Most people experience intimidation (feeling fearful or inadequate) when others try and control their thinking and actions. We can even show those wrong attitudes of control ourselves if we are not careful. However, if we are on the receiving end you will know it’s a horrible place to be in, especially if it goes on for years. Sometimes we sense subtle manipulation which we are not fully conscious of but we know we feel uncomfortable after being with such a person. Don’t deny these feelings.
My most strongly remembered experience of intimidation came as an 18 year-old school leaver. Soon after starting a job I was bullied by my boss in front of others because I didn’t know the answer to a question he asked. My mind went blank and I felt very embarrassed. Not nice. I can laugh about it now, but not then!
Intimidation and control can confront us in many ways. For example, team leaders often dread team or church meetings because of uncertainty about the bad behaviour and attitudes that may be displayed. The leaders need wisdom to steer their way through murky waters. A hundred examples could be given where intimidation and control has worn a person out and eventually put them at risk of destroying their ministry.
However, a person intimidated and fearful can also become controlling due to unresolved insecurity issues.
Let’s spend time looking at this subject and how to avoid pitfalls which could easily restrict our ministry.
Over the years I have come across many people distressed by these issues of fear and control.
The word ‘fear’ occurs 274 times in the Bible and many times it is in an instruction as something to be resisted e.g. ‘So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand’ Isaiah 41:10. Fear is a very human reaction under pressure.
Notice how the Pharisees sought to control Jesus.
‘And he (Jesus) looked around at them with anger, grieved at their hardness of heart, and said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was restored. The Pharisees went out and immediately held counsel with the Herodians against him, how to destroy him.’ Mark 3:5,6.
‘for God has given us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.’ 2 Timothy 1:7 (ESV)
My observations: Behind intimidation and control are usually these factors:
Pride – this leads to self-importance, which was the cause of Satan’s downfall (Isaiah 14:12-14).
Wrong ambitions – A typical example is of Simon the Sorcerer who wanted to be someone important (Acts 8:9-18), as did James and John wanting to sit at either side of Jesus in heaven (Mark 10:37). Love of money (I Tim 6:10) is a very common root of intimidation.
Fear. While most of us at some stage experience fear which is normal, many live in a shame/power culture where shaming a child is normal. Shamed people however are desperate to take control of their life and be well thought of which may mean they also become controllers. Due to their insecurities these people often have difficulty accepting another’s differing opinion therefore exercise intimidation of others.
They find change hard to deal with. Some of these changes include a change in power structure, walking by faith financially or otherwise, new technology and doing church differently etc. I have noticed that when confronted about their ungodly behaviour they are sometimes devastated. We need to be gentle with these people and encourage them with scriptures like Isaiah 41:10.
Personality types vary, not that one type is right and the other wrong. However, good organisers are potentially only one step away from becoming controllers! Sometimes they need more patience and grace.
False prophets and teachers
These people may use intimidation tactics like ‘the Lord told me’ or “everybody agrees with me” implying that we must do what they say. They sound convincing but there is sometimes an unease within us that we must take note of. Spiritual pride, misunderstanding of Scriptures and insecurity are the root cause of some of this activity. Paul (Acts 13:6) along with Peter were also confronted by these problems (2 Peter 2:1).
Some ways to cope with this behaviour:
Prayer is a major weapon. Psalm 109 refers to David’s enemies, but he states, “I am a man of prayer” (v4).
Wait it out is one way. David had a terrible time with King Saul who hounded him day and night, at times even seeking to kill him. But strangely God used these experiences to refine David for effective service. Likewise, God may refine you is similar ways for more effectiveness in your ministry. I well remember that in one ministry in particular, God over a period of five years allowed three leaders to rise up and constantly undermine me. But eventually within a period of six weeks they all moved away peacefully for genuine reasons. Don’t waste your sorrows, practice forgiveness and at the right time God will bring good out of your painful relationships.
Create an atmosphere of community. You need to be relaxed, create a loving atmosphere among the people by spending time with them. Any special business meetings need to be a celebration of what God is doing. Don’t get caught up in legalism. If people trust you then they may let you do almost anything, but if they don’t then they may stop all progress!
Regular memorisation of Scripture is of vital importance. e.g. during the opposition I describe above, I prayed and claimed for years Isaiah 54:17 ‘No weapon formed against you will prosper’ The phrase preceding it says “It is I who created the destroyer to wreak havoc”. It can be God that calls you into these difficult times. Use Scripture appropriate for your need. It is the sword of the Spirit!
Pray for a trusted wise friend who may not always agree with you, but who will speak truth into your life. Our perceptions of truth are not always actually right even though they feel right! My wife is often good at helping me get perspective about situations.
- When arriving in a new ministry organisation you may find certain people going out of their way to please you. Hopefully they are genuine, but sometimes they may want influence over you. This can be especially so with pastors moving into churches.
- If you are blessed with people connected to your ministry who want to give you a car or some other significant item, make sure their motives are right. Money can lead to manipulation.
- When we sin ourselves in this area of intimidation and control even when we don’t mean to, confess it to God and also ask people for their forgiveness.
- The appointed leaders may not be the people carrying the most power. Try and make the latter also your friends. Keep potential enemies close to you and they may give up controlling attitudes as they learn you are trustworthy and genuinely care about them.
- Some people who may appear godly may be into controlling behaviour perhaps through flattery and yet they talk negatively behind your back. They would be horrified if they were challenged about this and probably stir up support for themselves to feel better. Be wise how and when you approach this. There is a saying “men rush in where Angels fear to tread”
- Endeavour to stop people who whisper and plant discord. Don’t ignore this behaviour as it is unlikely to go away but correct gently as the Scriptures teach we are to strive to live at peace.
“It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm then and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery” Gal 5:1.
‘A tale of three kings’ by Gene Edwards * (An excellent book)
‘The subtle power of spiritual abuse’ by D Johnson & J VanVonderen