"I went to Jerusalem to become acquainted (Gk. istoria) with Cephas" - Paul's words from Galatians 1:18.

Controllers and Manipulators Are in Need of Something

I have written in the past about pastors and other religious leaders using their so-called spiritual authority to control people in their churches. Spiritual abuse is not pretty, particularly because it is done "in the name of the Lord" and the abuser is deceived into believing he is doing the will of God. However, attempts to control, manipulate and coerce others is not limited to religious leaders. Every relationship between two people has the potential to be a relationship where one person trys to control the other person. Whether it be family relationships, workplace interactions, or personal friendships, there is always the risk that someone with whom you relate will attempt to control what you think, when you act, or how you feel.

Controlling and manipulating other people is not Christian. Jesus never pressured people to follow Him. His words, "Come, follow Me" (Mark 10:21) form a selfless invitation, not a strategic manipulation. Followers of Christ always benefit when they accept the invitation to follow, but Christ is unaffected and unchanged whether the invitation is accepted or not. There is no need for Christ to coerce, manipulate or control others to follow Him, because He doesn't need people to follow Him in order to feel worthy, significant and valued as a Person. He is worthy, significant and valuable in Himself. And, more importantly, He both knows and feels His worth and significance.  He doesn't need others to follow Him and He doesn't need to know that other people value Him. That's why Jesus never manipulates or controls anyone. What Jesus does is purely selfless because He Himself is without need in His inner being. Jesus wins us over by His love and inner strength. He is fulfilled in Himself. Our rejection of Him does not affect Him because He doesn't need us to feel worthy. Therefore, He doesn't coerce us.

Christ came that we might have His kind of abundant life. You and I won't know what it means to really live until we understand our value, our signficance and our worth in God's eyes. When He becomes our primary Source of life, we will not need others as alternative sources. For example, when the love of Christ becomes my primary source of love, then my life is not threatened by the absence or withdrawal of another person's love. When the significance I feel in life comes from knowing how much Christ values me, then I don't need to manipulate my circumstances or control my environment to ensure other people value me. When I begin to understand that what makes me honorable as a person is the honor I have in God coming and dying for me, then I don't worry too much whether or not people around me see me as honorable. When I begin to see that my reputation is all about what He thinks of me (and what He thinks of me must be pretty doggone good to do what He's done for me), then I don't care what others think of me. When He is my Source, I don't panic at the lack of alternative sources.

So next time you find yourself trying to control or manipulate someone to say, do, feel, or be the way YOU want, ask yourself one simple question: What am I needing? Controllers and manipulators always need something. And, no matter how good and godly anybody tries to make it sound, controlling and manipulating other people to, say, do, feel or be a certain way is evidence that there is a great void in the inner life of the manipulator. That void can only be filled by the knowledge of Christ and His grace relationship with us. For this reason, to give in to coercive behavior is to enable the manipulator to continue finding his life in secondary sources rather than Christ. And to give in or to give up is about the worst thing you could ever do for the manipulator you love in your life.

Think about it.

19 comments:

The Blog bites better than the Bullet. said...

SO true. Very challenging also! Thanks for that.

Pege' said...

Poignant topic. Only thing I can say is THANK YOU for the reminder. Thank you for teaching me this over many years by word and example. I regret it has taken me so very long to even have a thimble full of understanding.

hariette petersen a.k.a. SelahV said...

Great post, Wade. Powerful message. selahV

Wanda (Deb) Martin said...

Wade,

Thank you for continuing to speak out about these issues.

You offer a glimmer of hope for women who are entrapped in conservative religious systems.

Love the picture!

Anonymous said...

Wade,

Have you read Ed Stetzer's articles on "Surviving Unhealthy Christian Organizations"?

They werewritten on April 5th and 10th. They are pretty good too.

Grace,

Bill
Romans 5:1

Bob Cleveland said...

I also point out that, if their teaching had been Biblical and instructive, believers would never put up with controlling manipulators, in a church setting. We make so much of Priesthood of the Believer, I wonder how church folks could.

Wyman Richardson said...

Hey Wade. Thank you for this post.

I am in agreement with what you say here. I shudder to think that I would ever seek to control anybody! I'm just curious to know, though, how you would see church discipline operating without violating what you warn of here? Meaning, when does church discipline cross the line from being loving, redemptive and biblical to being controlling?

Now, clearly it can cross that line. I've seen discipline that I thought was wicked and controlling and I want no part of it. I've also met people who see ANY exercise of church discipline as inherently controlling.

And I have personally and with a broken heart have had to exercise church discipline, making sure that I was being patient, reasonable, redemptive, careful, gracious, and cognizant of the person's dignity, only to have it told later that I was being controlling (a charge that grieves me greatly since I knew it to be untrue and knew the great pains I took not to be controlling).

So what do you think? Is it possible to practice church discipline without controlling and how do we do that?

Many thanks.

Wyman Richardson
www.walkingtogetherministries.com

Wade Burleson said...

Wyman,

Is it possible to practice church discipline without controlling?

Absolutely! It is loving the person regardless of his decision to repent. It is accepting a person and his/her decisions, regardless what they are!

Matt said...

I find your reference to "spiritual authority" very interesting. Years ago, before I was aware that the kind of manipulation you talk about here existed, I obtained a DVD entitled "What Every Pastor Ought to Know."

As an aspiring pastor in college, planning to enter seminary, the content excited me. Some of this dvd was helpful, but I remember listening to one lesson that dwelt heavily on exercising one's spiritual authority as a pastor. Something about the way it was presented and the way it portrayed leadership just did not strike a chord with me.

Since then, I've come to understand why, and it is due to the fact that it advocated spiritual manipulation, even if it did not call it that.

Thanks for your willingness to address issues like this!

David said...

Wade, do you think there's ever a place for being controlling or manipulating to stop someone making really bad choices?

I'm trying to think of examples - here's a couple:

One of your children wants to move in with their boy/girl friend before they are married. You know what it will lead to...

A member of your youth group is considering experimenting with drugs.

In situations like these, is there ever a place for doing whatever you can to keep them out of trouble?

I don't have kids, but if I did and one of them was considering either of the above, if all else failed I could see myself becoming controlling or manipulative. Not because I am in need of something, but because, for their sake, I want the best for my child and wouldn't want them to fall into sin or ruin their life.

It's a hypothetical question - one of these ethical dilemmas - and I'd be interested to know your thoughts on it.

Anonymous said...

very well written. I've often thought that when we feel "out of control" or anxious that we often do whatever we can to feel in control again. When we are walking with God and trusting Him, we aren't anxious. When we forget to walk with Him, we are vulnerable to be something we don't want to be.

Charis said...

QUOTE"to give in to coercive behavior is to enable the manipulator to continue finding his life in secondary sources rather than Christ."-Wade

I wish I heard this in church and Christian media instead of the party line that a wife is obligated to "submit in everything". Would have saved much heartache and many years of enabling and pain...

Your encouragement to recognize our value/worth in Christ resonates deeply with my journey to freedom.

Wyman said...

Wade,

Thanks so much for the response to my question about how to practice church discipline without seeking to control others. You responded:

Is it possible to practice church discipline without controlling?

Absolutely! It is loving the person regardless of his decision to repent. It is accepting a person and his/her decisions, regardless what they are!


I'm 100% with you on "loving the person regardless of his decision to repent." It seems to me that love is the sine qua non of church discipline, though, regrettably, lots of people attempt to practice church discipline without love. I agree with you completely.

I think I know what you mean by the last statement, but I'm not sure: It is accepting a person and his/her decisions, regardless what they are!

Not trying to parse your words, but I'm curious to know what you mean by this.

Your response to a scenario might help me: I have a friend who is a pastor (and, no, that's NOT a veiled reference to me, btw! Ha!). A man in the church he pastors began an adulterous affair with another woman. So the man started bringing his mistress to church while his wife and children sat in tears on the other side of the sanctuary. My friend said it was terribly inappropriate (obviously, the affair in and of itself was regardless of bringing her to church). It was also beginning to divide the church as people would either glare at him or look sympathetically at her during the service.

Let's say my friend goes to the man, follows the steps of scripture, and pleads with the man to repent. Let's say the man refuses and sees nothing wrong with it. What does "accepting [him] and [his] decisions, regardless what they are" look like in this case? Just letting it drop? Removing him from membership?

Just trying to understand.

Thanks so much.

Wyman

Johnny D. said...

This sort of thing has only happened to me once. We didn't stick around. I'm referring to my expierence at the SBC church that wanted to re-rebaptize us.

Johnny D. said...

Man, I can't believe I spelled experience that way. And I slept good last night too. No excuse.

Wade Burleson said...

"Let's say my friend goes to the man, follows the steps of scripture, and pleads with the man to repent. Let's say the man refuses and sees nothing wrong with it. What does "accepting [him] and [his] decisions, regardless what they are" look like in this case? Just letting it drop? Removing him from membership?

Wyman, if the man refuses to end the adulterous affair, and if he refuses to listen to the pastor, then you tell the church of his refusal to repent of his affair.

Then, you request from the church that a judgment be made about the man's soul condition. What judgment is that? The church judges the man as one without grace, one without a Savior, one without regeneration - a reprobate. You explain to the church that, obviously, we are NOT GOD, so we do not know for sure if our judgement is correct, but "by their fruits" are Christ's people known. To continue in adultery after repeated, loving attempts by others to provoke the adulterer to repentance, love and good deeds toward his wife and family, is a sign of reprobation - that is, it is a sign that the man is indeed lost.

How do we treat lost people? We love them. How do we relate to lost people? As people who are in need of a Savior. To we "shun" lost people? No. Do we exclude lost people from attending our services? No. We look at them with eyes of truth and love.

And, to top it all off, Jesus explains that when we love somebody like this, we are displaying the love and kindness of heaven--and the decision of the church is the decision of heaven (Matthew 18).

Where churches screw up is that they think they are OBLIGATED TO CHANGE THE SINNER. We can't. We just love the sinner enough to tell the truth.

Wyman said...

Wade,

Thanks for that. I think I understand your thoughts on this and, if I understand correctly, I agree with you. Thanks for the time.

Many thanks!

Wyman

Rex Ray said...

Wade,

You wrote: “Spiritual abuse is not pretty, particularly because it is done "in the name of the Lord" and the abuser is deceived into believing he is doing the will of God.”

Once, a man that worked for Hospice got home at four in the morning after driving hundreds of miles to comfort a grieving family that had lost a loved one.

He led them in prayer, but the next Sunday he kept his congregation laughing at the funny events this drunken family had done. He forgot the ‘best’ event and told it the following Sunday.

I wonder which would be the most fitting scripture “Your care for others is the measure of your greatness” (Luke 9:48 Living) or “On judgment day many will say to me, ‘Lord! Lord! We prophesied in your name and cast out demons in your name and performed many miracles in your name.’ But I will reply, ‘I never knew you.’ when you consider a church member who lived less than two miles away lost a five year battle to cancer, and the man never once darkened her door.

one who was controlled and manipulated said...

"One of your children wants to move in with their boy/girl friend before they are married. You know what it will lead to...

A member of your youth group is considering experimenting with drugs."

no. please don't ever be controlling or manipulative. please always be loving. tell them your honest opinion of their behavior, share real potential consequences and results from their choices, but *always* always end by telling them that you will love them and be there for them no matter what.

and then actually be there. actually listen. truly love and care. you don't ever have to completely agree, but you are called to always love. and control or manipulation will NEVER EVER be a sign of real love.