AWESOME /ˈôsəm/ (Adjective) Extremely impressive or daunting; inspiring great admiration, apprehension, or fear.
I’ve had it with people trying to tell me how awesome I am. Especially fellow pastors.
We should know better.
I’m not sure exactly when I reached my limit on this.
Maybe it was the automatically-generated messages I get from some pastors after I follow them on Twitter. Everyone who follows them, including faceless corporations and porn trolls all get the same “you are awesome!” message that I get. So it means nothing.
Or it could have been the church I saw on vacation that calls themselves, “The church for awesome people. Like you.”
Sorry. No. I don't want a church for awesome people. I'd feel out of place attending it. And I sure couldn't pastor it.
I need a church that helps broken, sinful people find an awesome, loving and forgiving God. And I need to be that kind of pastor, too.
Our tendency towards flattery is yet another front in my war against triteness, as I wrote about in Tired of Being Trite: One Pastor's War On Ministry Clichés.
Encouragement Yes, Flattery No
I love being an encourager. This blog and my book, The Grasshopper Myth, exist to encourage small church pastors about the great possibilities that exist within their ministry. But encouraging people towards accomplishments because of the incredible possibilities built into each of us is very different than starting at “you’re awesome.”
Can anyone imagine Jesus telling people how awesome they are? Of course not. Because he never did that.
Instead, he told them he loved them. But not because of how great they were. Because of how loving he is.
Telling people they’re awesome isn’t biblical. It's Madison Avenue. We've seen so many commercials telling us to buy their product "because you're worth it" that we've started to believe it in the church, too.
We think if it's good for selling soap, why not use it to sell Jesus? There is so much wrong with that premise, I don't know where to begin.
Actually I have an idea where to begin. Here are nine reasons why pastors like me need to stop telling people they’re awesome.
1. There Are Terrible People In the World
Yes, God loves everyone and so should we. But that does not mean everyone is awesome. Or even good. There are bad people in the world. People who do unspeakable evil. And mundane badness, too.
Jesus told us to love our enemies. Even if they persecute us, tells lies about us do and other un-awesome things, we're supposed to love them (Matt 5:11). But that's not the same as tossing out "you're awesome" to random people.
The alternative is not to go around pointing out people’s faults. Judgment is a job God has reserved for himself. But there’s a lot of yardage between legalistic fault-finding on the one hand and poisonous flattery on the other.
2. It Helps Terrible People Be Okay With Being Terrible
Most people – especially pastors – mean well when we tell others how awesome they are. We do it to be encouraging. We might even hope it will help turn bad behavior into good behavior.
But telling a bad person they're awesome doesn't encourage good behavior. It validates their bad behavior.
3. Pride Is the Problem, Not the Solution
We've gone from naming pride as one of the Seven Deadly Sins to seeing it as the path to wholeness and wellness. It’s not.
In 2 Timothy 1:2-5, being "lovers of themselves" is not listed as the first sign of spiritual or mental health, but of "terrible times in the last days."
People who feel the need to constantly hear about their own awesomeness are either filled with narcissism or self-loathing. Sometimes both. Inflating a person's ego is not the answer to either extreme. And it's not good pastoring, either.
4. It Makes People Trust Us Less
When someone tells me I’m awesome before I’ve done anything to earn their praise, it makes me wonder one thing – what are they trying to sell me?
It feels more like a sales technique than an eternal truth. Do you know why? Because that’s exactly what it is. And when the person saying it is a pastor, it feels even more like that.
5. It Leaves No Room for Humility
Humility matters. A lot.
One of my favorite verses is “For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you. (Romans 12:3 – emphasis mine)
It’s no surprise that it’s one of the most under-taught passages in the bible, because we’ve replaced the profound, uplifting truth of it with, Do not think of yourself so poorly, but think of yourself as crazy awesome!
Humility is not an obscure character trait. It’s everywhere in scripture. According to Micah 6:8, humility is one the three primary character traits (along with justice and mercy) that God requires – yes, requires – of us.
But, as the old song goes, “Oh Lord it’s hard to be humble when you’re perfect in every way.”
6. The Bible Speaks Against Flattery – Many Times
Here are just a few:
- May the LORD cut off all flattering lips and every boastful tongue. (Psalm 12:3)
- You know we never used flattery, nor did we put on a mask to cover up greed – God is our witness. (1 Thess 2:5)
- These men are grumblers and faultfinders; they follow their own evil desires; they boast about themselves and flatter others for their own advantage. (Jude 1:16)
- For such people are not serving our Lord Christ, but their own appetites. By smooth talk and flattery they deceive the minds of naive people. (Romans 16:18)
7. It Leaves No Headroom
When we start out by telling someone “you’re awesome”, what language are we left with when they do something truly praiseworthy?
Compliments detached from accomplishments are dangerous.
8. It Undermines the Need for Repentance
Awesome people don’t need a church. They don't need to repent. They don’t need forgiveness.
They don’t even need God. They practically are gods.
9. It Diminishes the Language We Should Reserve for God
What does “you’re awesome!” (or an equivalent phrase) even mean any more? Do we really think those people are “extremely impressive or daunting; inspiring great admiration, apprehension, or fear?”
Words are important. Strong words are very important.
Awesome is a strong word. It carries a similar power to holy, majestic and sacred. When we use such words to describes things or people who can never live up to them, we lose the power of those words when we truly need them.
The Truly Awesome One
The Bible uses the word “awesome” several times (depending on your translation). But it’s always in reference to God, his works and his presence (in any translation). And it’s never even hinted at about anyone other than him.
God himself is the only one whose deeds, presence and existence inspire awe. But too many of us have traded down. Instead of preaching and singing transcendent truths about the glory of God, we rattle off mundane slogans about our own awesomeness.
So, to my fellow pastors, I say this with true love and respect.
Let's stop the nonsense.
Let's quit telling everyone how awesome they are. Or how awesome we are. Because we're not.
Let's tell everyone how awesome Jesus is. Because he is.
Then let's tell them how they can become more like him.
Now that's awesome.
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(All scriptures in this post are quoted from the NIV)