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Manipulating


The title of this article (Manipulating) is meant to get your attention. In reality, "manipulating" just means "managing people in a skilful way". So this is really going to be a study on management. It deals with two specific areas of management which are important to us as Christians: anticipation and motivation.

Anticipation means thinking about things before they actually happen. This is essential to all Christian living, whether it be anticipating how our actions will influence others or anticipating what lies beyond the grave. Looking ahead is not only important for us personally; it is also important in relation to the people whom we lead. Wise leadership requires us to look closely at where people are heading, and to prepare them for what lies ahead.

I've seen parents who know full well that teenagers will question just about everything that they have been taught, and yet these same parents stick their heads in the sand and do not prepare themselves for the questions that are going to come from their own children when they reach adolescence. Other teenagers, they tell themselves, may expose the flaws in the faith and practices of their parents, but our children are different. So they march on, blindly indifferent to their own inconsistencies, until it all comes out in an angry scene with an angry adolescent. These same parents end up heartbroken when their naive wishful thinking comes unstuck. If only they had anticipated the problem and prepared for it!

If they had anticipated that such a day would inevitably come, they might have been able to anticipate the kind of arguments that would be raised, and they might have worked at weeding out any hints of hypocrisy or dishonesty in their own faith and practice beforehand. They might have seen the need to stop preaching and start listening as adolescence approached. There are ways to be prepared, but they are not easy. They take a lot of thought, preparation, humility, and willingness to change. And all of this starts by anticipating that there will be such a judgment one day.

Now let me broaden this to apply to all leaders. You have some people who are trusting you for spiritual leadership. For a while, they will trust you blindly, taking your advice as law. But sooner or later, they are going to start questioning your decisions. Sometimes their challenges will be empty ones, stemming only from their own pride and immaturity. But if you are not careful, you will stand condemned one day, simply because you failed to judge yourself. Paul wrote to the Corinthians, "If we would judge ourselves, we would not be judged." (1 Corinthians 11:31) This is one aspect of anticipation.

But there is another aspect of anticipation which relates to anticipating problems for the followers. If you can anticipate the needs of those you lead, you may be able to prepare them for problems ahead of time. For example, when I see a Christian minister spending a lot of time alone with members of the opposite sex, I am smart enough to know that he or she is heading for trouble. They are giving in to the first temptation, which is just the temptation to be tempted. They will deny it, of course, for they are drunk with the thrill of being flattered. But it is still my job to warn that person.

When I see someone losing interest in spiritual things, withdrawing from fellowship, wasting time on trivia, attracted to material pursuits, I know that they, too, are heading for trouble. I do not need to wait until the problem is full-blown and they have fallen completely away from God before I can take action. In fact, if I do wait, it may be too late by the time that I do act. My followers may be coping quite well with basic life skills, and they may not be causing me any personal discomfort; but it should not blind me to problems which lurk below the surface, and which are likely to destroy their soul.

Another name for anticipation, one which we have used in the past, is trouble-shooting. "Forewarned is fore armed." And the first step in solving any problem is recognising that it exists. A good leader must be able to anticipate trouble before it occurs. Unfortunately, too many of us have been lured away from ministerial responsibility through the temptation to "think positively" and to overlook warning signs. Some so-called positive thinking is little more than an effort to escape reality, to run away from the handwriting on the wall. A good leader cannot afford to do that for very long. A good leader looks ahead and considers the long run.

Those who argue against spiritual leaders anticipating problems (because it's too "negative") rarely apply the same principles in other areas of their lives. They see nothing wrong with having regular check-ups on their health, or on their cars, and they often prefer prevention to cure. So let us not be afraid to take the same care for our spiritual health.

It is not enough to say that those you are leading have not come to you with a major problem recently. If you wait until they tell you that there is a problem, the problems will usually come at the worst possible times. Instead, you should be asking yourself almost daily, "How is so-and-so doing spiritually? What is his or her greatest spiritual need at the moment?" If you cannot answer those questions, then you may be guilty of managerial laziness, or indifference.

Anticipation, trouble shooting, or just plain looking ahead is pretty much the fundamental ingredient in good management. How can you possibly lead anyone, if you yourself do not know where things are heading. And if you find that things are heading in a direction that is contrary to the direction that is best for everyone concerned, then you have to work on the second aspect of manipulation (or management), which is ferreting out the motivations that are necessary to inspire people to alter their course. In other words, you must inspire change.

It is easy to say that we as Christians are motivated by such things as faith and love in all that we do, and hopefully there is some truth in that. However, most of us are unaware of other motivations which also come into the equation. We have seen how greed, convenience and social pressure play a strong role in dictating what many people do and say. (See Convenient Doctrines, The Social Conscience, part 1, and The Root of all Evil.) For most people these forces dominate their lives. But even the strongest Christian can be plagued by such deceptive desires. As good leaders, we need to be aware of those temptations, learning to recognise them in ourselves as well as in others.

However, an even subtler gift of discernment is needed to comprehend the more positive motivations and how they operate differently in different people. The particular nature of a motivation that causes a person to make a decision that is neither convenient, popular, nor profitable is the key to helping that person with other difficult decisions.

By the time a person becomes a member of our community, they have usually made quite a few significant sacrifices. They have usually done so because they thought that it was God's will for them to do so. However, their understanding of God's will and your understanding may be two very different things. Because of that, sooner or later you are going to think something is God's will about which they will not share the same conviction. Then you must find ways to get them to change out of genuine conviction and not just conformity.

A common example of this is our practice of distributing tracts. People may sell everything they have and give to the poor. They may forsake their family, quit their job, and head out with us to a strange new land, all because they believe that it is God's will. But suddenly they will baulk at handing out tracts, or, more likely, at asking for a donation. For those of us who have done it for many years, what we are doing makes perfect sense. We are "preaching the gospel" and taking an offering from those who wish to contribute. But for people who have only ever thought of "preaching" as being something that you do on a stage, in front of a crowd, we sound like con men trying to justify panhandling.

It's not that the other person is rebelling against God. It's just that their understanding of the will of God is challenged by things that we have learned to take for granted. And the onus is on us to slow down, back up, and find out where it was that we veered off the track that they were travelling down so enthusiastically with us before. We must study their motivations, to see how they differ from our own.

Study the eight ways to know God's will, and work out which ones this person relies on most heavily. Look for ways to wake him or her up to other ways to know God's will. But consider, too, whether you may be able to communicate the same truth through the channels to which they are most open.

A person, for example, who is disinclined to jump just because you have found a proof text in the Bible to support what you are advocating, may be motivated to act if they can see that your proposed plan of action is practical and loving. But another person may be just the opposite. They may refuse to ask for a donation, because they cannot find a verse in the Bible commanding them to do such a thing. For these people, you must find verses, or link the action with more scriptural terminology such as letting those who preach the gospel live off the gospel, accepting carnal rewards from those to whom we have given spiritual food. Topics such as humility, faithfulness, and unity may also need to be discussed.

You may also be able to lead a person, step by step, away from a negative motivation, toward a more positive one. Suppose someone is lazy about doing household chores. Rather than condemn the laziness, you could turn the chores into a game, with some kind of a reward. Such a positive motivation may be all that is needed to overcome the laziness. You have achieved a change through "inspiration" rather than "condemnation". Obviously, we don't want people to be motivated by greed; but in most cases the tiny prizes that we offer would be little more than catalysts, to help people do what they really want to do, and that is to grow spiritually.

We use the empowerment charts to do much the same thing for ourselves, turning progress into points that we can add up on a chart. But even something as simple as an empowerment chart needs a lot of fine tuning, and it is the job of good leaders to experiment with such things until we find a way that gets the desired effect without bringing damaging side effects. We must encourage them not to make the goals too hard, nor too easy. We must encourage them not to make the rewards too big or too small. And we must remind them to constantly re-assess what is happening, to be sure that they are achieving the desired spiritual goals, rather than being sidetracked into pointless production goals.

In conclusion, I would ask you to examine yourself, and those whom you lead, to see if you are aware of your weak spots and the weak spots that threaten your followers. And if you are aware of them, I would ask you whether you are taking actions to motivate changes, and if you are assessing your progress, to see if your actions are having the desired effect. If we keep working on these two aspects of management -- anticipation and motivation -- overall spiritual growth will eventually result.

(See also Empowerment Sessions.)

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