Powerbrokers and Manipulation – Part 1

By John Kimball, D.Min.

Powerbrokers are interesting people. Sometimes I wonder if their tactics are learned or if they just have an innate ability to wield control. In my last few posts, I talked about how powerbrokers in the church use intimidation to advance their agenda. Today’s post looks at the other side of that “control coin” — manipulation. If intimidation is a powerbroker’s proactive means of control, then manipulation is his or her reactive tool.

Intimidation and manipulation are partners, but they are not really the same thing. One uses fear, the other tugs at people’s heart strings. Manipulation is often seen in the church context as some form of the old “I’m going to take my toys and go home” tantrum. Of course, many powerbrokers have additional items in their arsenal. They may have a long family history in the church that they like to wield. I remember one powerbroker who used to remind me regularly that his family gave the land on which the church was built. They may also be very well connected people — both in the church and in the community. They may be able to play the political games of your community well. If they are “important” people in your town, they will probably also be viewed as “important” people in the church. Finally, they are often people of means — and everyone knows it. They give large gifts to the church (financial, property, furnishings, etc.) so folks begin to think they are indispensable. This, of course, is never true. Even in those cases where a powerbroker may be helping a church meet budget, the congregation must remember that our true provision always comes from our heavenly Father.

So how does a powerbroker so effectively manipulate people in the church? We’ll give a detailed answer to that question in my next installment. For now, just note that powerbrokers can turn their manipulative efforts on and off as needed to control both the situation and the conversation surrounding it. Each of the ten tools we’ll describe next time is honed and ready for the powerbroker to regain the upper hand. As with intimidation, recognizing these tactics makes the church and her leaders ready to address them and take the power out of the powerbroker.