How to manipulate people to do big things

“….not grudgingly or of compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver…” (2 Corinthians 9:7)

Have you ever done something big, then the next day had “buyer’s remorse”?

Welcome to the club.

The important thing is that we who lead the Lord’s churches not be guilty of perpetrating that kind of thing on people.  We were not sent to coerce or con anyone into anything.  We are messengers of the King and are all about integrity and love.  What Scripture calls “grace and truth” in the Lord Jesus (John 1:14).

They called him Tommy the Cork.  Thomas Corcoran was a political fixer, fund-raiser, and go-to guy for many politicians of the post-War years.  Robert Caro interviewed Corcoran for his books on Lyndon Johnson.

He had once told me one of his most effective fund-raising techniques.  When the man he was asking for money wrote a check and handed it across the desk to him, Mr. Corcoran, no matter what the amount–no matter if it was more than he had hoped for–would look at it with an expression of disdain, drop it back on the man’s desk, and, without saying a word, walk toward the door.  He had never once, he told me–exaggerating, I’m sure, but how much?–he had never once been allowed to reach the door without the man calling him back, tearing up the check, and writing one for a larger amount.  

Manipulation means getting people to do your bidding whether they want to or not.

It’s different from motivation, which is providing the spark to get people to do the thing they actually want to do when they are thinking correctly.  Scripture speaks of the rewards of giving, of prayer, of faithfulness, as  motivation for God’s people to give more and better, pray more faithfully, and persevere even in difficulty.   Through giving, we can lay up treasure in Heaven (Matthew 6:19-20).  By praying, we can achieve many things (Luke 18:1 and James 5:16).  And if we are “faithful unto death… (He) will give (us) a crown of life” (Revelation 2:10).

That’s not manipulation. That’s motivation.  I want to do more, be more, give more, and love more because of a hundred good reasons.

We love Him because He first loved us.  (I John 4:19 )  Love is the best motivator there is.

Manipulation is arm-twisting. Manipulation is conning someone into doing our will.  Manipulation is deceiving them.  Tommy the Cork was playing a little game of deception with those he was asking for contributions.  He was playing on their insecurities, their desire to be liked and accepted, and their fears of being looked down on by certain powerful people.

Colleges name buildings after huge donors. Lesser contributors they sort into categories in which their names are listed:  Platinum, Gold, Silver, and the dreaded Honorable Mention.  Are they encouraging and motivating or are they manipulating?  The line separating the two is often hard to see.

I’m a pastor who writes for pastors and other church leaders.

Whatever the colleges do–and I give my small share to the annual drives for two colleges and one seminary–I’m far more concerned that pastors and churches get this right.

I began pastoring SBC churches in the early 1960s, in the day when annual stewardship drives were commonplace and “pledging” for the annual budget was the norm.  Our denominational printing presses were regularly turning out the latest suggestions on how to get our people to give more and love doing it.  We held stewardship revivals, if you can believe it, where people would come to church every night for a week to hear lessons on giving.  And on what we called “pledge Sunday,” many of our churches would ask people to “parade” down to the front of the sanctuary bringing their pledge cards to lay on the altar (or in a box or on the Lord’s Supper table).

Most pastors, I expect, were constantly worrying as I was to find ways to motivate faithful giving without crossing that line into manipulation.  But we came mighty close to it.

We all need good manipulation detectors.  When someone emails a message and then insists that “if you love God (or your country or your children) you will forward this to ten people,” that is not motivation but harassment, a twin to manipulation.  We do well to resist it and delete such foolishness.

We are not running a con on anyone. We are loving the unlovely (as well as all the others), helping the undeserving (and all the others), and sharing the good news with all in order to make disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ.




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