“I love you; give me money.” (The art and science of manipulating people)

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you devour widows’ houses even while for a pretense you make long prayers….” (Matthew 23:14)

A stock cartoon situation that has set up punch lines for thousands of comics has someone climbing to the top of a mountain to consult a guru for his pearls of wisdom.  In the Hagar comic strip, our favorite Viking plunderer had scaled the mountain and said to the bearded seer: “O wise one, you are like a father to me.”

The old man answers, “I am honored. What is your question?”

Hagar says, “Lend me money.”

Thanks to the internet, those of us who write these articles frequently hear from the Lord’s people across the globe. That’s one of the great blessings of ministry in these days.  One day, a fellow in an African country telephoned me. That was unusual.

Our connection was difficult, so I suggested he use email.  Within the hour, there was his message.  He wanted me to know what good work he was doing for the Lord and how difficult it was.  I responded in a typical way, thanking him and saying I was praying Heaven’s blessings upon his work.  (And yes, I stopped at that moment and prayed.)

He didn’t waste any time. His next email hit me up for money.

What’s funny is that his message had a typo.  Instead of saying he needed a “car,” he said could use a “cat for my ministry.”  I replied, “A cat? You need a cat?”

His reply apologized for the typo and assured me it’s a car he needs. “Two thousand dollars will buy a good car in this country.” He added, “My birthday is July 1st and it would make a wonderful birthday present.”

I waited a while, wondering whether to ignore him altogether or to respond. Clearly, all Americans are rich in his thinking. And by tugging at our heart strings, he can loosen our restraints enough to untie our purses.

A few hours later, I wrote him. “My friend, did you think I am so foolish as to send a large amount of money to someone I do not know simply because he said he’s doing the Lord’s work? There are so many scam artists in the world today.”

He took it in stride and responded with ways to check out his ministry.

Sorry.  It doesn’t work that way.

Even if it turns out that he is doing significant work for the Lord, I can take you to a hundred–many hundreds, in fact–people doing important work for the Lord, all of whom could use a sudden gift of $2,000.

We used to tease my big brother Ron about his manipulative ways when we were growing up.  As the eldest of six children, Ron took upon himself the mantle of authority anytime mom and dad weren’t in sight.  The youngest of our clan was Charlie.   Charlie might have been 6 or 7 at the time this happened, making Ron 15 or 16. I would have been 10 or so and heard this exchange myself and burst out laughing.

Big brother Ron: “Charlie, are you my buddy?”

Little brother Charlie: “What do you want me to do?”

Our kid brother had him figured out.  (Ron became a Baptist preacher and has served the Lord mightily for over 60 years.  In a few days, he hits birthday number 85 and is still pastoring, believe it or not.  Our family is forever grateful for his take-charge ways which brought a thousand blessings for our parents as they aged, as well as for his family and the churches he served.)

Pastors must always be wary of the temptation to manipulate people.  And, it’s more easily seen in others than in ourselves.

Anyone wishing to see how it’s done need merely to turn the television to the big-shot independent preachers who specialize in healings, spiritual gifts, and signs and wonders upon their “partners,” while practically guaranteeing answers to prayers and personal success.  They know no shame, believe me.  (Note: These preachers are independent because they will subject themselves to no human authority but are a law unto themselves. Most issue no financial reports to their supporters and live extravagantly. Shame.)

(The devil took our Lord) upon a very high mountain and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world, and their glory.

He said to Him, ‘All these things will I give you, if you fall down and worship me. (Matthew 4:8-9)

Satan is a master at manipulation.  “Do this little thing and I will give you huge rewards.”

See the tempter at work in the Garden. Now, the serpent was more crafty than any beast of the field which the Lord God had made. And he said to the woman, ‘Indeed, has God said, ‘You shall not eat from any tree of the garden?’

He told Eve, God knows that in the day you eat (from that tree) your eyes will be opened and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”(Genesis 3)

Do these things for your own good and, oh, by the way, do this little thing for me on the side, and we will all be happy.

Pastors must ever be careful…

1) Not to manipulate contributors.

In encouraging people to tithe and give sacrificially, we must have no ulterior motives.  Years ago, I heard of a church that guaranteed the pastor 10 percent of the offerings as his salary.  Of all the terrible situations in the world, that one must be the worst. Anytime he preached on stewardship, his motives were justifiably suspect.

Some years ago, the church I served was struggling to stay solvent due to a split which had left a fraction of the congregation with millions of dollars in debt. When the Lord gave me a wonderful plan to promote stewardship over the summer months, it resulted in great increases in contributions (and spiritual blessings to all who gave). As a result, the leadership requested the church to grant me a raise.  Since I was hurting financially, this was a great help.  However, those who look for something to criticize put two and two together and came up with five.  “He preached on giving so he would get a raise!”  Never mind that I’d taken a huge cut to come to that church, then had no raise for the first four years.

I’m not saying we must hold back from obedience lest we be criticized.  Criticism by the enemy–and those influenced by him–is always present.  However, we must be careful (and prayerful) concerning our own motives.

2) Not to manipulate decisions for Christ.

In motivating people to confess Christ, join the church and be baptized, ministers must not be doing this for their own glory.  In many denominations, pastors are recognized and promoted by the size of their congregation and the numbers they report (baptisms, additions to the membership rolls, budgets, etc.).

I don’t see it any more, but years ago evangelists would inflate the numbers of conversions/baptisms in their crusades/revivals to impress other pastors so they would invite them.  It was dishonest and brought their whole profession into shame.

3) Not to manipulate anyone to do anything, ever!

I’ve known of preachers conning members into taking Holy Land trips because they received commissions from the tour companies, which provided a nice side income.  The remedy is for ministers to a) tell the church if this is the case and/or b) to contribute the commission to the church or return it to those enlisted for the tour.  If they need the commissions to supplement their income, just make it plain to the church leadership.  No secret deals.

As pastor, I must not influence young people to attend my college or for wealthy members to make contributions to it, to put me in good with the president.

I must not use wealthy members of my church in order to promote myself.

Pastors are either servants or they are not.

If you are a servant, rein in the ego and nail the need for recognition and advancement to the cross.

Look around your church and throughout your community for ways to serve people.  If you can pull it off without receiving recognition, so much the better.

Conquer the need to drive the fanciest car, to wear the sportiest clothing, to appear to be more than you are.

With humility of mind let each of you regard one another as more important than yourself (Philippians 2:3).

The Lord Jesus said, I am among you as one who serves (Luke 22:27).

Imitate Christ and you will be the farthest thing from a manipulator.  You might, however, end up on a cross, so make sure you know what you’re doing.

1 thought on ““I love you; give me money.” (The art and science of manipulating people)

  1. Pastor Joe. Stumbled across this site and have spent way too much time here! Your approach to ministry is both brilliant and humble. Not an easy path.
    I’m writing to ask if you might remind your fans and friends of the prayer of Agur. (Proverbs 30:7-9) It’s often overlooked. And Agur himself writes with winsomeness and creativity reminiscent of your style. His prayer for contentment and “to live in God’s sweet spot” is a concept we could all use here in 2020.

    Full disclosure: I do have an ulterior motive. Any attention paid to that passage of scripture might also lead pastors to consider, quote, or plug my most recent book, The Prayer of Agur. If you would like a copy, let me know. I’d be honored to send you one. Best.

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