By Josh King
Like many break rooms and kitchens, the one our staff uses at the church has a refrigerator. Next to that refrigerator is a stack of blank cards and some markers.
Whenever a staff member is noticed doing something kind or effective we will recognize them by writing it on a card, signing it and attaching it to the fridge with a magnet. This is called our “brag board.”
Affirmation is a positive thing. It celebrates the culture we want and encourages others to help mold that culture.
But as great as affirmation can be, it has a deadly side. Often, we in ministry can become addicted to it.
Let me share with you a number of signs that may mean you are addicted to pats on the back or public praise.
1. You hear people’s voices louder than you hear God’s.
This is a tough one because God does often speak in a “still, small voice.” But the people who surround you can be much louder than God. The danger here is that our need to be liked by people will amplify their voices even louder.
We tune our ears and our hearts to pick up on what they are saying. To counter this we have to stay in the Bible, we have to read what he wrote down and let that define our reality.
2. You say “yes” to things that lean toward mission drift (for fear of man).
I don’t know anyone in any line of work who isn’t constantly pulled in several directions. It is freeing and empowering to discover what God created us to do and then, like a laser, focus on that mission.
Satan will do what he can to pull you off that mark and to weaken your drive. When we crave human affection and affirmation we will accept the invitations to step off the path God has laid out for us. We do this out of our hunger for human praise.
You can take steps to avoid this if you keep the mission in front of you and reject any offer—no matter how good it appears—that doesn’t further than mission.
3. You constantly set up opportunities for others to give you an “attaboy.”
I’m sure you’ve seen a volleyball game at some point. One of the most exciting plays is when one player will set up a shot by popping the ball into the air. The other player will then jump up and slam the ball, swiftly driving it toward the other side.
People who are addicted to human praise will lob up shots all the time. We see it commonly in social media. Enough information is lobbed up in post to allow our friends to jump up and slam a compliment our way.
Some of the best advice I’ve ever received was to let others sing your praises—without being prompted (Proverbs 27:2)—and spend your words being kind to others.
We rob God of His glory by constantly looking for our own.
4. Your message is tweaked toward tweets.
As Christians we are called to be salt and light in the darkened and rotting world. The very nature of what we do will occasionally call for us to speak against the culture.
If you crave human affirmation this will cause friction in your wicked heart. The temptation is to soften the message or to change it in order to not jeopardize the praise you could otherwise receive.
Of course, there’s nothing wrong with being kind and we ought always to speak the truth in love.
The problem occurs when we substantively change the content of the message so that we do not risk a negative review of our delivery—or when we craft pithy one-liners based on whether or not they will tweet well.
5. You can’t handle others being complimented.
Finally, I think you can see your own desires in what you withhold from others. A true sign of maturity in our minds and heart is recognizing that the praise of others is not necessarily robbing you of credit.
Like selfish children we envy the praise others receive. If you find yourself growing in resentment when your peers or associations are acknowledged you’re probably addicted to human affirmation.
This is a lifelong struggle most of us will deal with. We look for value and acceptance from everyone and everything. It helps to constantly be on the lookout for the way our evil hearts are searching for something only God provides.
One way to combat it is to recognize that this world is not about us and to repeat the words of John the Baptizer to our own souls: “He must increase, and I must decrease.”
JOSH KING (@JoWiKi) is the pastor of Second Baptist Church in Conway, Arkansas, husband of Jacki, and father of three boys. He’s also the co-host of the EST.church podcast.