Spiritual Manipulation

I had a great conversation yesterday with a ‘jacob’s-well-checker-outer.’ He represents people whom I love to talk to because they are searching and critically discerning at the same time. They bring hope and skepticism to the table simultaneously. I see a lot of me reflected in such people.

One of the things we talked about is the danger of manipulation of people by religious organizations. There are certainly enough examples of it – Jonestown in Guyana comes to mind, but that is the extreme. The danger of manipulation comes from people allowing another person to tell them what to do or think. What happens at church can certainly fall into that category; people come looking for a ‘Word from God,’ and the leaders, often a pastor, offers to supply that Word.

Do I manipulate people? I want to say no, and I can confidently say that I never do it intentionally for purposes that are self serving, but that is where I have to ask just what the difference is between manipulation and inspiration. It is the church’s job to open people’s hearts, to lead them places they wouldn’t go otherwise, to touch their emotions. Is that manipulation? Is the difference between inspiration and manipulation the motivation behind it? After all, to manipulate literally means to alter something manually, with an intentional act. I wouldn’t be doing my job if I didn’t try to create that nexus between God and people andso that something happen there.

In my message tomorrow as part of our High Definition Living series I am talking about “God’s HD Signal” (forgive the comparison…). God’s ‘signal’ or message is different from others because of how much ‘bandwidth’ it holds, that is, how comprehensive it is in addressing all aspects of our lives. I’ll mention Jesus’ Great Commandment, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind & strength.” God wants to get into every nook & cranny of us, and make us different.

I don’t want people to ever feel manipulated, but I do want people to feel moved – by God, through me, and the music, the community, the environment, everything. I guess we need to demonstrate transparency, ask people to not be passive receivers but to engage in the process, to test out what they experience at Jacob’s Well. And I need people to trust me. I know that I need to earn that trust. I don’t expect it to be given me just because I am ‘the pastor’ or the person up front. If anything, I see those things as barriers to gaining people’s trust because it removes me from their experience. I also need to ask people to risk. To be willing to be vulnerable to God’s work through our worship experiences and other places in their lives – not to turn off their brains or to live in a fantasy world, but to dare to see and experience things in a way in which they aren’t in control.

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9 responses to “Spiritual Manipulation

  1. … isn’t it always our ‘motives’ that make us accountable to God in everything we endeavor upon this earth … spiritually, soulfully, & naturally?

    enjoyed reading your expressions.

  2. There is always three things said. 1. what we think we said. 2. what we actually said. and 3. what the other person heard. I know that I have fallen victim to not expressing my inner thoughts on a subject in a clear way that allows a listener/reader to understand my point. I always feel disappointed when I see that I have been misunderstood despite my goal of clarity.

  3. Thanks for the comments. Pretty speedy, especially since I’ve really neglected this blog in recent weeks.

    My concern isn’t with being misunderstood, that’s another problem… but the whole idea of churches manipulating people. Of course we do. But aren’t we supposed to? I agree with CL Mareydt above that it is our intentions, our motives that make the difference between much needed and appropriate ‘manipulation’ (let’s call that influence) and inappropriate ‘manipulation.’

    Jesus’ message is all about life change, he foisted it upon people – I think of the young blind man of John 9. The purpose and the power for the change should be coming from God, not us, however. That seems to be an essential difference between human manipulation and divine intervention – but that too is subjective.

    Interesting stuff to mull over. Won’t keep me from doing whatever it takes to open people’s hearts and heads to God’s word to them.

  4. The difference between moved and manipulated is the power of GOD. In our own strength we must try “every trick in the book”. When the Lord is moving things just happen. The later is harder. There is surrender and patience. When I have those two down pat I will let ya know 😉

  5. My thought is that people can be manipulated to act religiously, but they must be inspired to become spiritual. I’m certain what you’re doing at Jacob’s Well calls people to become (or become more) spiritual.

    The problem with being manipulated into or within a religion is that it can easily become a barrier to spirituality with the passage of time… We feel guilty, we worry whether or not we’re doing the right things for ourselves and for our children, we act out of obligation rather than desire. And when we do those things we’re not really focusing on our relationship with Christ, right? Seems to me it’s bound to backfire.

    Anyway, great blog. Look forward to reading past and future posts.

  6. Preach it sister! Don’t you think then that this is part of the message? It isn’t about doing it right, but engaging in the relationship. Making mistakes, being part of the movement, being the church instead of having a religious membership. I think we really have to tirelessly and repetitively keep this message up front. This isn’t just information, it is the vision that undergirds Jesus’ message.

  7. I totally agree. Just remember, though, that it’s a huge leap for some of us. My heart is with you all the way, but it’s a bit more difficult for my mind. 37 years of one religion in school and home are hard to get past. To be honest, it was easier for me to pick and choose within my own religion and have that be it. Not too personal, but easy nonetheless. I find myself struggling a bit now (mostly it’s that guilt mentioned above), but I’m much happier. Maybe it’s a little easier for someone who has never been actively involved with an organized religion to settle in and get comfy “being” the church… I don’t know.

    I’ll get there.

  8. Take small steps, but keep walking.

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