I have discovered something. I’ve discovered that I am addicted. Not to alcohol, to smoking, or to pornography. No—I am addicted to the praise and affirmation of others. After more than 20 years of pastoral ministry, I have discovered that the well-being of my soul, my interior comfort, and my professional satisfaction all depended upon the reactions of people toward me. I needed constant affirmation from my parishioners. I had to have it. I had to hear words like “Thank you, Pastor, it was a great sermon” or “You are such a good speaker!” or “You are the best pastor I have ever had!”
Is appreciating a little encouragement an addiction? No. But the fact is I desperately needed encouragement like a drug addict needs drugs. I waited for it like a delicious dessert after a good meal. If it was missing, something was wrong. As I went home, I would start to think about the quality of the sermon, the opportunity of the message for that time, and so on until I worked myself into a panic.
Also, in the pastoral visits, people I visited would tell me, “We have never had such a good pastor like you. No one before you worked so hard” or “No pastor ever visited me. You are the first pastor who has visited me and prayed with and for me.” Hearing this made me feel like the hero, and without it, I felt lost, a hopeless failure. Regardless of their reasons, I felt good when someone appreciated me, especially when they compared me favorably to other pastors. I went home happy that night, and my sleep was full of sweet dreams.
Another aspect of my relationship with people around me, specific to addiction, was evident when someone ignored me, despised me, or gossiped about me. I felt hurt, depressed, and my sleep was agitated and full of nightmares. Slowly but surely, step by step, I allowed people or situations to take control over my feelings and thoughts. I built up a life philosophy depending on the attitude of people toward me. I loved many people just to gain their love and appreciation; I placed myself in the middle of praises instead of allowing Jesus to be the center. I reserved for myself the best place of acceptance and attention.
All those who didn’t feed my addiction to appreciation and praise I considered as sinners who urgently needed to repent. Being very interested in their spiritual life, the next Sabbath I preached a sermon on repentance. When situations and people around me were not feeding my addiction, I considered myself a victim, a martyr for the Lord. Actually, I was a victim of my own system of thinking and acting.
I made huge efforts for the Lord. From morning to evening I visited people in hospitals and in their homes; I attended prayer meetings and board meetings, and it was all because of my desire to be lavished with praise and words of appreciation. I had to have it.
I also thought about my leaders in the conference office. I needed their affirmation too. Woe to me if that appreciation didn’t come. Again, agitated sleep full of nightmares.
Nancy Groom writes, “If you are a codependent, you please other people because you believe that no one would choose to be with you unless you are serving them. You constantly feel you must earn their love, and you neglect your own needs because you do not feel that you are worthy enough to deserve to have your own needs met.”1
Have you ever felt like this? If so, you are addicted too.
What can be done? If you don’t make any effort to manage your life, feelings, and ministry according to God’s plan for the human being, you will never be happy. You will wear a mask of satisfaction, trying hard to overlook every slight. It is like covering a mess in the corner of your room with a blanket but pretending that everything is in order.
Ahab was an example of a person who didn’t know how to manage his life according to healthy principles (see 1 Kings 21:4). When a business deal didn’t work, he became angry—refusing to eat or sleep. He was like a child who cannot have his favorite toy. Ahab needed someone else to step into his life to solve the problem, and what an intervention: a lie and a crime. Why? Because Ahab was addicted to successes and to acceptance by people around him.
What can we say about Jesus? Did He ever have a nightmare because someone didn’t accept His work or because two of His disciples betrayed Him? Was Jesus mad because His own people, to whom He gave His own life, crucified Him?
Remember when His disciples came back from a mission? They came to Jesus with their hearts full of joy for their successes. “The seventy-two returned with joy and said, ‘Lord, even the demons submit to us in your name.’ [Jesus] replied, . . . ‘However, do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven’ ” (Luke 10:17–20, NIV).
If my happiness is because of the successes I have in my ministries, the acceptance of people in the church, this is an addiction. While appreciation is a fundamental human need, the question is, how do I feel when I am not appreciated?
Jesus knew both His identity and His mission. He came from His Father, and He knew that “ ‘the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost’ ” (Luke 19:10, NIV).
If you are fully aware of your mission as a pastor, if you are aware of your calling, if you are aware of the value of the talents that God gave to you to serve Him and His church better, why should you orient the radar of your heart toward praises and appreciation from others? Why not allow Jesus to enlighten your soul with His presence? This will happen in your ministry only when you place Jesus at the center of praises, appreciations, and acceptance. Only when the statue you have created is “removed from there, smashed to pieces, and the rubble thrown into the Kidron Valley” (2 Kings 23:12, paraphrased).
One more aspect of emotional addiction: In order to be considered a good and efficient pastor, I have to be available to my churches 24/7. When I started my ministry, a conference leader told me, “A good pastor should be available for God’s work 24/7. He must be everything in the church: pastor, builder, driver, cook, gravedigger, and day man . . . everything except midwife, . . . but in an emergency . . .you can do it.”
My personal needs—rest, health, recreation, time of meditation, and so on—forget about them, for I am a pastor! Or my family’s needs—time for playing with my kids, walking in a park with my wife, or spending a weekend far from home—“God’s work is in the first and last place of your life,” I was told. Unfortunately, and to my detriment, I believed it.
What is the secret for efficiency and satisfaction in ministry? I’ve learned the hard way: Don’t be afraid of people’s opinions of you and don’t expect praise from them. The Bible says, “Fear of man will prove to be a snare, but whoever trusts in the LORD is kept safe” (Prov. 29:25, NIV). God’s assessment of you is what matters.
Maybe sometimes you think, They’re behaving this way toward me because I deserve it. I made many mistakes, and now, their attitude is the consequences of my mistakes. Nothing is worse than this! The solution for my mistakes is not to suffer the consequences silently. Rather, it is faith in God’s promises. Moreover, no one member of the church has the right to punish me for my mistakes.
Do you think that feelings play an important role in the process of happiness and professional satisfaction? Are you afraid of failure, of people, or of disciplinary punishment?
Perhaps some of these words from Ellen White’s writings will help. “The soul that loves God, rises above the fog of doubt; he gains a bright, broad, deep, living experience, and becomes meek and Christlike. His soul is committed to God, hid with Christ in God. He will be able to stand the test of neglect, of abuse, and contempt, because his Saviour has suffered all this. He will not become fretful and discouraged when difficulties press him, because Jesus did not fail or become discouraged. Every true Christian will be strong, not in the strength and merit of his good works, but in the righteousness of Christ, which through faith is imputed unto him.”2
“Many make a serious mistake in their religious life by keeping the attention fixed upon their feelings and thus judging of their advancement or decline. Feelings are not a safe criterion. We are not to look within for evidence of our acceptance with God. We shall find there nothing but that which will discourage us. Our only hope is in ‘looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith’ (Heb. 12:2). There is everything in Him to inspire with hope, with faith, and with courage. He is our righteousness, our consolation and rejoicing.”3
In another place she reminds us that Jesus should be our focus. “Trust in the Lord. Let not the feelings, the speeches, or the attitude of any human agent depress you. Be careful that in words or acts you do not give others any opportunity to obtain the advantage in hurting you. Keep looking unto Jesus. He is your strength. By beholding Jesus you will become changed into His likeness. He will be the health of your countenance and your God.”4
Sure, as ministers, we like a little affi rmation. Nothing’s wrong with that. It’s when we need it, demand it, and have to have it that we must face the fact that we have an addiction, one that can lead to the ruin of our ministry if not overcome in the name and power of Jesus.
1 Nancy Groom, From Bondage to Bonding: Escaping Codependency, Embracing Biblical Love (Colorado Springs, CO: Navpress, 1992), 95.
2 Ellen G. White, God’s Amazing Grace (Hagerstown, MD: Review and Herald® Publishing Association, 2001), 109.
3 Ibid., 185.
4 Ellen G. White, This Day With God (Washington, DC: Review and Herald® Publishing Association, 1979), 245.