“I don't care what people think of me!" Well, you should
It’s a statement I hear from time to time: I don’t care what people think of me! Some people seem to think it is some sort of noble virtue to not care at all what other people think of them. Even in the world of Conservative Evangelical online nonsense, the idea gets batted around from time to time.
There is certainly a time to speak uncomfortable truths. There is even a time to speak those sorts of truths to those in our camp, despite the fact that there may be some relational consequences in doing so. But it does sometimes feel as though we have conflated speaking uncomfortable truths despite the relational consequences sometimes with the more cavalier I-don’t-care-what-anyone-thinks-of-me attitude we display pretty much constantly.
Now, I don’t care what a lot of people think about me. Clearly not all opinions of me are going to equally affect or trouble me. But there are most certainly some people I do care very much what they think. And, if you’re a Christian – particularly if you are an elder in your church (but not exclusively elders) – you should care about what these people think too. In order of priority of opinion, here are the people I very much care what they think.
Let’s be honest, if you don’t care what Jesus thinks about you, you’ve got big problems. Your salvation is staked pretty much exclusively on Jesus’ view of you, so you ought to care about it. What is more, if you really love him as you claim, your highest priority ought to be to glorify him, which we do by obeying him. In other words, if we love him, we better care what he thinks of us and order our lives around a deep concern for what he thinks about us.
As a minister of the church, if I don’t care what Christ thinks about me, I am not qualified to do my job. At a minimum, it means I will lead my church into severe error. At worst, it means I don’t love Christ, don’t belong to his church and therefore cannot possibly lead his people. Any elder who doesn’t care what Christ thinks of him cannot be an elder.
Just as if I love Jesus I will care deeply about what he thinks about me, because I love my wife I care deeply what she thinks about me too. If I was being extremely utilitarian about it (and, honestly, I’m not!) caring what my wife thinks about me leads to a much easier and happier life for me. But, fact is, I love my wife and believe that she loves me in return. I have ordered a significant portion of my life around that fact. I care very much what my wife thinks of me because I love her.
What is more, what my wife thinks about me affects whether I am fit to do my job as a minister in the church. If my wife does not think I lead my family well, then I am disqualified. If my wife does not think I love her, then I am disqualified. If my wife does not see in me the eldership qualifications expressed in our family home, I am disqualified. If my wife does not believe I have been called to ministry, I am not called to ministry. What my wife thinks about me affects whether I can do my job and so I care about that very much.
I care deeply about how my church view me. How can I possibly lead my church by example if my church think my example so shoddy it cannot be followed? How can my church submit to my leadership if my life is deemed such a mess that nobody would possibly want to submit? If I do not have the respect of my church, at least in some form, it is very difficult to see how I can lead it. Whilst this may appear especially true on congregational polity, it is really true on any form of church governance. Those who don’t respect their leaders – irrespective of whether they can express that meaningfully in members’ meetings or not – will vote with their feet and go elsewhere.
What is more, if I care what Christ thinks about me and my church think very poorly of me, then I am disqualified from my job. If my church do not think I am qualified for my role, then I am not qualified for the role. If my church do not think I meet the character criteria laid out in scripture, then they can remove me from my role. I care a lot about what my church think of me.
I care what my local community think of me. One of the criteria for eldership is that you are well thought of by outsiders. I care about whether my reputation within my local community commends Christ to them or not. I care about whether the Muslims in our area think the fruit of following Jesus commends the gospel or not. I care about whether I, and by proxy the church, is somewhere that locals can come and believe they will be respected based on their interaction with us locally. I care about what my local community think about me.
I am most concerned what those four people/groups think about me. And I am concerned about their views in the order or priority I have placed them. I care most of all what Christ thinks about me and I treat faithfulness to him as more important than relational harmony with anyone else. I consider my wife next most important and believe I am qualified for my role in the church, and subsequently the local community, in part as a result of her view of me. I care more about the view of my church – whom I am to lead into scriptural truth through teaching and example – than I am of my local community, who deny the truth we proclaim. And I care more about the view of my local community than pretty much any other group because they are the people whom we want to respond to the gospel we proclaim.
By and large, I’m not overly worried about many others. Of course, I’d rather folk thought well of me than not. But you can’t be kept up at night by what somebody I’ve never met on Twitter thinks about you. Nor will your ministry be up to much if you concern yourself with what some liberal bishop thinks about you. I’m not going to go out my way to upset any of these, but I’m similarly not going to be kept up at night by what they think of me.
But the idea that “I don’t care what anyone thinks about me” can’t be a Biblical one. We’ve got to care what some people think of us. If you don’t, you’ve got big problems.