Manipulation Is Not Leadership

Proverbs says a lot about flattery. One of my favorite proverbs reminds us that the wounds of a friend are preferable to the kisses of an enemy. Often people who don’t really have your best interest in mind will use flattery to manipulate you. I get frustrated with myself when I slip into manipulation by flattery mode.

But flattery isn’t the only way we manipulate people. Some people are master manipulators. They spend their time evaluating a person, figuring out that person’s “buttons”, and then press all the right ones to get what they desire from that person. Some people are “passive-aggressive” manipulators; they’ll bully a person by withdrawing and being silent.

Is there anything wrong with manipulation?

Many leadership “gurus” talk about the concept of “influence”, as being one of, if not the core competencies of leaders.

One author says “leadership is influence – nothing more, nothing less”.

I read another book recently that said, “to lead others, an individual or group must be able to sway people to follow a proposed direction.”

The same book tells the story of a pastor who believes God has given him the vision to buy a vacant lot next to his church in order to create a parking lot (check the end of this post to see why this in itself is problematic). In order to accomplish this “vision”, he takes each of his church’s deacons out to eat individually. He has them meet him at the church so he can drive, and with each deacon, as they arrive back at the church he subtly points to the vacant lot and says, “Do you think God would ever allow us to buy that property?”

Over time, the deacons begin to talk about the property, and eventually decide to buy it, believing they have come to a Spirit-led decision because they all had it on their mind.

So I wonder… is this leadership? or is this manipulation?

Manipulation is a tool for those who fear the agency of others.

Here’s why I think manipulation is wrong. Manipulation is me making an effort to do something in someone else that I believe the Spirit has done in me, but won’t do in them.

When I choose to manipulate someone, I’m choosing to use deceit and subversion rather than straightforward honesty and authenticity. Which approach do you think the Holy Spirit is more likely to work through?

Manipulation in the church often stems from the idea that God gives a vision to one person, not a group.

I’ve heard many of the young, hip, evangelical church leaders make this argument.

I’ve read it in the aforementioned books. It goes like this:

“God reveals his vision to one person. It has been my observation from the Bible and in personal ministry that teams do not develop vision.”

or

“In the Bible, God never gave the vision to a committee.”

The result of this kind of thinking is leaders who believe that once God has given them a vision it is up to them to convince everyone else (by hook or crook) of the rightness of their vision. The implication of this theory is that the Holy Spirit cannot work through anyone other than “the leader”. So much for the priesthood of the believer.

Note this comment from one of the above sources:

“If you’re not the senior pastor, you have to trust that he’s hearing from God.”

The biggest problem with this idea is that it is just flat wrong. The greatest vision God ever gave to men was given to a group, not an individual. That vision statement looked a little like this:

“It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

This brings me back to my starting point… Manipulation.

There is a very fine line between true leadership through influence and deceitful leadership through subversive manipulation.

I speak of the church because that is my life; but these principles are true everywhere: marriage, friendship, occupation, parenting, etc.

Anytime we use manipulation to influence people, we’ve asserted that the Holy Spirit cannot work through simple honesty and straightforwardness… and that is not a great place to be.

Great leaders understand that they cannot control or change the people around them. They reject the temptation to manipulate them into compliance and choose instead to lead through love, truth, clarity, and empowerment.

3 Things Every Pastor Should Say To Their Church Following The FBI Raid Of Donald Trump

Nobody shouted “Stop the Presses!”, but they could have. The news cycle came to a screeching halt this week and every major network was quickly consumed with the story that federal agents had procured and were serving a search warrant on Mar-a-Lago, the primary residence of former president Donald Trump.

Within hours, the competing narratives we have come to expect were being rolled out on competing networks. The most platformed Christian influencers were quickly serving up their own opinions. I saw one tweet encouraging pastors that they “must” speak to their churches about what happened this week.

I wouldn’t presume to tell any pastor what to say to their congregation, but I suppose such momentous news in such divisive times requires us to take a stand. So, here are three things I think every pastor should say this Sunday.

1. Jesus is the only hope for our world.

You may hope that the FBI raid is the final piece of evidence collection and that the justice department will finally have the necessary case to bring charges against Mr. Trump. That hope may be realized. But even if it is, it will not matter one iota in eternity and it will not turn one soul back to Jesus.

You may hope that the powers-that-be have finally overreached and this will turn into a colossal scandal that all but guarantees a second term for Mr. Trump. That hope may be realized. But even if it is, it will not matter one iota in eternity and it will not turn one soul back to Jesus.

Regardless of whether Donald Trump is found to be a criminal or a persecuted ex-official, what people really need to hear is that Jesus is the only solution for the sins and He is the only guarantee of abundant and eternal life. 

Any time you might spend talking about the FBI, is probably better spent talking about Jesus.

2. Love is the calling of Jesus’ followers.

You may have spent this week calling for justice against a corrupt administration that has done irreparable harm to our country. You may be calling friends encouraging them to get out and vote to ensure this great wrong cannot be done again. You may have assumed the last two sentences are about Donald Trump or you may have assumed they were about Joe Biden.

Your real calling is to love the people around you. Jesus never spoke ill of Caesar. He didn’t concern himself with the occupying empire (other than encouraging his followers to go an extra mile when compelled by the occupiers). He spent a great deal of time teaching how to love and commanding that love be extended to neighbors, strangers, and even enemies.

The people in the pews don’t need any more voices telling them who to hate and who to extend their anger (er… righteous indignation) toward. They need to be encouraged and reminded to love, and especially to love their enemies.

3. The Gospel is the message we carry.

The constitution is a great document. It has served our country well for over two centuries. It may or may not have been violated this week. The FBI may have overstepped its constitutional boundaries, and Donald Trump may have overstepped his. Either way, this is not the concern of the church.

We preach Christ, and Him crucified.

Pastor, you would do well this Sunday to not concern yourself with mobilizing political action. You would do well this Sunday to not concern yourself with inspiring social change. You would do well this Sunday to not concern yourself with pointing people to a new cause they should take up.

Pastor, you would do very well this Sunday to mobilize people to share and spread the Gospel. You would do very well this Sunday to inspire life change in Christ. You would do very well this Sunday to concern yourself with pointing people to Jesus and the new life they should take up.

*This post is not timeless. It will be dated very soon. Please apply the content to all current events.

4 Leadership Lessons To Learn From David’s Failure

2 Samuel 6 tells the story of David’s efforts to move the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem. His first effort failed miserably. He didn’t take the time to consult God or God’s regulations for transporting the Ark. Instead of having the Ark carried by priests, he placed it on a cart pulled by oxen. In transport, one of the animals stumbled and Ark began sliding off the cart. The man who reached out his hand to steady it was immediately struck dead (no man was allowed to touch the ark).

After a time of repentance and mourning, David tried again and did it the right way. The day began with sacrifices and ended with celebration.

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Wise people learn from the mistakes of others. What can we learn from David’s mistakes? As I read this story, Here are

4 LEADERSHIP LESSONS DAVID LEARNED TOO LATE.

1) Listen to God. Check His Word for wisdom.

2) Pay attention to details. Obey in small things.

3) Think of the people you lead before you think of yourself.

4) Take responsibility and learn from failure.

Whether you are leading a major organization, a small team, a family, or just yourself; these principles will help you become a better leader.

David Platt, Donald Trump, and the Power of Prayer

David Platt is a well-known pastor of a mega-church in the South. That means in many other parts of the country, he is a relative unknown. This week, however, Pastor Platt got himself into some hot water because he prayed for Donald Trump in the service. Here’s a quick recap of the event (as I understand it).

Platt’s Sunday service was wrapping up. He had finished the sermon and stepped off the stage into some sort of green room. Before heading back to the stage for his traditional blessing/benediction, he was informed that the President had just arrived and desired prayer.

Apparently, Trump had finished a round of golf and asked to stop by Platt’s church.

Platt consented, went out on stage with President Trump and publicly prayed for him and with him.

Some applauded Platt. Some condemned Platt. Many shrugged their shoulders.

I am not going to tell you what you should think about this incident. Likely, my opinion wouldn’t sway yours. So let me throw a series of questions at you in case you’re willing to think through whether or not you think Platt did the right thing.

But before the rest of my questions, here is the most important one: What does the Bible say about this? It seems 1 Timothy 2:1-4 and Romans 13:1-7 are the most appropriate passage to consider. Feel free to read the two passages below and consider whether there is any direct or indirect application to this incident.

First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dign.png

First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.

Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience. For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed.

And now, the rest of the questions:

  • Should pastors pray?
  • Should pastors pray in church?
  • Should pastors pray publicly in church?
  • Should pastors pray for other people?
  • Should pastors pray publicly for other people?
  • Should pastors pray publicly in church for other people?
  • Should pastors pray for other people who may not by Christians?
  • Should pastors pray publicly for other people who may not be Christians?
  • Should pastors pray publicly in church for other people who may not be Christians?
  • Should pastors pray for politicians?
  • Should pastors pray for politicians who may not be Christians?
  • Should pastors pray for politicians who do not always represent Kingdom values?
  • Should pastors pray for politicians who do not ever represent Kingdom values?
  • Should pastors pray publicly in church for politicians who do not ever represent Kingdom values?
  • Should pastors pray publicly in church for politicians who do not ever represent Kingdom values if that person is in the service?
  • What do you think?

How Did Jesus Demonstrate Leadership To His Disciples?

If you aren’t sure what I mean by Leadership E-Words, go back and see this post about 6 practices of powerful leaders.

A while back, I came across some verses in Mark that prompted me to think about how Jesus guided the spiritual development of his disciples. So I used the Leadership E-Words as a template and was able to very quickly identify how Jesus used similar concepts to prepare the disciples for ministry.

These are all from the first half of Mark. I think you could do this exercise even better if you used the book of Matthew. It might also be interesting to look for similar patterns in Acts. I have no intention of doing either (unless some LifeWay editor is reading this and thinks it might make an interesting book, then I would be willing to write more… otherwise, probably not)

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Here we go:

Jesus ESTABLISHED a direction for his ministry.
Of course it was more about just identifying and clarifying God’s direction for His ministry… but that’s what we should be doing as spiritual guides anyway.

Mark 1:15 – “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!”

Jesus EXPLAINED to the disciples their role in the ministry’s direction.

Mark 1:17 – “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will make you fishers of men.” (aside: If you aren’t a fisher of men, are you sure you’re a follower of Jesus?)

Jesus EQUIPPED the disciples to accomplish their role.
Apparently, Jesus’ plan was two-fold: 1) Let the disciples/apostles hang around and 2) Send the disciples/apostles away.

Mark 3:14 – He appointed twelve—designating them apostles — that they might be with him and that he might send them out to preach

Jesus ENABLED the disciples to be effective in their roles.
(an even better example of this step in in Matthew 28 and Acts 1, when Jesus gives the Holy Spirit as the ultimate enabler)

Mark 6:8–11 – These were his instructions: “Take nothing for the journey except a staff—no bread, no bag, no money in your belts. Wear sandals but not an extra tunic. Whenever you enter a house, stay there until you leave that town. And if any place will not welcome you or listen to you, shake the dust off your feet when you leave, as a testimony against them.”

Jesus ENCOURAGED the disciples in their efforts.

Mark 6:30–32 – The apostles gathered around Jesus and reported to him all they had done and taught. Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, he said to them, “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.” So they went away by themselves in a boat to a solitary place.

Jesus EVALUATED their success and incompletions.
The two stories found in Matthew 6 (feeding the 5,000 and walking on the water) both serve as labs in which Jesus evaluated whether or not the disciples had learned from the job he had given them (going out and preaching).

Unfortunately, they failed their evaluation. Fortunately, Mark has 16 chapters, so it isn’t over at the end of chapter 6. The final evaluation comes in Revelation!

6 Practices of Powerful Leaders

Not everyone can be a leader all the time, however, at some point in their life most people engage in leadership. When you find yourself leading, consider these six “must-do” activities.

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Establish a clear direction. I did not say “choose a direction” or “proclaim a direction”. A good leader does not set agendas himself, he observes and listens to his followers/team and establishes a direction which reflects everyone’s gifts and passions. Before you can be a vision-caster, you must learn to be a vision-collector.

Explain with precision the roles of those you are guiding. Most people simply want to know what is expected of them. They want to know how they will be evaluated, and they want to know what they can do to help accomplish the “win.” While a leader may fully succeed in getting the right people in the right seats on the bus, if he doesn’t clearly communicate the expectation, he will fail. It should also be noted that a leader can never get his people into the right roles if he doesn’t know his people’s gifts, passions, and dreams. True leadership demands a great deal of listening and observing.

Equip completely with the training and resources necessary to accomplish the team’s shared vision. A good leader recognizes tht everyone with whom they work has an important role. They must equip them to accomplish that role. Equipping includes training and providing resources, but it also includes assisting someone in maximizing their strengths and minimizing their weaknesses. A good leader recognizes that everyone they lead is unique and therefore they learn to develop creative approaches when equipping different people.

Enable accomplishment by unleashing people in their areas, by giving them necessary authority, and by regularly advocating their efforts in public. Nothing can be more disheartening for someone than to have a leader who doesn’t enable them to accomplish their tasks. As a leader, if you can’t unleash someone to do a job, it is an indictment against your leadership style. If you aren’t willing to give someone the authority to do a job, the likely reason is that you haven’t capably equipped them. On the other hand, nothing is more empowering than a leader who not only unleashes people to work, but takes every opportunity to publicly proclaim how much they value and trust the work of those they lead. A leads who does this will have followers who accomplish much.

Encourage perseverance by regularly collecting updates and providing assistance when asked. Those you lead will become discouraged, they will have setbacks. There will be times when they want to quit. You can intervene in those moments and encourage them to carry on. If you step in at the right time and help them to refocus on the ultimate goal, you may keep them from quitting. But you’ll never know if they are wearing down if you aren’t regularly checking in with them. However, don’t check in just to “monitor their progress”. Be certain they understand and believe that you are checking in because you want to see them succeed. “Progress reports” should be an exciting and anticipated time, not a dreaded practice. You’ll set the tone, and by doing so, you’ll create a culture of perseverance.

Evaluate the person’s work by rewarding effective accomplishment and by correcting issues which may have led to incompletion. Simply put, “those who have done well with a small thing should be given more. And those who has struggled with a large thing should be given less.” good evaluations will help you identify the proper load for all your team members.

4 Things Every Pastor Must Do Every Day

I like structure. Lists and tables (think excel not dining room) are the best. One of my favorite structure hacks is what I call “quadrant brainstorming”. It’s a marriage of brainstorming and mind mapping but with rules and guidelines.

I begin by drawing a circle in the middle of the page and then drawing two perpendicular lines to divide the circle into four quadrants (I would say it looks like a cross-hair but that’s no longer a fashionable term, so think of it as a pie with four pieces). I then draw four more circles, each connected by a line to one of the original circle’s quadrants. I finish by dividing the four circles into four quadrants also. Now I’m ready.

I use this process to think about a project I need to complete, people I need to meet or manage, a resource I need to create or my roles and responsibilities for a given week. I also use this method every week as part of my sermon preparation process.

Whatever I am trying to bring into focus, I begin by identifying the four big pieces. In a sermon, it’s the four movements I hope to work through. It might be four people who are my direct reports. It might be the four thematic goals (WIGs if you’re a Covey devotee) of a project I’m working on. I’m not sure why I like four so much. I have no science or magic to suggest that it is the perfect number, but I like the cross in the middle of the circle and four seems to be useful and flexible number. It’s large enough to include everything without being so small that something gets missed.

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This Sunday, the four pieces of my sermon (I’m preaching on Nicodemus) are:

  1. The conversation behind the conversation
  2. The Kingdom of God
  3. New Birth
  4. Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus

On Good Friday, we create an event called The Via Dolorosa. It is a prayer walk through the Upper Room, the Garden, and then through multiple stations to the foot of the cross. You might think of it as an evangelical remix of the Stations of the Cross. I used my quadrants to create our big picture plan for the event. The four primary categories of planning are:

  1. Design
  2. Execution
  3. Volunteers
  4. Promotion

All that to say this. Yesterday, while I was working out, I was thinking about the role of a pastor. Perhaps this is a reflection of my own neurosis, but I’m constantly trying to sharpen my own understanding of what I do so that I can do it better. I want to narrow my focus so I can focus on what is most important and beneficial. By defining the four quadrants of my life as a pastor I can evaluate my plans by asking questions like, “Where does this activity fit? Am I being balanced? What am I neglecting?”Here’s the four things I think I ought to be dealing with every day:

  1. People — Equipping the people of God to do the work of God
  2. Programs — Repeating events (usually weekly) such as Worship Gathering, discipleship groups, etc.
  3. Projects — One time activities, events or initiatives which enhance our ability to equip people and improve programs
  4. Problems — They happen. The buck stops with me. I have to address them and find solutions

The great benefit I experience from quadrant brainstorming is an escape from chaos. By creating guardrails for my thinking process, I am forced to sometimes make decisions about what is most important and what is nice but expendable. Clarity is a powerful force when harnessed. When I find it lacking, I draw a circle and two lines.

 

Pastor: You are too worried about First Impressions.

A few years ago, we launched an initiative called “The Glue Team.” The goal was to make our church more “sticky.” Our hope was that we could be more intentional about building relationships, specifically with those who were new to our church or on the margins of our church.

Essentially, we put together a team of about 12 people who committed to arriving early on Sunday mornings and spending their time in the worship center meeting people who were seated prior to the service.

(At our church, as I’m sure happens at many other churches, the first people into the worship center before the service are often those who do not have significant relationships or they are people who are visiting for the first time and don’t want to arrive late. Those who are well-connected often spend extra time in the lobby cafe reconnecting with each other.)

The Glue Team was a minimal success, but for a variety of reasons, we shut it down after about nine months. At the end of the run, we gathered the team for a debriefing meeting and to discuss what other methods might be more effective to accomplish our goals.

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For me, the biggest takeaway from that meeting was what I now call “The Opperman Principal.” My friend Charlie Opperman shared about a book he was reading that stressed the importance of closure and last impressions. He cited funerals as an illustration of the lengths to which we go in order to create a positive last impression of our friends and family members who have died. He suggested that we direct more focus on people’s “last impression” of The Gathering than on their first impression.

In some church circles, this is heresy. “First Impressions” has become an a cornerstone program in many church’s strategic connection plan. Amazon has multiple pages of books which were written to teach us how to make better first impressions at church. I agree that first impressions are important, but a great first impression will be forgotten after a bad last impression and a bad first impression can be overcome by a great last impression.

More often than not, the lasting impression is the last impression.

Our church is transitioning, not only in size but in staff roles. In the next few weeks, we will have a dedicated Pastor for Connections. His role is to empower people to move from their first connection at The Gathering into a LIFEgroup, a serving role or both. He will, of course, be overseeing our “first impression” team but he will also be paying close attention to our “last impression” experience.

Over the coming months, we will be constantly asking the question, “What needs to happen in order for someone to leave our parking lot and say, ‘I can’t wait to come back next week?'”

We will write the stories that lead to that statement. We will identify what we can control and work on to promote more people making that statement. And hopefully, the Opperman Principal will enable us to communicate more of God’s message to more people so that we can make more of a difference in more of God’s world.