I’m just going to get it out there so you know where I’m coming from: I love ice cream. My wife says I have an ice cream “habit” (sometimes she says “problem”. Like the way you say someone has a drug “habit” or “problem”). But, come on, who doesn’t love ice cream?! It’s amazing. I have heard it said and believe it to be true:
You can’t buy happiness, but you can buy ice cream,
and that’s kind of the same thing.
Wow. Truer words were never spoken.
Dishing out ice cream to people must be an amazing job. Smiles all around.
I used to think that leadership was the same way. My job is to lead in such a way as to make everyone happy. The only problem is, in pretty much every “position” I’ve had in life where I’m a leader (those with a title and those without), I’ve had to make decisions that were not popular with everyone. Here’s what I mean…
I’m a dad. Dads are leaders of their families. As a dad, I’ve often had to make decisions for my family that were unpopular with a few of our members. Sometimes these unpopular decisions are unpopular with the majority of our members, namely those under four feet tall! These decisions are things like limiting video game and TV time, not letting them eat candy right before supper and so on. Sometimes these decisions result in people on the floor kicking and screaming and crying for 5 minutes. Then after I’m able to pull it together I realize I made the right decision (Just kidding, it’s my kids who are on the floor throwing fits! But not kidding about making the right decisions). My kids aren’t happy with these decisions. But dads aren’t ice cream salesmen. They’re leaders. And leaders have to make decisions that aren’t always popular.
I’m also a pastor of a new church. Just like being a dad, I’ve realized that as a leader of a church I sometimes have to make decisions that aren’t popular with everyone. These decisions are things like style of music, sermon content and so on. Sometimes people are unhappy or even leave over these decisions. In our case, because we’re new, we get a lot of first time visitors who are there to see what we’re like, and I can always tell if they didn’t like it because they don’t come back! But pastors are also not ice cream salesmen (although I’ve often fantasized about how incredible it would be to serve ice cream during church!). They’re leaders. And leaders have to make decisions that aren’t always popular.
Jesus gave us a heads up about this when he said:
“Woe to you, when all people speak well of you, for so their fathers did to the false prophets.” - Luke 6:26
In other words, only fake leaders are liked by everyone, because they tell people what they want to hear – not what they need to hear. If God has called you to be a leader – whether it’s a dad or a pastor or a boss – you will have to make decisions or tell people things that they are not going to always like.
Jesus exemplified this as well when he was teaching a crowd of people in John 6 about some truth that was hard for them to swallow:
Jesus said these things in the synagogue, as he taught at Capernaum.When many of his disciples heard it, they said, “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?”
After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him. – John 6:59-60; 66
Jesus said some things that were unpopular sometimes (like “eat me”. Seriously, read John 6 if you don’t believe me! Talk about hard to swallow. Ok, I’ll stop). Even some of his disciples were so unhappy that they quit following him! But Jesus didn’t stop them. In effect, he looked around and said, “Anybody else want to leave?” (John 6:67) Jesus knew the decisions he was making and the things he was saying were pleasing to God. So he wasn’t going to change it or soften it to try and make everyone happy.
Because it wasn’t his job to make people happy.
Because Jesus wasn’t an ice cream salesman**.
He was a leader. And leaders have to make decisions that aren’t always popular.
If you find yourself in a leadership position at some point, whether it has a title or not, don’t fall into the trap of trying to please everyone. Your first priority is to please God and lead the people under your influence in a way that honors him first. Sometimes that’s bitter medicine for your followers, and they’ll cry and throw fits or want to leave. Proverbs 29:25 says:
The fear of man will prove to be a snare, but whoever trusts in the LORD is kept safe.
That means if you trying to please everyone all the time it will lead you off course, and you will end up not pleasing God. But if you make pleasing God your priority, he will keep you and whatever group you’re leading safe – even if some people are unhappy or leave.
So if you want to make everyone happy, go sell ice cream. But don’t be a leader. Because leaders have to make decisions that aren’t always popular.
**I don’t think they even had ice cream back then. Man am I glad I live in the 21st century!