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Don’t Get Addicted to Those Pats on the Back

In The Confessions, Augustine highlights a dynamic located in “certain offices of human society” which “render it necessary to be loved and feared of men.” He notes that as we seek to be feared and loved, we are often caught up by the “well done, well done” of those around us. It is our quest for this affirmation of “well done, well done” that leads us to “take pleasure in being loved and feared, not for Thy sake, but in Thy stead…”

While Augustine speaks in terms of “offices,” this particular problem extends well beyond any official capacity. We can be tenacious about protecting ourselves, seeking to maintain our own status, or making our own name in all walks of life. I think that’s why it is so compelling to watch women and men, particularly those in leadership, follow God even when they lose the fear and love of others.

Across my eleven year career, I’ve certainly been too motivated by pride. I was (am) ambitious and often wanted those above me in my organization to give me the “well done, well done” that would, I hoped, translate into career advancement. As my career progressed, I learned that working for the “well done” was unfulfilling and empty. In part, that’s because nothing I did was ever enough for myself or for others…it was easy to lose the human “well done.”

This was nowhere more apparent than when I found myself taking positions on issues opposite those of leadership. All of a sudden the “well done” some had offered in the past was forgotten because of decisions made in the present. Their “well done” was fickle and fleeting…it was conditional upon being aligned with a particular perspective and being “feared and loved” by a particular group of stakeholders.

As Christians, we are not immune to pride, nor are we immune to the pressure to please one group or another. We may find ourselves pressed to please wealthy members of our church so that we don’t lose their contributions to the general fund. We may be pushed by those who lead our organizations to make theologically or professionally questionable judgments in order to retain their favor. In the end, however, we must recognize that as believers, the only “well done” we seek is that of Christ. In seeking Christ’s “well done” we may find that we lose the fear and love of others. We may find that our ministries, careers, friendships, marriages, are not as successful as we might like.

Thankfully, we are not called to be effective, but to be faithful. When being effective requires us to be “loved and feared” by others…to set aside our commitment to Christ in order to exercise “certain offices of human society”…we must commit ourselves to being ineffective. God’s “well done” is not earned by career advancement, informed by a bosses reference, or enhanced by the amount of money collected in an offering plate. His “well done” is given after a life of faithfulness in which we take pleasure in following Christ. We do so regardless of the consequences. We do so for His glory…not our own.

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