(Unsplash/Thiago Barletta)

I hate to admit this, but pastors are prone to manipulation. Sometimes we are unknowingly manipulated by our own church members. Sometimes we are the perpetrators of manipulation. Neither scenario is acceptable or biblical, and both are avoidable.

In an attempt to please the Lord and His bride, we often try too hard to make our people happy, which is an unreasonable expectation for any pastor. Although there is no way we can altogether control being impressed or intimidated by people, we can avoid being manipulated in these five ways.

1. Compliments

Being an encourager by nature, I enjoy giving and receiving compliments as much as anyone. When I sense an agenda in the middle of an affirmation, however, my internal guard goes up. Those who seek to influence us through flattering words or gifts are no less dangerous than those who try to bully us with criticism or threats. Assume the best and respond with a simple "thank you" rather than automatically reciprocating.

"A man who flatters his neighbor spreads a net for his feet" (Prov. 29:5).

2. Criticisms

"If you lead well, you will lead change. If you lead change, you will be criticized. If you can't take criticisms, don't lead." —Dr. Thom Rainer

Criticism comes with the territory and is no small price to pay for pastoring. Although no pastor can avoid criticism completely, we can avoid being controlled by it. Control the conversation by guarding your heart and controlling your tone.

"A soft answer turns away anger, but grievous words stir up anger" (Prov. 15:1).

3. Silence

Jesus modeled the appropriateness of silence during one of his trials.

"He who is void of wisdom despises his neighbor, but a man of understanding holds his peace" (Prov. 11:12).

Although silence is sometimes the most appropriate response to manipulation, be aware that it can also be a manipulative tool. Giving someone the silent treatment is a passive-aggressive way to control others.

4. Ambushes

Anyone in ministry has been ambushed in the church hallways by well-meaning members as well as manipulative ones. Normal Sunday hallway banter is healthy, but when someone waltzes up to you with a fully-loaded, semi-automatic rant, you need to be prepared with a measured response.

My typical response is to ask if they would like to talk about this at a more appropriate time. If this does not disarm them, leave them as quickly and gracefully as you can if it is a Sunday morning. Sometimes the best way to turn the other cheek is to literally turn the other direction and start walking away.

5. Prayer

I sincerely do not want to encourage any pastor to become cynical or skeptical toward their church family. My only caution here is to protect your family and yourself from overexposure. I have over-shared too many times in response to requests for prayer. A well-intended intercessor can inadvertently share your request with someone else who is less interested in praying for you than in preying on you.

Share your life and burdens with your closest friends, family, staff and small group. Just be careful about giving away details that you do not have permission to share.

"In the multitude of words sin is not lacking, but he who restrains his lips is wise" (Prov. 10:19).

I would be interested to hear if you have experienced any of these or other ways pastors can be manipulated.

This article originally appeared at lifeway.com.

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