Several years ago while attending a conference, I listened as the keynote speaker* addressed the addictive nature of applause. In his message, he made the following observations about applause and a leader’s propensity to become addicted to it:
What is applauded as exceptional the first time will be expected the next.
Those most applauded for feel the most entitled to.
Applause is intoxicating and “applause-intoxicated” people don’t make good decisions.
Applause is addictive. We start looking for it and we will even manufacture it.
For a while after hearing this pastor’s presentation, I went into a deep-dive of reflection and introspection. In other words, I did some self-inventory and asked myself the question, “To what degree have I been affected by the applause of others?”
I don’t personally know of anyone who doesn’t like and even enjoy the positive feedback and response from those they speak or sing to. Some absorb applause like a sponge. On the other hand, some take it in stride while others struggle to receive even the slightest of compliments.
It certainly feels good when people express to a minister how good a sermon was or how inspiring a vision is and even how valuable a person’s leadership may be to the organization. In and of itself praise and affirmation isn’t wrong. In fact, praise is a healthy part of building and encouraging anyone. Everybody needs encouragement, but something dangerous happens when applause is craved and sought after. In our human way of thinking, we conclude that we have worked hard and at the very least, small tributes to our efforts certainly seem appropriate. However, Jesus warned about the danger of doing anything only for the affirmation of men when He said, “Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven” (Matthew 6:1). Indeed, applause is a sincere way to affirm an individual for anything done that is praiseworthy, but leaders must keep applause and public affirmation in the right perspective. The truth is, applause can indeed become addictive.
In the world of addictions, the addiction to applause is seldom listed, yet it is subtle and can be very consuming. Applause has a seducing power and it has the ability to move an individual away from speaking truth and luring him or her into speaking what is merely appealing or popular.
Applause is pervasive and we live in a culture that wants to applaud every single thing we do. Applause can be intoxicating and exhilarating, supplying a quick rush of worth and affirmation and it comes in all kinds of forms. It comes in the form of the clapping of hands during a song or sermon, but it also can come in the form of the “like” or “heart” symbol following a post on social media.
Positive responses like these can bring about affirming, though temporary, feelings of acceptance. If a person isn’t careful, applause and various symbols of social media acceptance will become a person's vanity metric by which they judge their acceptance among their public. How often are you keeping check on the number of “likes” and “shares” that your media posts are receiving? This may be a sign of how affected you have become by the need for applause.
Conversely, applause can even be a vicious master just like any addiction requiring a person to have a steady fix in order to maintain the high that it brings. Dr. Paul G. Simone, Ph.D., Medical Director of Behavioral Health at Lee Health Institute wrote, “There is growing evidence to suggest that some individuals can develop a dependency on social media that’s not unlike an addiction to alcohol or drugs.”*
Applause is what it is but being addicted to it causes a person to be at the mercy of popular opinion yielding to the temptation of allowing what others think to take prominence over what is true and right. A person who is addicted to applause will often play to the crowd even if it means sacrificing the principles of doing what is right.
So, where is the balance and how does a minister and leader avoid applause addiction and its dominance of your life? We must embrace the “applause” standard found in scripture.
In I Corinthians 4:5, the apostle Paul wrote about that awesome moment that’s coming when we stand before God. Paul wrote, “Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord come, who both will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and will make manifest the counsels of the hearts: and then shall every man have praise of God.” This verse clearly reveals that the secrets and motivations of the heart will be made known as you stand before God on that day.
Take note of the last phrase of I Corinthians 4:5. It is most significant. It reads, “Then shall every man have praise of God.”
The word “praise” is translated from the Greek word “epainos,” which actually means applause. Paul used the word “epainos” to convey the image that on that day, if we have lived right before God, we will receive praise (applause) from the Lord Himself. It will be as if He rises to His feet to give a round of applause and a standing ovation.
Much of the work and preparation we do unto the Lord is done in secret with little or no applause in this life. When things are attempted and accomplished for Him, most people are often unaware of our actions or simply fail to show appreciation. However, according to Paul’s teaching in I Corinthians 4:5, a day will come when God Himself will personally rise and thank you for everything you have done in the name of Jesus for the sake of the Gospel.
In its place, applause is an expression of appreciation and should be received for what it is. It shouldn’t be expected and certainly not demanded. If someone does this, then they have become addicted to it. May we live and minister as unto the Lord and be free from any possible dependency on the applause of those around us. Remember that the praise, accolades, and the applause of people around us is very short-lived and soon forgotten, but the applause of God lasts for all eternity.
Sources: *A. Stanley, P. Simone