As one training for the pastoral ministry, perhaps it is best you know now, rather than later, that the congregation you serve will most-likely include a bully or two – person, even Christ-follower, who insists that he or she approve, even initiate most every change in the church. When the church moves in a direction against this person’s will, they turn into a bully.
A church bully is just as likely to be a man as a woman, to be young as old, to be a pastor or a lay person. The common thread to every person who bullies is the conviction that nothing take place in the church without his or her approval. Why? Because, as Eddie Hammett notes, “its all about them, their values, their preferences, and their comfort.” (See “Bullying in the Church” at www.thecolumbiapartnership.org)
Church Bullies practice both active and passive bullying. As active bullies, they gossip, slander, and sow discord (II Corinthians 12:20). They repeatedly make threats and verbally attack individuals – usually the pastor. As passive bullies, they reduce their involvement in the church. Their favorite passive aggressive behavior action is to stop giving money to the ministry of the local church. When bullying the pastor, they may even choose to attend services but read the church newsletter or a book (such as the Bible) during the pastor’s sermon.
Church bullies are “growing across the country as churches struggle with decline in numbers—attendance, membership, participation, impact, finances and loyalty issues. So often church bullies surface and target the pastor and staff, blaming and often falsely accusing their leaders for the decline in their church’s metrics or status.” Eddie Hammett, “Bullying in the Church”
How should you respond to bullies?
First, acknowledge their presence. Very few congregations are without bullies and, furthermore, there is a bully inside nearly every person.
Second, discern the Spirit. When pushed back by individuals ask, “Is this behavior motivated by the Holy Spirit or by something else?” Or, “Is this person contributing to our decision making process (perhaps even prophetic) or trying to bully us?”
Third, hold bullies accountable for their actions and attitudes. With those in spiritual leadership, practice church discipline – real hands-on discipleship. This will most likely involve partnering with Christian therapists who may help individuals understand the motives behind their behaviors.
Fourth, resist the temptation to demonize bullies. My hunch is that some bullies may not be regenerated by the Holy Spirit, but that is not for me to judge. I would like to hope that most church bullies are devoted Christ-followers who, like all Christ-followers, have a blind spot or two in their walk with the Lord. Their particular blind spot influences how they respond to change in the church.
Fifth, don’t be a bully. Mammett writes, “I acknowledge too there are clergy bullies out there who are driven by personal preferences, comfort zones, and often seek to force the church into molds or styles they are professionally more comfortable with rather than contextualizing ministry and facing their own learning curves and challenges.” I concur for I have been a church bully. For that I ask forgiveness from the Lord and His bride.