A few days ago, I received an email from someone checking out some of my older blog posts, and I felt our email conversation might benefit others. I am a few years down the road on my journey from when I started processing all this stuff, but as I wrote this brother back, I almost felt like it was a synopsis of the last couple of years of blogging. With his permission, I’m reposting the conversation, withholding the name for privacy’s sake.
Just read your blog post about pastoral manipulation. I’m leaving a church (where I was supposed to be an intern) to head to another one out of state to wrap up preparation for ordination. Unfortunately, my wife and I have come to the conclusion that the pastor at the church we are leaving has engaged in the manipulation you spoke of in your post.
I want to love, feed and care for folks as a pastor when that time comes. I DO NOT want to end up doing to them what I believe has happened to me. How did you “un-do” this in your life?
My pastor at the church where we started and I are looking at about a year prep for ordination. In my mind, in addition to preparing for ordination, that gives me a year to try and “un-do” some of this junk. Any counsel you might have and be willing to share would be much
Thanks for your honest question. It’s a genuine pleasure to have something presented that sincerely.
My own experience was a gradual un-doing of the damage, and sadly, it did not come without my causing damage to some people. Although I improved and healed over time, there was a lot in my own heart to de-construct, because while I saw the manipulation in my own pastor, I also knew no other way to pastor, because he’s the one who taught me–so I manipulated without even realizing it, and it took awhile to see what I was doing. Most of my ten years doing house church, in fact, I was de-constructing. So it was a process. Thankfully, Jesus isn’t just my Healer, he is other people’s Healer as well. 🙂
A few things come to mind in thinking over your question. The first thing is to let you know that you need to recognize the manipulation as a wounding, a violation–not in the sense of holding it against that pastor, but in the sense of realizing you have been hurt by this, and you cannot heal yourself. In other words, from the emotional side of things, you cannot “undo” what has been done. That’s the bad news. The good news is that Jesus is a Healer. So I would take the approach of going before Jesus (not once, but repeatedly during the process) and simply asking Him to heal those wounds. It might take longer than the year of prep, but if you keep this open approach and be willing to face any pain Jesus might bring up in your soul in this process, it will go a long way toward breaking the pattern so you don’t repeat it.
Secondly, Jesus is also a teacher–so ask the Holy Spirit to teach you a better way. I really see the relationship between Moses and Joshua as a good example here. You find Joshua present or nearby in nearly every major transaction that happened between God and Moses, and you see Moses’ mistakes clearly. Joshua didn’t judge Moses for his choices, but it’s apparent that he did learn from Moses’ bad decisions as to what NOT to do. 🙂 The Bible also states several times that Joshua left nothing undone that God gave him to do–something that cannot be said about Moses. So all that to say, God can use your bad experience with this pastor as a launching pad to teach you a better way–so ask Him to reveal this to you.
Thirdly, I’d recommend some practical things to help bring your own checks and balances with leadership. Most pastoral manipulation, believe it or not, has some sincerity attached to it–the pastor doesn’t WANT to “manipulate”, but feels he/she must take control of something to keep it in line with what he/she thinks needs to be done. To me, there’s a lot structurally with the church system that really enables that behavior, makes the stakes too high for pastors, so to speak–so they sometimes manipulate just because they don’t see any other path. Here’s a couple of things I’ve learned by experience that have helped lower the stakes so I didn’t feel so compelled to control people:
- Remember that people are always more important than vision. I understand the whole without-a-vision-the-people-perish thing, but in my view that’s been warped by our corporate business way of thinking. Whenever the vision of the church takes precedence over the people of the church, someone’s going to get hurt–because inevitably at some point, the pastor is going to have to choose in favor of the “vision” at someone’s expense. The people are the reason you are in the ministry. Always remember that, and you’ll be less apt to manipulate people.
- While I still believe in ministers gaining their living from the gospel, I also recognize that in our day, finances are probably the main source behind pastoral manipulation. If you find a pastor manipulating someone in the church, the bottom line is very likely money–people coming and going from the church, after all, directly affect the church’s bank account. This is a very real issue, and not entirely the pastor’s fault–after all, the way churches are set up these days, there’s usually mortgage, light bills and payroll expenses–and like it or not, more warm bodies equal more income. It might not be possible to avoid this dilemma, but the more financially independent you are from the church, the easier it will be for you to avoid the snare of allowing money to be a guiding factor in how you deal with people. If you must be financially dependent on the work, to whatever extent you are able, make a quality decision always to work in a person’s best interests, even at the expense of the church’s finances (or your own). To the best of your ability, don’t be held hostage by money when it comes to your flock, and it will greatly reduce the temptation to manipulate.
One last thing I’d offer, and that is to give yourself grace, too–because chances are very good you will disappoint yourself at some point, you will fail, and you will hurt someone. And it might have nothing whatsoever to do with your manipulative pastor–it will be because you are a broken vessel like everyone else. But that does not disqualify you from being a minister, and when you do mess up, Jesus can still ultimately fix anything you happen to break. 🙂 He is amazing that way, entrusting His gospel to a lot of messed up people. However, I think He also honors the heart that genuinely wants to do right by people, and that will go a long way to making you a good pastor. By “good pastor”, I mean one who does more good than harm. 🙂
I hope this rambling is helpful to you; it’s not perfect advice, but it’s a lot of conclusions I’ve drawn from experience, so hopefully you can find something you can use in it. 🙂 Thanks again for reaching out, and Godspeed in your endeavors.