Cruciform leaders differ from worldly leaders in that they do not manipulate others. This involves both means and ends.
Cruciform leaders have ultimate aims to bless others, to give them life, to see to it that God’s goodness, love, and grace are always arriving into others’ lives.
Worldly leaders, on the other hand, have selfish ends and will use others to achieve those ends. Other people, therefore, are means to my own ends, and others are valuable to me only insofar as they serve my purposes.
Christian leaders must avoid treating people as means to other ends. In addition to this, however, leaders can fall into the trap of having good ultimate intentions for others, but using manipulative means to get there.
This happens in a variety of ways, but I’ve seen it happen in attempts at conflict-resolution.
Seeking to resolve a broken relationship is a well-motivated desire, but it’s possible to approach such situations manipulatively. We might find ourselves plotting and planning how we’ll graciously expose the other’s fault; we anticipate responses and prepare counter-arguments.
It’s as if we’re trying to cut off all routes of escape. We want to prove our point, to enclose the other person in a well-argued and airtight case that proves they’re wrong and we’re right. We’re doing this, of course, in love.
Why do we think such an approach is going to end well? This usually provokes an angry response from someone who feels trapped and manipulated. Their response might frustrate us and invite an angry counter-response. Before you know it, things are going down a destructive road.
Such strategies reveal that our aims are not to bless and give life but to triumph—to resolve the conflict on our terms. This is very manipulative.
This is very different from preparing carefully to approach another person in humility, to invite from that person an explanation of how they see things. And we must be completely willing to listen and have our own understanding corrected.
Cruciform leaders approach others with cruciform, non-threatening postures of welcome, and work hard to develop skills associated with peace-making (James 3:13-18). We’d do well to state up-front just how we see things but note that we very well may be wrong.
Manipulation in ministry relationships comes in so many different forms–I’ve only spoken of one. We must be concerned to relate to others with humility, always pursuing the goal of communal flourishing.