ€‘servant of Christ. He had surrendered his life entirely to the lordship of Jesus Christ, and that surrender had cost him dearly in human terms. At the end of this epistle Paul reminds his readers, ‘For I bear on my body the brandâ€‘marks of Jesus’ (6:17). Some of those marks he had received in Galatia, where, in the city of Lystra, he was once left for dead after being stoned (Acts 14:19). Suffering at the hands of people who were not pleased with him was a common occurrence for him and was the price of honoring God.”
Think about this in light of 1 Thessalonians 2:4: “But just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak, not as pleasing men, but God who examines our hearts. For we never came with flattering speech, as you know, nor with a pretext for greedC God is witnessCnor did we seek glory from men, either from you or from others.”
Paul’s motives and methods were pure and on target. He wasn’t jockeying for position, playing for power or pandering to the crowd. He didn’t do what the philosophers and gurus of that day did. He did not cave into using flattering speech. You don’t see Paul trying to trap or coerce people into coming to Christ. He put the cost of following Christ in clear print—bold words.
©2007, Michael Catt
Michael served as the President of the Large Church Roundtable, the Southern Baptist Convention as an IMB Trustee, President of the Georgia Baptist Convention’s Preaching Conference, Vice President of the Georgia Baptist Convention, and President of the 2008 Southern Baptist Convention Pastors’ Conference. He has spoken at conferences, colleges, seminaries, rallies, camps, NBA and college chapel services, well as The Billy Graham Training Center at The Cove. Michael is the recipient of The Martin Luther King Award, The MLK Unity Award, and a Georgia Senate Resolution in recognition of his work in the community and in racial reconciliation.
Michael and his wife, Terri, have two grown daughters, Erin and Hayley.