Some thoughts on church bullies

By Bob Bickford

In working with churches that need to be revitalized or replanted you’re more likely than not to discover that there are a few bullies who have ruled and reigned over the church for some time. If the church is to move forward you’ll have to deal with the bullies. How should you respond?

Seek Unity in Love—it may be difficult to envision loving a church bully, it’s easier to be angry at them, often justifiably. Appealing to the bully with Christ-like love is disarming–they are used to conflict and fighting as their primary pattern of relating. Seek to love them as Christ loves everyone.

Don’t Be Intimidated—a church bully grows in power and influence as others back down when they flex their bullying muscles. Outbursts, critical comments and playing the devils advocate are some standard tools. Appealing to an anonymous majority that is really neither is another favorite tactic used to stop forward progress and intimidate leaders. When a bully claims that “a lot of people” are upset or have concerns–ask for names, invite them to go with you and other leaders to address the disunity they’ve discovered, thank them for bringing it to your attention and let them know every time they do you’ll ask them to join you in building unity in the body.

Be Aware of “Behind the Scenes” Bullying—some bullies like to exercise their influence behind the scenes with secret meetings, whispers, phone calls and emails. In sharing concerns they often secure promises from those who have listened to keep what they have shared in confidence, in doing this the bully burdens and binds more to their side. 

Establish “Family Guidelines”—every family has to learn to live together and work together, this is true with a church family. One guideline that can root out a behind the scenes bully is this axiom: “We don’t talk about each other, we talk to each other.” When everyone begins to live this out the behind the scenes bully has no place left to hide.

Be Strong and Courageous, Biblical and Christlike—it’s not too uncommon for Pastors and other leaders to be hesitant to deal with bullies in the church. Feeling the burden to be “nice” or kind leads to inaction-which allows the bully to continue their disruptive and destructive behavior. It takes strength and courage to address a bully-you can’t be weak in the face of conflict and shrink back. It is biblical to address conflict. (Titus 3:10, 2 Timothy 4:2, Titus 1)

Pastor, when you exercise loving church oversight and deal with bullies they will either repent and become unified, or move on. The church will thank you and God will bless. 

Published October 20, 2016

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Bob Bickford

Bob Bickford is a Replant Pastor in suburban St. Louis, serves as the Associate Director of Replant for the North American Mission Board and is the co-author of Am I a Replanter,  Pathways to Partnership and the Associational Replanting Guide. Follow Bob on twitter @bobick