Your Church Motivating, Not Manipulating

“Motivating, NOT Manipulating”
By Paul A. Murray

I heard a pastor tell about a wealthy man who called and said, “Reverend, I’ve never had much time for religion, but I’m getting older, and maybe I ought to make my peace with the church. I’d like to start by giving you a $10,000 check.” The preacher said, “I immediately extended to him the right hand of fellowship.” I don’t think he was joking.

The exchange was an example of manipulation, which despite being repudiated, still manages to find its way into the ministry. Why? Because it’s effective. It just plain works! In this case, the church got a $10,000 windfall. But manipulation comes with a price. The pastor manipulated the fellow into believing he was getting Christian fellowship, but the man also manipulated the preacher by buying his way in, which we all know is an impossible relationship.

There is a difference between manipulation and motivation. Motivation is getting people to do something out of mutual advantage. Manipulation is getting people to do what you want them to do, primarily for your own advantage. If the other person benefits, it’s purely secondary. Manipulation carries a hidden agenda. Motivation carries an open agenda. You can be totally honest with people.

Walking the Fine Line

We all agree that motivation is good and manipulation is bad. But sometimes only a fine line separates the two, and it’s difficult to know which side of the line you’re on. The issues aren’t always clear-cut. What may be a legitimate case of motivation in one situation could, with a different intent, be manipulation.

An example is a cook who hides eggplant, which you’ve said you’ll never eat, in some kind of casserole. You say, “Hey, that’s good. What is it?” Only then does he tell you. Were you manipulated? Or motivated?

Whenever we try to motivate without the other person knowing what we are trying to do, we need to be careful. We can try to bring out a latent desire a person doesn’t even know exists, but we need to remember three things: (1) Recognize how close we are to manipulation; (2) Set a checkpoint and, if the technique doesn’t produce a genuine thirst, stop it; and (3) Never resort to immoral means even for righteous ends.

Instilling motivation is hard work. It takes a lot out of me to bring you where I want you to go. I sometimes hear people say, “Well, if a person doesn’t want to go, I have no right to manipulate him to get him there.” I may not have a right to manipulate, but neither can I allow the fear of manipulation to be a rationalization for not doing the hard work of instilling motivation, which is, after all, one of the leader’s most important tasks.

At the same time, we limit anything that borders on manipulation because it is so easy to exploit people with it. To challenge people, to motivate with integrity, means I may put a lot of effort into a person, but the time comes when he must be set free. He may walk away and leave me empty-handed, but any more on my part would be dishonest manipulation. My only recourse is to start over with somebody else.

Uses and Abuses

In most cases, manipulation is the prostitution of motivation. Prostitution is always easier than the real thing; it’s an attempt to get results without honest effort. Motivation is not a quick fix. Manipulation can be. A common example in the church is proof texting where someone takes a promise people find very attractive (God wants you in a Lexus) and digs up three or four Bible verses that say God will supply your deepest desire. That’s manipulation, not honest instruction. There arc other ways we see manipulation in the church.

Appealing to human gratification. Anything that appeals primarily to human desire is manipulation; anything that satisfies divine desires is motivation. If we structure a church so members come only to meet their human needs for friendship, security, belonging, or tradition, we are manipulating.

To find ways to motivate spiritually is difficult. It’s much easier to find a human mutual interest than to implant a divine mutual interest. Divine interests may contradict human interests. If you decide church officers must fulfill the Scriptural requirements for deacon or elder, think of the political fallout. In many cases, if you don’t let the financially powerful exert their influence, they go to another church, or worse, wreak havoc in this one. So we manipulate by giving them human satisfactions such as prestige, power and authority in the congregation.

Selective appreciation. When a wealthy person gives a gift larger than other people but small compared to what he ought to give, exaggerated recognition for that gift is manipulative. It does not motivate. Occasionally, I see people recognized as outstanding leaders when the only outstanding thing they’ve done is to give more money than other people can afford. It hasn’t affected their lives. It represented no sacrifice. Fawning over them is favoritism, which is condemned in Scripture.

These two forms of manipulation are usually justified because they help the cause. But, in the work of God, ends—even noble ends—never justify means. Such thinking humanizes God and eliminates His sovereignty. God becomes unnecessary as we presume to do for him what he couldn’t do any other way. We forget God is as interested in the process by which we live as the product we produce. If that process is not divinely sanctioned, we are outside His will.

Means of Motivating

What are some motivational means? How can we bring out the best in people without resorting to manipulative tactics?
Establish a psychically friendly atmosphere. This is especially true whether they are volunteer or paid. For long-term, day-to-day relationships, however, I need people I can motivate with integrity.

Enjoy people’s uniqueness. Being friends is beneficial; having the same tastes is not necessary.

Look for ways both of you can benefit. A certain honesty is required in motivation. It admits that unless there is a mutual interest, perhaps we shouldn’t get involved in this thing together.

Be honest about your goals. A young minister came to see me not long ago. He wanted to know how he could build his small church into a big church. “What’s your primary motivation?” I asked. “Frankly, the size church I’ve got can’t pay me enough to live on,” he said. For him to begin an evangelism program, he would have to manipulate people. He couldn’t be honest about it.

Compliment with credibility. I learned a secret of complimenting. Compliments should never be general, rather always specific.

When our motive is based on the best interest of others, we will always be the winner. God will bless every effort because of the integrity and “God-motive” that directs the actions of the leader. The bottom line is that all a leader does and is must be from and for God – motivation, not manipulation.

From, “Apostolic Witness”/May 2009/Page 28-29, by Paul A. Murray

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