I hate to admit this, but pastors are prone to manipulation. Sometimes we are unknowingly manipulated by our own church members. Sometimes we are the perpetrators of manipulation. Neither scenario is acceptable nor biblical, and both are avoidable.
Manipulation in the Church
In an attempt to please the Lord and his bride, we often try too hard to make our people happy, which is an unreasonable expectation for any pastor. Although there is no way we can altogether control being impressed or intimidated by people, we can avoid being manipulated in these five ways.
Being an encourager by nature, I enjoy giving and receiving compliments as much as anyone. When I sense an agenda in the middle of an affirmation, my internal guard goes up. Those who seek to influence us through flattering words or gifts are no less dangerous than those who try to bully us with criticism or threats. Assume the best and respond with a simple “thank you,” rather than automatically reciprocating.
A person who flatters his neighbor spreads a net for his feet. (Proverbs 29:5)
“If you lead well, you will lead change. If you lead change, you will be criticized. If you can’t take criticisms, don’t lead.” —Dr. Thom Rainer
Criticism comes with the territory and is no small price to pay for pastoring. Although no pastor can avoid criticism completely, we can avoid being controlled by it. Control the conversation by guarding your heart and controlling your tone.
A gentle answer turns away anger, but a harsh word stirs up wrath. (Proverbs 15:1)
Jesus modeled the appropriateness of silence during one of his trials.
Whoever shows contempt for his neighbor lacks sense, but a person with understanding keeps silent. (Proverbs 11:12)
Although silence is sometimes the most appropriate response to manipulation, be aware that it can also be a manipulative tool. Giving someone the silent treatment is a passive-aggressive way to control others.
Anyone in ministry has been ambushed in the church hallways by well-meaning members, as well as manipulative ones. Normal Sunday hallway banter is healthy, but when someone waltzes up to you with a fully-loaded, semi-automatic rant, you need to be prepared with a measured response.
My typical response is to ask if they would like to talk about this at a more appropriate time. If this does not disarm them, leave them as quickly and gracefully as you can if it is a Sunday morning. Sometimes the best way to turn the other cheek, is to literally turn the other direction and start walking away.