January 14, 2008 by

Pastoral Manipulation


Categories: My Story, Rantings

Oooh, now that’s a provocative title. 🙂

Church pastors can be the most co-dependent people in the world. (Being a recovering co-dependent myself, I ought to know.) I don’t say this to slam well-intended men and women of God; I say it because I believe the institutional church system promotes codependency among its leaders.

First–institutional Christianity tends to put pastors and leaders on a pedestal above the others, instead of simply giving him/her functional authority as a servant leader. So from the outset, there is an inordinate set of expectations upon the pastor. (See my posts on “Great Expectations”.) Second–it’s sort of set up to make the pastor reliant, both financially and emotionally, on the system. Being a pastor in the typical church is essentially a popularity contest; the more people like you (or your programs), the more people will come; the more they come, the more they give, etc. So if people leave for any reason, it’s easy for a pastor to take it personally. Even if it doesn’t directly affect his salary, it might affect his ability to keep the lights on or pay the steep mortgage he just took out on that brand-new building.

I want to say here that I believe in the tithe, and I believe there are still those whom God calls to “gain their living from the gospel” as Paul says. But too many pastors get so ingrained in the institution that they begin to put their trust in the institution rather than God. This causes many pastors and leaders to resort to manipulating things and people to keep things under control.

I served for a number of years under a pastor whom I believe was called of God, but who was constantly tormented with the unhealed wounding of his past. For that reason, he consistently manipulated people emotionally to promote the behavior he wanted to see in them. He knew just what to say to win someone over, or persuade, or even freak someone out–anything to keep the advantage and stay in control. Being a broken vessel myself, I gave myself emotionally to this man, and it wasn’t until a long time later that I saw how he manipulated me, pushing my emotional buttons to keep me in line. It damaged my relationship with my child, and with my wife, because I was constantly put in a position to answer for their behaviors as well as my own; so I lived under an incredible amount of pressure, and my family paid the price for that.

When I finally got out of that unhealthy situation and planted my own church, guess what I did? (True confessions again.) I manipulated people. It was all I knew, all I had been taught by my pastor. Keep people in line, keep them from rocking the boat–stay in control at all costs. It took a long time to weed that pattern out of my life. When I began to deal with my own healing issues, I was able to see many areas where I was practicing leadership from a place of codependency. When I saw how much I was saying and doing to people out of personal insecurity rather than a genuine concern for their well-being…well, it devastated me. And ultimately that understanding has helped in my personal healing.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned on my journey out of institutional Christianity, it’s that the true church Jesus set up is based on relationships, not vision statements or programs. Manipulation is a deterrent to relationships, and may be one reason why pastors can be the loneliest people on earth. I am still a pastor; I still feed sheep. But I marvel at how much my leadership style has changed just in the past couple of years. Coming out of the institution, and out of the codependency that it enabled in me, has helped me truly enjoy the people God has gathered in our community without the tormenting need to control their behavior. What a freedom that brings.

Musician. Composer. Recovering perfectionist. Minister-in-transition. Lover of puns. Hijacker of rock song references. Questioner of the status quo. I'm not really a rebel. Just a sincere Christ-follower with a thirst for significance that gets me into trouble. My quest has taken me over the fence of institutional Christianity. Here are some of my random thoughts along the way. Read along, join in the conversation. Just be nice.

2 Responses to Pastoral Manipulation

  1. Dale Best

    Hey Jeff…great post and great blog! Strong words from someone who’s burned out with the modern model of church.

    Thanks for stopping by my blog. Feel free to come back and comment on anything you read. I love interacting with new folks.

    And if you’re ever in the mood for some java…shoot me an email. There’s a link at the top of the blog!!


  2. Ben

    Great post. As a pastor myself, I know how tempting it is to allow my own issues to cause me to want to control others. It’s a tendency that we all have.

    And for sure, the institutional church has gotten it wrong a LOT. Building our programs, services, worship, etc around consumer “felt” needs instead of the gospel expressed in community will always lend itself to this mentality.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Notify me of followup comments via e-mail. You can also subscribe without commenting.