It’s odd to think about manipulation occurring in churches; especially not in any church, I know. However, we have to admit manipulation happens every-where. It happens in homes, in workplaces, in business, media, politics and yes, even in churches. In this article, I focus on how to identify manipulation when it occurs in the church.
It is good and bad in life and the church is not an exception to the rule. There are a number of scriptures warnings the church to be on the alert against deception. However, most people attending church aren’t concerned about being deceived. This is why it’s so easy for them to be to deceive. And for those not watching they possibly have experienced some form of manipulation already. That’s the reality we live in.
There are two excellent illustrations of this in the Bible that I wish to bring to the table. Simon the sorcerer found in the book of Acts and Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess. First, “Simon (the sorcerer) lived in Samaria, and for some time he had astounded the Samaritans with his magic. He claimed that he was someone great, everyone in the city, from all classes of society, paid close attention to him. He is that power of God known as ‘The Great Power,’ “they said. They were devoted to him because he had astonished them with his magic”. Second, Jezebel, who calls herself a messenger of God successfully, manipulated Christians into practicing sexual immorality and eating foods offered to idols. The behaviors in both Simon the sorcerer and Jezebel all those of manipulators and in the church, the tendency to overlook these types of behaviors is great, especially within those holding authority.
I can’t explain it better than this but there is a great and grievous lack of spiritual discernment in the churches. In general people naturally have an overwhelming need to believe their leadership, even if those in leadership are corrupt. For example, Samaritans from all classes of society believe Simon was a leader of God. They did so because things he did seem to help better your life. However, the church should never give up its right to judge those in leadership for any reason. The scriptures teach, “Do not trust all who claim to have the Spirit, but test them to find out if the spirit they have comes from God, for many false prophets have gone out everywhere.” The church must maintain the spiritual ability to be sensitive to the voice of the scriptures. “My sheep (the whole church) knows my voice and will not follow another voice.” Knowing God’s voice equips us with the knowledge that arms us to be ready for manipulators. Yes, I will state it again, “The church should carefully judge leadership” not out of an act of rebellion, but out of love and care for the truth.
On another note, whenever there is a Simon or Jezebel in leadership, they will not take judging their behavior to kindly. They will use manipulative tools to disarm your discernment. They will respond as followed:
I cannot believe you do not believe in me as a leader!
Are you telling me you felt this way all this time?
Why are you here if you do not trust me as your leader?
Are you more spiritual than me now?
I been in the Lord a long time and never had anyone to question my leadership, you are the first.
Are you the Pastor now?
I’m the Pastor; God called me.
Be careful what you say, I am not just anyone.
After all that I have done for you, this how you return the favor.
You had me thinking all this time you were with me.
You are a big part of this ministry, how could you?
Why did you ask to become a leader, if you felt that way?
You cannot continue in any role in the church if you do not trust me as a leader.
Manipulators use these tactics to defuse those opposing their authority. Leaders with these characteristics will escape the reality that they could be wrong by attempting to turn the tables making the matter personal rather than dealing with your concerns. Therefore playing on your emotions and your intelligence. Nevertheless, we cannot be exempt them from being judged by the Scriptures. We must remember God’s word is the final authority, not leadership.
As building on this understanding, we should recognize that manipulation is not limited to leadership; it can happen in any relationship. So I ask you to beware of manipulation. Relationships ought to be sincere with a healthy balance between giving and take. This means both individuals are equally involved in making the relationship work with no selfish intention. In an unhealthy relationship, the manipulator develops a strange one-sided parasite like friendship. The objective here is to deplete victims of information to control them. Let’s look closer into this.
Manipulators hold highly aggressive concealed internal motives. They’ve mastered the ability to make others around them feel emotionally, spiritually, or financially dependent on them. In this state, the victims often willfully offer personal and secretive information about themselves falling ignorantly into the trap. The information gathered by the aggressor will be held and used to maintain leverage. You should note the Manipulators primary goal is to find weaknesses; it could be financial, spiritual, mental, in health, as insecurity, or fear. Your weakness becomes leverage. This process will seem natural and even completely secure. Nevertheless, it is not.
Here are a few signs of unhealthy fellowships.
How much do you know about the other person, and how must do they know about you.
If you shared information about your life with others that can be harmful if exposed, the relationship is unhealthy. In most cases, the manipulators will not offer any personal information about themselves. The victim will only know basic information, nothing of any real value. They will never share in-depth their finances, spiritual life, marriage, or insecurities. This is how they manage to control. You should recognize this as unhealthy and stop.
Can you give them guidance and they receive it and apply it?
Manipulators will not take advice from you. The relationship will always be one-sided; they want you to follow and not the other way around. They will often compliment your thoughts by making them theirs. This is the only way they can actively move on anything that originated from you.
How often do they come to you with problems, and how often do you look for them?
If you are always approaching them with problems and guidance, you are where they want you. This may be hard to chew, however, only God should know your deepest secrets. Leadership and no one else should know everything about your marriage, finances, past life, or weakness. This is unhealthy. We have a responsibility to take those things to God.
Can you question their judgment; and how often do they control your thoughts and how you think?
Manipulators have mastered the skill of suggesting. However, do not be deceived, it’s all premeditated. You cannot question the judgment of a manipulator without feeling stupid in the end. Neither can you think for yourself. They will always steer your mind to accomplish their motives for your life. They will call it a suggestion.
If you find yourself, the victim of manipulation it is important to know that you deserve respect. The first order is acknowledgment. The shock of being involved in manipulation makes it hard to digest mentally. It is normal to feel anger, sadness, frustration, betrayal, misled, misrepresented, trapped, revenge, and confused. However, you will have to fight through all these emotions to find the will of God. You also have to find the answer to “YOUR” relationship with God. People are people, and they change. Nevertheless, God never changes; he wants us to toss all our problems on him, not on people. The moment we leave this principle, we are asking for unhealthy relationships.
The truth is manipulation has in many forms, in this article a foundation to build on is set. Take action. Do not allow yourself to be a victim.