Manipulation in leadership


Is it possible to lead in a church environment without engaging in manipulation?  It is a question raised by my friend Black Sheep.  I think he is working with a slightly more flexible definition of manipulate.    A better question might be, can Christian leaders exert influence on people in a completely open, honest and transparent way.  Some people I’ve talked to think it becomes less and less possible the larger the group is that you lead.

I remember a conversation I had with a worship leader at a Pentecostal college.  He told me how much control he had over a congregation just by the way he played.  Everyone attributed it to the work of the Holy Spirit but he was quite bothered by how much he felt he could manipulate the crowd.  I think in some situations we go in knowing that we will be bombarded with sounds and visual stimuli that we invoke an emotional response.  A movie trailer is a perfect example.  We watch the trailer for a movie we are looking forward too and we want to get excited.  We let the trailer pump us up.  I remember how excited I was about Star Wars Episode one.  The movie trailer had me so pumped up.  Sadly the movie was something of let down but I knew what I was subjecting myself too and I wanted it.

I was taught in the same Pentecostal college that if a man shows up in a church I’m pastoring with canary yellow suit I’m supposed to go up and compliment him on it.  One of the swifter folks in the front asked the obvious question.  Wouldn’t that be lying?  The teaching pastor’s answer was “well say what you can without lying.”  Looking back, that was probably the turning point where I walked completely away from vocational ministry.  That year was full of crap mind you, but I became convinced that ministry was about gathering people together and kissing up to them so they keep paying my salary.  I get a career and they get to ignore me as I preach things they don’t really want to take to heart.  You are probably thinking these thoughts were a bit dire, and they probably were but at the time I saw so little integrity in ministry I wanted no part of it.

Another thing I learned in “pastoral theology” was how to project an image.  The belief was that a Christian leader must always be looked up to in the eyes of the people.  If you expose your weaknesses people will lose faith in you.  You wonder why so many pastors are lonely and burnt out?  Their job makes it very difficult to be open and honest.  If you confess some sort of sin then it is believed people won’t listen to you anymore.  Influence is everything because few pastors wield any real authority in their churches.  They can plan the meetings and the programs but often congregations keep their leadership on a short leash.  Once they cross a line they can find quickly where the real power lies.

The truth is that words from a pulpit have less power than we acknowledge.  Speaking to a large crowd might educate, encourage, challenge or inspire but none of these things is enough on their own.  Very few lives are transformed by hearing words in a crowd.  Without much real influence it is always tempting to resort to tactics that Paul condemns in 1Thess 2.

1Th 2:3  For the appeal we make does not come from error or impurity or with deceit,
1Th 2:4  but just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we declare it, not to please people but God, who examines our hearts.
1Th 2:5  For we never appeared with flattering speech, as you know, nor with a pretext for greed — God is our witness —
1Th 2:6  nor to seek glory from people, either from you or from others,
1Th 2:7   although we could have imposed our weight as apostles of Christ; instead we became little children among you. Like a nursing mother caring for her own children,
1Th 2:8  with such affection for you we were happy to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own lives, because you had become dear to us.

1) Error or wandering from the truth
2) Impurity or having ulterior motives
3) Deceit or tricking people in to believing something that isn’t true
4) Flattering speech or praising people when you don’t mean it
5) Using your authority

Paul said something similar in 1Cor 2.

1Co 2:1  When I came to you, brothers and sisters, I did not come with superior eloquence or wisdom as I proclaimed the testimony of God.
1Co 2:2  For I decided to be concerned about nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified.
1Co 2:3  And I was with you in weakness and in fear and with much trembling.
1Co 2:4  My conversation and my preaching were not with persuasive words of wisdom, but with a demonstration of the Spirit and of power,
1Co 2:5  so that your faith would not be based on human wisdom but on the power of God.

Paul understood the concepts of rhetoric popularized by the Greeks in that era.  Rhetoric is the art of persuasion and it has 3 main components:  Logos, pathos and ethos.  Logos meaning words, or the construction of your argument.  Your pathos involved your ability to appeal and influence through emotion.  Ethos was your personal reputation or presence.  If you had a strong logos, pathos and ethos you could win debates and influence people.

When Paul brought the gospel to Corinth, a city well versed in the rhetorical arts notice how he breaks it down.

His logos : “concerned about nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified”

His ethos : “and I was with you in weakness and in fear with much trembling”

His pathos: “My conversation and my preaching were not with persuasive words of wisdom”

His influence on them was to not be an influence so that they could be influenced by the power of God.    But that really isn’t his entire approach.  We see more of it back in Thessalonians.

1Th 2:7   although we could have imposed our weight as apostles of Christ; instead we became little children among you. Like a nursing mother caring for her own children,
1Th 2:8  with such affection for you we were happy to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own lives, because you had become dear to us.

1) Became little children or gentleness
2) Caring as a mother
3) Affection
4) Shared life

Paul changed the western world one person at a time through love.  I  don’t think Christian leaders need to pretend or project.  One can be open, honest, transparent and truthful and still lead.  The catch is  lot of what Paul did is impossible if you are trying to influence hundreds of people at the same time.

  1. #1 by Tom on October 7, 2010 - 11:39 am

    Very interesting, and insightful. Thanks
    Tom.

  2. #2 by scotty on October 9, 2010 - 7:29 am

    Great post LT. Boy do we need to hear this. The ironnic thing is that today’s up and coming generation promotes honesty and non-fakery as very high values (whether this is as true in church is up for debate). Yet leaders still believe they have to walk around on eggshells and remain perfect and ideal in the eyes of others. Leaders require integrity, not perfection.

  3. #3 by Lisa Braun on October 31, 2010 - 9:26 pm

    This passage from 1 Thes. is one of my favorites of all time. Probably could be credited with a major shift in my and my life around 2002. Shared not only the gospel but our lives as well. Indeed.

    Thanks. LB

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