In big black letters, his coffee cup read, “I don’t care.”
I couldn’t believe it. Why would a pastor carry such a thing around the office? I mean, an “I don’t care”mug may be suitable for home, vacation, or sabbatical, but really—at church? Aren’t we supposed to care about everyone and everything?
Upon closer inspection, I saw a Bible verse in a smaller print toward the bottom of the mug – “Galatians 1:10.” I surreptitiously opened the Bible app on my phone to search for the verse, pretending I was still paying attention to the meeting I was attending.
There was the meaning behind his coffee cup’s slogan right there in the text:
For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ. (Galatians 1:10, ESV)
These words immediately redeemed the outwardly harsh slogan on the mug. The role of the pastor is to “not care” about the approval of man. If I am honest, I often care too much about what others think of me.
Where does our true approval come from?
I began pastoring in my early twenties. Somewhere along the line, I started to believe I was supposed to care about others’ approval of anything and everything (including me). After all, I am their pastor – they have a certain ownership over me, right?
Most churches I have served in require some “vote” or “approval” to be in any pastoral role, especially the ones that fall under the heading of “senior pastor.” This engrained in me the feeling that other people’s opinions mattered. The very nature of serving others in pastoral ministry has fueled a lifestyle of people-pleasing. If I am honest, I am an admiration junkie. While I am now trying to cut back, change, or focus on God’s thoughts more, I still relapse into approval addiction, which can harm my spiritual and emotional well-being.
How would my ministry change if I had more of an “I don’t care” attitude over the opinions of those whom God has called me to shepherd and lead? I would likely be more confident and even bold in my handling of Scripture (2 Tim. 2:15). I would evangelise more passionately, disciple more urgently, and even care more tenderly. When I realise that pleasing God is my primary calling, I conduct ministry with greater peace and more Christlikeness because God has removed my fear and inhibitions.
God has already approved us; therefore, we do not seek further approval from people but live only to please Christ.
Ephesians 2:10 states, “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” He crafted our uniqueness, passions, and callings as a part of His design. Just as a skilled craftsman doesn’t want others to question his meticulous work, our God doesn’t need the criticism of others to derail us from walking in the works He prepared for us long ago.
Worrying adds nothing to your ministry
Jesus asked the provocative question in Matthew 6:27, “And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?” Similarly, we could ask, “Does being sinfully concerned about what others believe contribute anything to your ministry?” The answer is a firm no.
Take, for example, the arachnophobic man who once spotted a spider in the laundry room of his West Seattle home. He grabbed a lighter and a can of spray paint to get rid of it. There was no report about the spider’s fate, but the house caught fire, causing about $60,000 worth of damage. (True story!) The action and damage were pretty drastic to get rid of one spider. 
Fear can make us behave irrationally in our ministries. Trying to get people to like us prevents us from effectively serving the Lord. Being afraid of people more than fearing the Lord places us in situations worse than where we initially found ourselves. The approval of man adds nothing to our purpose, person, or calling. Instead, it takes energy and time away from what we should be focused on the most – pleasing God.
With blunt force, Lou Priolo, author of Pleasing People: How to Not Be an “Approval Junkie,” writes, “To spend your time thinking about what you can do to keep from disappointing him, or what might happen if you were to displease her, or how it might look if you did this, or how you might be rejected if you didn’t do that, rather than simply thinking about how you can please God, is not only worry but stupidity.”
Living for the love and approval of others will lead us to make foolish decisions motivated by the flesh. Our goal is not to “make a good showing in the flesh” (Gal. 6:12) but to live to please Christ (1 Thess. 4:1).
But should we be anxious for our churches?
A pastor who lives to please God should be concerned about nothing except what God is already passionate about. God has already approved us. He entrusted us with the Gospel. Now we must speak, not to please man, but to please God (1 Thess. 2:4). We should spend positive energy and effort to be concerned for our people and their souls.
Paul modelled for us godly anxiety in 2 Corinthians 11:28 when he said, “And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches.” His anxiety was not over their approval but their spiritual well-being. He cared about what pleased God and carried the daily burden of ensuring those young Christians were maturing.
Our problem is creating a need for our people to approve of us rather than a love for our people. We have fuelled a continuous loop of action, reward, action, reward that benefits us more than it helps others. Keeping this feedback loop active produces anxiety because we must feed it to maintain it. Our anxiety over the people in our church is sinful when we see them as a means to an end – even if that end is encouragement and companionship. God has called us as pastors to love them and, in doing so, bring glory to God.
Dispelling the anxiety of approval
God has already approved you. Seek no further approval from anyone else. Love others as Christ has so deeply loved you. Have an “I don’t care” attitude when it comes to the approval of others. By seeking to please and serve Christ, your ministry will flourish, your confidence will strengthen, and you will glorify God more.
When it comes to anxiety caused by fearing what others think of you, ask God to help you care less about what others think of you and more about what He thinks of you. Renew your mind with Scripture about Christ’s approval of you and fall firmly on the unchanging rock of Christ. The approval of others will come and go. God has fixed His approval of you in His Son for all of eternity.
 Jim L. Wilson and Rodger Russell, “Burning His House Down to Kill a Spider,” 300 Illustrations for Preachers, ed. Elliot Ritzema (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2015).
©2023 Josh Weidmann. Used with permission.