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Manipulation is Not Leadership.

Proverbs says alot about flattery. One of my favorite proverbs reminds us that the wounds of a friend are preferable to the kisses of an enemy. Often people who don’t really have your best interest in mind will use flattery to manipulate you. I get frustrated with myself when I slip into manipulation by flattery mode.

But flattery isn’t the only way we manipulate people. Some people are master manipulators. They spend their time evaluating a person, figure out that person’s “buttons”, and then press all the right ones to get what they desire from that person. Some people are “passive-aggressive” manipulators; they’ll bully a person by withdrawing and being silent.

Is there anything wrong with manipulation?

Many leadership “gurus” talk about the concept of “influence”, as being one of, if not the core competencies of leaders.

One author says “leadership is influence - nothing more, nothing less”.

I read another book recently that said, “to lead others, an individual or group must be able to sway people to follow a proposed direction.”

The same book tells the story of a pastor who believes God has given him a vision to buy a vacant lot next to his church in order to create a parking lot (check the end of this post to see why this in itself is problematic). In order to accomplish this “vision”, he takes each of his church’s deacons out to eat individually. He has them meet him at the church so he can drive, and with each deacon, as they arrive back at the church he subtly points to the vacant lot and says, “Do you think God would ever allow us to buy that property?”

Over time, the deacons begin to talk about the property, and eventually decide to buy it, believing they have come to a Spirit led decision because they all had it on their mind.

So I wonder… is this Leadership? or is this manipulation?

Here’s why I think manipulation is wrong. Manipulation is me making an effort to do something in someone else that I believe the Spirit has done in me, but won’t do in them.

When I choose to manipulate someone, I’m choosing to use deceit and subversion rather than straightforward honesty and authenticity. Which approach do you think the Holy Spirit is more likely to work through?

Manipulation in church often stems from the idea that
God gives a vision to one person, not a group.

I’ve heard many of the young, hip, evangelical church leaders make this argument.
I’ve read it in the aforementioned books. It goes like this:

“God reveals his vision to one person. It has been my observation from the Bible and in personal ministry that teams do not develop vision.”

or

“In the Bible, God never gave the vision to a committee.”

The result of this kind of thinking is leaders who believe that once God has given them a vision it is up to them to convince everyone else (by hook or crook) of the rightness of their vision. The implication of this theory is that the Holy Spirit cannot work through anyone other than “the leader”. So much for the priesthood of the believer.

note this comment from one of the above sources:
“If you’re not the senior pastor, you have to trust that he’s hearing from God.”

The biggest problem with this idea is that it is just flat wrong. The greatest vision God ever gave to men was given to a group, not an individual. That vision statement looked a little like this:
"It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth."
Which brings me back to my starting point… Manipulation.

There is a very fine line between true leadership through influence and deceitful leadership through subversive manipulation.

I speak of the church, because that is my life; but these principles are true everywhere: marriage, friendship, occupation, parenting, etc.

Anytime we use manipulation to influence people, we’ve asserted that the Holy Spirit cannot work through simple honesty and straightforwardness… and that is not a great place to be.

I’m not trying to throw stones here, I’m just sayin’

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