What to do with People-Pleasing Tendencies

At that time Jesus went through the grainfields on the Sabbath. His disciples were hungry and began to pick some heads of grain and eat them. When the Pharisees saw this, they said to him, “Look! Your disciples are doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath.”

He answered, “Haven’t you read what David did when he and his companions were hungry? He entered the house of God, and he and his companions ate the consecrated bread—which was not lawful for them to do, but only for the priests. Or haven’t you read in the Law that the priests on Sabbath duty in the temple desecrate the Sabbath and yet are innocent? I tell you that something greater than the temple is here. If you had known what these words mean, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice, you would not have condemned the innocent. For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.”

Matthew 12:1-8

Let’s be real, I can be a pushover. People have good ideas, and I want to see people thrive, so I immediately jump on it…only later realizing that it was a waste of time, unnecessary, or unused. I have some people-pleasing tendencies. Do you?

Maybe the requests totter on the edge of worthy. For example, at one point, I looked at several staff-recommended platforms for donation gateways. While each person had a valid reason for needing the platform, many of those needs were temporary, or didn’t serve the nonprofit on a whole. Meanwhile, the needs of the platform included additional costs and presented security risks. That’s in addition of the time it would take to apply, learn the system, integrate it into regular routines and other systems, etc. Here’s one of my few successes: The benefits didn’t outweigh the costs, and I passed on setting up all the platforms. It disappointed staff but upheld the mission of the organization.

Sometimes what people want us to do for them and what is necessary can be very different things. Here’s another stark example. Have you had a client ask for something that was outside your mission? I was once visiting a nonprofit as a board member, and a client came to me and asked for a saxophone. He wanted to make music and earn a living from the music. He had one, but it was run over when he had a motorcycle accident. While that’s a worthy vision, the nonprofit’s mission was to help people who were experiencing homelessness. The request fell outside the nonprofit’s mission. (And it was not appropriate to ask a board member for a personal gift, but that’s another story for another day.)

There is a time and place for being gracious and doing what you can for those seemingly blazing requests that come through your inbox. There is a time and place for obeying the rules (i.e., filing your 990), and there are others that seem like really good ideas and those good ideas become rules that hinder your nonprofit from fulfilling its mission (i.e., saxophone). What distinguishes a good idea from a great idea?

The text above shows us that Jesus doesn’t make all man-made rules necessary. Sometimes what seems like a good idea (not picking wheat with a motivation of getting ahead) outweighs the mission (eating). Jesus gives us freedom from obligation to other people. He gives us freedom to obey laws and the Lord, but perhaps not the rules, requirements, and requests others place on us.

In your work today with your favorite nonprofit, consider what you are doing to please another person, and what you are doing that fulfills the mission and pleases the Lord. Are you eating heads of grain or going hungry? If you find yourself doing things because someone else said so (besides your boss or leader), do these three things:

  1. Stop. Pray.
  2. Consider the benefits to the organization. Will it produce fruit in the long-term?
  3. Build your case on data and numbers. How many more people will be served? How much will it cost (time/hours, money, training, etc.)?

When you’ve done all three, you’ll have a much better sense on what is a head of grain to pursue, and what is just a “sabbath rule” that people are asking you to follow.

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Photo by Melissa Askew on Unsplash

© 2021, Mollie Bond. All rights reserved. Originally published at www.molliebond.org.


  1. I ran into this quote yesterday from Emily P. Freeman’s The Next Right Thing. She writes, “Let’s say you do this little exercise and you finish the sentence like this: ‘This invitation would be a great opportunity to grow my business.’ The next question you need to ask yourself is, Is this a season of my life where I am working on growing my business?'” Talk about a way to keep focused and staying healthy!!


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