Dealing with bullies

By Josh King

There are many reasons a church may go south. Some of the most common reasons are significant financial debt, short term pastorates and mean people. I want to share a little about dealing with that last one.

You interview for a church, you do your homework and check out the community, the committee is super friendly and kind. You and your wife begin to think you have stumbled upon a diamond in the rough. Soon after taking the position you find out that some of the folks in the church are less than Christ-like. Even worse, some of the nicest people on the committee turn out to be your biggest critics. They are rude, divisive and bullies. Thom Rainer has describes common characteristics commonly found in people like that: nine traits of church bullies

It’s one thing to identify a bully and quite another to deal with one. Most pastors feel ill equipped and ill at ease in taking on a church bully.
What should you do?

Some pastors are tempted to leave and this is understandable. A bully may come after your friends and your family. There are times you may think standing your ground against a bully is just not worth the collateral damage. It may help to take a trip back to kindergarten and recall a few of the things your parents probably shared with you about mean kids on the playground.

Words really do hurt—Remember the playground song? Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me!” This isn’t true is it? Words do hurt because you can’t not hear them. They get lodged in your mind and can make their way to your heart. Usually bullies are all talk, that is all they do. So remind yourself that what they say doesn’t actually physically hurt you.

Pro Tip: Don’t meet with an identified bully alone. If you must meet with a bully, make sure it you have another Deacon, Elder or staff member present. If you have to meet with them in private take down notes after they leave and keep a record of the conversation.

Rubber and Glue—The song continues; “I’m rubber you’re glue, whatever you say bounces off me and sticks to you!” I’ve noticed that when a bully continues to talk negatively as I stay positive and do the work God called me to, it reflects negatively on them. People notice that what a bully says is actually true of them and not you. You may be surprised how many in the church are already aware of the bully’s tactics and character. The one time when this may not be true is when the bully has relational connections to those who are tempted to believe their accounts and accusations. Hold your head up, ignore the jabs and after a while (as you build relational integrity with the church) you will see the general support shift.

Pro tip: Let Scripture speak truth into your calling, life and purpose.

It’s Ok to Cry—When you have been hit and hurt it is appropriate to respond emotionally. If your wife is able to handle your hurt without becoming bitter toward ministry and the church members share with her. At the very least find a couple of other pastors you share your hurt with. Be aware that you need encouragement from them and that they don’t simply sit with you talking bad about sheep and ministry.

Pro Tip: Get counseling. There are many good Christian counselors who specialize in working with Pastors. I have spoken with and been helped by a counselor several times. Many organizations will offer free help. The North American Mission Board has a helpline in partnership with Focus on the Family. Give them a call – 844-PASTOR1

Don’t Wrestle With Pigs—The saying goes, don’t wrestle with a pig; you’ll get dirty and the pig likes it. Fight the temptation to talk bad about your bully and build a coalition against them. Instead of talking about someone, talk to them. If you talk about the bully you’re joining in their game and end up looking and acting no different.

Pro tip: Remember the Gospel means you do not have to defend yourself. There is nothing that anyone can say that breaks the news, you are in fact a sinner. And there is nothing that anyone can say that will make God love you any less. If the complaint is true, listen, learn from it. If the complaint is not true, thank God that he forgave you in spite of your wickedness.

Published February 16, 2017

P.S. Get our best content in your inbox

We send one email per month full of articles from a variety of Replanting voices.

Josh King

Josh King is Lead Pastor at Second Baptist Church in Conway, Arkansas. He also co-hosts the podcast. He and his wife are both graduates of Criswell College and have three young sons. Follow Josh at