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12 Reasons Why it is Good to Be a Church Bully

If you have spent any amount of time attending church, it’s likely that you have encountered a church bully. It is even more likely that you have come across church bullies if you have been involved with church leadership. Of course, bullies are everywhere in the world, and are not limited to churches. Bullying is hot button issue these days, and bullying is something many people are trying to draw attention to so that it can be eliminated. Yet still, bullying can be hard to identify. It isn’t just the big kid on the playground stealing lunch money. Bullying can be psychological, emotional and physical.

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Church bullies have a special advantage, though. Most church people have been taught to be nice and kind, to refrain from stirring the pot or rocking the boat. Church bullies know that often people will not stand up to them, and that they can get away with just about anything.

Some of you may have seen my post from a few months ago, 12 Reasons Why Being a Male Pastor is Better. In that post, I linked a Louis C.K. clip where he talked about White people. He said white people are not better, but being white is clearly better. (Warning, this video contains offensive language).

Church bullying is the same. Church bullies are not good, but being a church bully is good business these days, and here’s why:

1. Being a bully is the easiest way to get what you want. Churches are groups where people usually have to work together, and work out how to live as a community. That means give and  take, compromise and collaboration. Bullying, however, means you can get anything and everything you want. You can bend people to your wills and desires without giving anything up in return. And as a bully, you don’t have to work with, consider or respect others. Bullying is the easiest way to get what you want.

2. Bullies can offer anonymous feedback. Churches are already pretty good at not requiring people to stand behind what they say. We send out surveys and feedback tools that remain anonymous. But bullies have it really great. They can send anonymous emails to leaders. They can give in-person feedback with the qualifier, “people are saying.” Bullies never have to own the criticisms, and so are free to criticize anything they want to.

3. Bullies often have gossip clubs. Bullies are often supported in a small group that likes to keep up on the latest church gossip. This kind of group can meet for coffee during the week or lunch on Sundays or any number of places. As a bully, you can find allies who are ready to support you, who will offer behind-the-scenes support to your behind-the-scenes bullying. It is always easier to bully when you can be confident you are supported by, or acting on behalf of a club.

4. People will worry that challenging bullies is unkind or unchristian. The vast majority of church members worry that their behaviour could be perceived as unkind or unchristian. You know, Jesus never stood up to anyone and never challenged bad behaviour. So as a bully you know most of the time you can be confident that other church members won’t stand up to you, lest they be thought of as creating conflict or being un-Christ like.

5. You can use your anxiety against others. Human beings don’t like anxiety, we don’t want to be worried or fearful if we can avoid it. Anxiety and fear are contagious. Use this your advantage. As a bully, if you can get others to take on your worries, your fears, your issues, your anxiety, most people (especially church people) will do almost anything to relieve you (and therefore themselves) of your fears. Use this to your advantage.

6. You can use the other’s anxiety against them. As human beings we have often been taught that we have two responses to anxiety – Fight or Flight.  Bullies know that this isn’t true. There are 3 – Fight, Flight or Freeze. The best bullies know that freeze is the most common response. If you can make others anxious, you know that their first response will be to do nothing. It is pretty easy to bully people when they don’t do anything or say anything to stop you. Make them anxious.

7. You don’t have to be open or transparent. Bullies know this tactic well. It is much easier to bully from the shadows than in the open. Write anonymous letters and emails that you can deny came from you. Ambush your victims when others aren’t around to catch you. Make life miserable for people in private, and be an angel in the open. Most people won’t even know that you are a bully. Hide in plain sight.

8. You can play the victim card when caught. So what do you do when someone actually calls you on your bullying? Why accuse them of being the bully, of course! Most people will get so worried that they are bullying you that they will forget all about the fact that you were bullying them first. You never want to defend your own actions, so make other people defend theirs – play the victim card.

9. The stakes are low for you but high for others. One of the great things about being a church bully is that the stakes are pretty low. What could happen to you? Churches will rarely kick you off the membership list. Pastors have jobs to keep, leaders have to tend to running the place. As a bully the worst that could happen is people get annoyed with you, but really that’s good for you (see point 6).

10. You don’t have to change. Change is hard. Growing up and being mature is really hard. Bullying means you can stay the same. You don’t have to accept new ideas or learn new things. You can just impose your will on others, make them do what you like, and complain if they don’t. Don’t change, be a bully instead.

11. The congregational system (read: family system) will often work to keep you in power. Great church bullies know that individuals might challenge them, but the system will work to maintain the status quo. Bullies don’t change, and therefore don’t challenge the system. Intelligent individuals will cease thinking straight in a group and will seek to silence those who oppose bullies (and therefore advocate change in the system) since is it easier to maintain the norm. Feel confident that almost all of the group behaviour in a church is there to support your bullying.

12. You don’t have to care about anyone but yourself. This is the best part of being a bully of course. You can claim you are speaking for the wronged, the victimized, the silent majority or minority, but really it is all about you. That’s the whole reason you can bully in the first place, because your issues come first. Your needs, your wants, your feelings, your ideas. You are numero uno, and thinking about others only gets in the way of taking care of you. So put yourself first and you will be a great bully.

_________

All snark aside, bullying is a major issue in society, one that often seems to paralyze those in authority. Bullying happens because most bullies know to use our anxiety, our fears, and our emotions against us. Most of us would much rather just avoid conflict altogether, and it is much easier to give in to make the bullying stop than to challenge it.

Bullying in the church makes me crazy. I have zero tolerance for it, but I have watched as colleagues and friends deal with church systems / family systems where bullies are protected. Upsetting the bully would cause so much stress on the church, that their behaviour is permitted, condoned even.

EDIT: Some commenters here and on Facebook have mentioned that Pastors can be bullies too. I want to be clear that anyone can be a church bully. Regular members, pastors, bishops, leaders, etc…

It is time for the bullying to end. But it won’t be easy. Standing up to bullies means recognizing our own anxieties and need to be liked. Standing up means risking being unpopular, it means risking the wrath of the system that protects the bullies. Standing up means knowing all the advantages that bullies have to lose (see the list above), and not underestimating how far bullies will go to retain their power and privilege. Standing up means that we all participate, even  unknowingly support bullies, when our own anxieties about change prevent us from moving and growing into healthier ways of being.

Ending bullying means change. Change is hard. Sometimes it might land you on a cross.

But God knows something about that… in fact, change is one of God’s favourite tools to work with –  crosses are God’s speciality.

Are church bullies the worst? Been bullied at church? Share in the comments, on Facebook or on Twitter: @ParkerErik

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75 thoughts on “12 Reasons Why it is Good to Be a Church Bully”

  1. What about when the pastor is the bully? I can think of at least one “famous” pastor I might feel compelled to put in this category… how does that impact a church differently from someone else being the bully, even if that person has a lot of power. Do pastors bullies get called out more or less than regular church bullies? Or are pastors immune to bullying behavior?

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      1. Agree. Starts with the “My church” attitude, leaving the “Our church” and “His church” behind, and gets worse as more control is sought.

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    1. Your priest has probably attended some sort of school or seminary. Respect that and what he was taught him by professsional priests, reverends, or pastors.

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  2. It seems that whenever someone speaks of church members being bullies, the first responses are something to the effect of, “Oh yeah? Well there are plenty of bullying pastors too!” This is a knee-jerk response to a serious issue.

    Nobody will say there are no bullies in leadership – whether it is in the church, at work or in another context. What has received little attention in the church is the phenomenon of laypeople bullying the whole community … pastors and members. Many churches have mechanisms in place to discipline clergy but laypeople get away with doing whatever they want and are not subject to any form of discipline. This is a problem.

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    1. Oh totally. I am involved in a situation where some bullies by “members” has been going on, and our denominational resources are only for clergy conduct and discipline. I think we need a policies and resources for members who bully, otherwise the behaviour is permissible by silent assent.

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      1. I am the victim of church bullying. I have been physically assaulted by 2 women in our parish. My life has been made perfectly miserable in our church; they now lead my former ministry in our church. My Bishop came to meet with them, and in the meeting they both verbally attacked me; one screaming at me that I was mentally ill 5 times before the Bishop stopped her and ended the meeting without further discussion.
        After the meeting my Bishop told me that the meeting was not at all about me; it was about them and their behavior which was unacceptable. He said the meeting showed him what kind of people they were. And now the one who said I was mentally ill continues to lead Stephens Ministry in our church, she was a member of vestry at the time of this incident. The other woman continues to lead my former ministry. As for me, I am, for the most part, gone from parish life, asked to function in the Diocese under the protection of my local Bishop. I have very little to do in the parish. I travel parish to parish most weekends for worship and fellowship. I participate in very few fellowship functions in the church. Other people have also been bullied by these two women, And nothing is done to stop the behavior. They are allowed to continue to hurt people. And I have lost everything that gave me joy.

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        1. Lee. My heart goes out to you. Many of us in leadership have been bullied in varying degrees. But this is part of our growth experience as believers. You’ve, no doubt, heard the phrase, “Hurt people hurt people”. The church is a highly imperfect place full of hurt people. If we are to be “transformed by the renewing of our minds…”, then confrontation is inevitable. We must welcome it when it comes, knowing that our Hope is in Christ alone (See Romans 5:3-5). Here, the Apostle Paul is speaking in the context of being justified by faith, like Abraham, “…(Abraham) did not waver in the promise of God through unbelief, but was strengthened in faith, giving glory to God, and being fully convinced that what He (God) had promised He (God) was also able to perform.

          There is always some area of our lives that needs stretching, improvement and growth. One reason that your joy was stolen is that there was no mechanism to assist you by the enforcement of church discipline. But on a personal level, when we pray for clarity of why we feel so broken or why we are vulnerable in certain ways, the Holy Spirit WILL reveal these things to you in His time. The answer is a refreshing stream that will comfort you and renew your joy and strengthen you in your walk with God, serving others who are hurt.

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  3. perhaps the church should adopt a zero tolerance policy towards bullying for the children and for whoever else it may apply to…..might be interesting to see who opposes it.

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  4. A bully can thrive in a congregation that has vague or no goals and no objectives by leadership to reach them. The bully often has leverage – relatives in the church, friends, financial influence, outspokenness, etc., that make it hard for others to “stand up” to them. If we are doing the “right things” as church leaders and Pastors, the bully will have no environment to work in. Also, these people often suffer from hurt which is why they hurt others. The “…gates of hell…” will not prevail against God’s church. The bully doesn’t understand the mission and should be directed to elaborate on their criticism or constructive ideas to the church board – personally. Our mission and objectives must be clear to all.

    Great article, including the “snarkyness”!

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  5. When church bullying progresses, then the church looses the ability to heal. The Church is supposed to be a healing, nurturing place and body that opens its doors and hearts to everyone in need and seeking to establish or enhance a relationship with God and his people. Bullying destroys relationships and defeats these relationships.

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    1. Yes, well said. Isn’t the bully likely the one most in need of healing? We in the church may need healing as well in order to deal with bullying. Knowing and committing ourselves to the mission of spreading the Gospel should keep us on course, especially in the face of bullying. We should question the bully’s ideas, asking him/her to clarify their ideas and how those ideas relate to the goals. Bully’s don’t like being called out and logical questions confound their motives. This is a common tactic used to disarm a bully. If the bully doesn’t respond to offers of counsel, we must be free to allow them to leave rather than be divisive.

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    2. Agree totally. When I relocated to a smaller-ish town in AZ, I let myself be talked into starting a contemp worship service (soup to nuts). I played in successful worship bands at bigger churches before. Including a start up service so I knew the challenges. Over the course of a year we built a outreaching service and great faith filled band. But were only allowed to hold service in the gym, which basically limited our growth. We eventually were able to move to the sanctuary but that brought the bullies out. Our equipment was routinely sabotaged, our signs torn down, hate email and lots of negative press/rumors filled the bands day. One regular theme that swirled was that were trying to steal members to start a new church. The bullying impacted my entire family (wife and 4 children) and eventually spread to the band members, many if which were in leadership roles in the church and had been in the church for 18 years. There was a gaggle of these bullies and they often forced the hand of the pastor, who was a self admitted introvert. We were really out on our own, fending off sharks. There was a lot of talk about praying for a better situation and we did, but I found that prayer was often used to remain apathetic, to not be a leader or take a stance against an injustice. I eventually moved out of the town and state mainly due to the haters/bullies. 19 others did too, everyone in the band quit except the pastors wife… And I pretty much left the Methodist Church all together. I visited about 5 other Methodist churches when we relocated and what I found was that nearly all had similar issues. The structure of the Methodist church is such that bullies can and do thrive. The take over committees often serving on all of them for years and years. With a pastor that has less than stellar leadership, bullies will rule and like the church I left, these other church’s will become irrelevant, unauthentic and die. That may just be the evolution of things. Either way, my family and I are done w being victims… Hard to put into words because we still consider a TX Methodist church to be the very best, loving and open church we have ever attended and we now realize that was an exception. Happy with our loving and supportive non denom church in VA now.

      Great write-up and read! Thanks.

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  6. Thanks for writing my experience. In a nutshell, THIS is why I left parish ministry after 20 years. Abuse of power by another pastor while on a staff, and my experience of bullies every day as a solo pastor for 12 years. It totally sucks, and I couldn’t find a way to fix it alone, so I had to leave the system. Much happier now.

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  7. After reading and rereading this tantalisingly titled article and its comment section, I still don’t know what a church bully is. I had never heard the term “church bully” before, and would have guessed that it referred to the Inquisition or the Geneva Consistory –or to people like Pat Robertson or the late Reverends Jerry Falwell and Carl McIntyre. So help me out here: What (or who) are church bullies? Who do they bully? What sort of things do they say and do? I’ve taken up a lot of pew space over the years, and I’ve encountered many folks who I found to be pushy, self-important, authoritarian, reactionary, or otherwise possessed of qualities that I was eager to detect in others, but they didn’t seem to be in any position to bully others. Please, tell me more about this ogre-ish phenomenon!
    Thanks.
    Carl Quella,
    Registered Malcontent.

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    1. Good question Carl. I’ll share a small sample from life. As Pastoral Search Committee members, we were doing our best to find a new pastor to match our congregation using the church’s established search methods. During a presentation to the congregation about information we were seeking, a person of financial influence harshly criticized our efforts. His demeanor was so rude and angry that it overshadowed anything that might have been constructive. We were unpaid volunteers. No one in the congregation said a word. This person fit the classic model of the bully description in this article. He was not interested in participating in positive feedback or information gathering, just criticism. People feared responding because they were afraid this man would exert pressure financially. This is not the classic playground bully, but one who misunderstood the church’s mission and believed secular pressure would achieve better results.

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    2. I think bhross nailed it. Bullying is often done outside of the public view, but often can manifest itself when the system won’t stop the bullying. Bullies use fear to keep people from standing up to them.

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  8. As a “take-back” pastor of 18 years (recovering 7 churches)—- This is totally accurate. The good news is that most of the time if a pastor has the guts, even the most entrenched bully can be disabled:
    1. By not taking personal attacks personally.
    2. Reporting “facts” and exposing “lies” without being defensive.
    3. Calling out the bully strategically.
    4. Preaching and teaching and praying against “anonymous” and gossip.
    5. Refusing to respond to “Anonymous”. There is no one on the church role named “Anonymous”.
    6. Being careful that as you defeat one bully or set of bullies, you don’t become a bully or set the stage for a new group of bullies to rise up.
    Keep up the good work.

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    1. Like your tactical check list, Stephen, and I offer the following in support of such tactics.

      Accusing a fellow congregant of being a “bully” operates for me as mere name-calling –part of a conspicuously unhelpful melodramatic narrative choice. In melodrama we busy ourselves with judging, thereby inhabiting our world-view with Victims, Persecutors and Rescuers. (see “Reason” 8) If I’m not mistaken our call is to operate within a different narrative flow, that of faithful integrity in love.

      Bullying behaviors, in my view, manifest a fearful attachment to a narrowly personalized set of outcomes. (See “Reasons” 1, 10 & 11) “Following” such attachments, we may easily adopt a kind of butt-kicking ethics, such that “anything goes” in service to me getting what I want. (“Reasons” 2-7)

      If bullying and leading are both assertions of power, then how is leading different? Seems to me that leaders exercise a focus on shared pilgrimage/quest/mission, without outcome attachments. Leaders facilitate transparent (cf. “Reason” 7), strategic group-process toward shared aims. Leading folk see themselves and their fellow church members, not as victims of a bully, but as aspiring followers of The Way. We have recourse to great traditions of “moral suasion” and other non-violent means for challenging fellow pilgrims who (occasionally or often) “back-slide” into the bellicose tactics associated with bullying.

      Following the Spirit of Christ, do we not inhabit a pilgrim/quest/mission narrative? Where’s the faith in judgmental (“bully”) renderings of a fellow church-person, whose attitude and behaviors we don’t like? Name-calling can, of course, be entertaining, in a gossipy sort of way. Alas, in melodramatic renderings of church process, we follow a cognitive detour, we distract ourselves (cf. “Reason” 9) from strategic pursuits of our high calling of loving faithfulness.

      Thanks for this input opportunity.

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    2. My pastoral care professor taught us most every one of these. I’ll just add for those just about to enter ministry, be very careful of the first person that comes to you offering help or a private meal.

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    3. Good word Stephen. We’re vulnerable as leaders when we’re insecure (which makes us defensive and inclined therefore to hit back). If you’re into cricket the metaphor is ‘playing with a straight bat': respond to and with facts; don’t be manipulated; name bad behaviour face to face but also, without shaming anyone, from the pulpit and in council meetings. Partly in this situation at the moment; asked what Jesus would do: firm, gentle and truthful. When I considered that I don’t always know all the truth, was led to had humility. -:)

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  9. I am in charge of the facilities of a medium sized church.The church bullies I encounter may be the members who have been there the longest. Sometimes they are entrenched in their volunteer work. I see a sense of entitlement in them, perhaps for all the time, work and tithes they have put in.
    There is the attitude that they are not replaceable. And they feel they can help themselves to the facilities without regard for other ministries.
    Thankfully, I have the support of the pastors and staff. But I still bear the brunt of hostility when these bullies don’t get their way.

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    1. It has been my experience, that often members who have been in a congregation a long time, and who have little experience of other churches are often bullies. Not because they are malicious, but because they believe that are protected their congregation from change. They bully without realizing it, they may even think they are standing and protecting their beloved church. It is a difficult situation to manage.

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  10. So what does healthy confrontation look like, after reading these 12 points, and how do we deal with bullying behaviors? Caveat: We are not being healthy when we merely label folks who disagree with us as bullies. 1) Compromise, collaborate, recognize that you might be wrong and others might be right. 2) Ban anonymous feedback. If it is important to the person saying it, they will step out of the shadows and speak for themselves. 3) Shut down the gossip— when you hear it, ask yourself if the person speaking it would still say it if the object of the gossip were present. 4) Challenging bullies is not unkind– Christ did it all the time, in fact, it appears to be one of his primary tasks in the Gospels. 5) The congregation is indeed here to help you with your worries and concerns, but the congregation does not exist to feed and spread unwarranted anxiety. 6) Do not freeze when bullying is occurring. It is essential to hold everyone accountable, and that means there are no bystanders in a healthy church, all are participants. 7) Demand and give openness and transparency— angel in the open, devil in private is not acceptable behavior. 8) Learn to both give and receive apologies. 9) See point 6. 10) Change is why we exist, change is what Christ was all about— be open as a congregation to new ideas— stop being the “no” person, and figure out a way to “yes.” People who have no voice will go to a different church— BE that different church. 11) Challenge the congregational system that allows the behavior of bullying. The person who is yelling the loudest is almost NEVER the real bully. The real bully is sitting at home drinking coffee, making phone calls, gossiping, and keeping his/her hands very clean. (see #2) 12) Start asking “How will this affect the hearer(s) if I say this out loud? Is there a better way to phrase this? Am I really understanding where this person is coming from, or am I making a rash (and negative) assumption?”

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    1. “3) Shut down the gossip— when you hear it, ask yourself if the person speaking it would still say it if the object of the gossip were present.”

      No, no, no! Just asking yourself if the speaker would say it if the object were present doesn’t go nearly far enough! Bullies often try to triangulate, turn what should be a one-to-one interaction into a three-person one, with one of the three absent. For example, imagine that Parishioner Joe, the bully, approaches Fr. Smith to report something negative about Parishioner Ann – that she’s been complaining about Fr. Smith’s sermons behind his back, or that she gossips about other parishioners, or what-have-you – but Ann is *not* present. Fr. Smith needs to say to Joe, in essence, “Let’s go talk to Ann right now,” and then lead him over to Ann and direct him to repeat what he just said – thereby pulling that triangle back into a line. Joe won’t like it, which is why he will swiftly learn to stop doing it.

      Of course, leadership should make it clear that this is what will happen – that speaking about someone who is not present is unacceptable, and so all attempts to do so will be met with immediate correction – so people know what to expect.

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  11. Great article. I stood up to a bully in my first congregation. It was the right thing to do, but it was hard and both physically and emotionally draining. My advice: be sure to have a good support system (therapist, spiritual director, colleagues) to help you strategize – and to be with you through the fallout. Also, very important, get into a centered spiritual space. You’ll have to do this over and over again, but it’s absolutely crucial.

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  12. #13 — Bullies get to keep the Church looking just like themselves since people of a different race, generation, sexual orientation along with people with a disability are easier to exclude, criticize and push out of the way.

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  13. This list hit a little too close to home. I lived with a bully for 7.5 years. And, good Christian that I am* he was able to use most, if not all, of these tactics to get what he wanted without ever raising his voice. Now, I know better. Now I know that one of the most loving things you can tell a person is “No.” No, I’m not giving in. I’m going to do “A” with or without you. No, I will not heed anonymous criticisms. No, I’m not apologizing for disagreeing with you.
    It’s taken me a few years to understand this. I suspect it will take a few more before I’m fully able to stand up to bullies without a lot of help and more than a little counseling. But make no mistake, bullies had better beware – You may be able to fire me, but only God can remove the yoke of “minister” from my shoulders!
    *I’m studying to be a minister.
    “A” Something Christ-honoring

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  14. I have spent the last twenty years of my life consulting with and writing about pastors that have been bullied. I now have three books on the subject based on those experiences, “When Sheep Attack” is the first. I find that this article certainly confirms my research. Well done!

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    1. Your pastor, reverend, or priest has probably gone to school or seminary being taught well by older/respectable pastor(s), reverend(s), or priest(s)the ways of being a leader in a church. In which way, you should respect that, and follow God. Especially when he hasn’t been taught about dealing with church bullies. He is rather put on the Cross by cheats and liars with large amounts of money or respectable people who were in the congregation for a long time.

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  15. I love it when the church remembers that our Lord and Savior is what the church is about…that is the healing grace for those of us who have seen bullying at its worst. Suppose we start conversations in the church with ‘where is God calling us…..(or we could pray…

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  16. This happens in all sorts of churches. In classical denominational churches, the usual pattern of bullying (in my experience) is that the bully is a lay person (who may or may not be in an official role in the congregation). In the more independent evangelical churches, the usual pattern (in my observation) is that the pastor is the bully.

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  17. The bullying in my church towards our new pastor and his wife, who was hired as director of Christian Ed as a way to grow our church, has Been extreme. A once thriving church twenty years ago, these bullies have driven away many families and other clergy solely to satisfying their own needs to control. I am a special Ed teacher teaching in a middle school and honestly the tactics these 5 bullies use are pathological. As more people leave our congregation, the more dominate they become. I supported our new pastor and confronted these people and the result was a malicious rumor being spread about me, of course false. I am taking my family and our annual donation and leaving .

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  18. I read this article with eagerness today, because it hit the nail on the head. When I came to #8, it encapsulated what I had been brooding about all day.

    This has been my year for outing two church bullies, and between strategy, support system, and the Holy Spirit, I am gaining confidence and skill. Stephen Burkhart’s list of 6 ways to deal with a church bully – especially #6 – are excellent. But another aspect to remember is that bullies pick on young vulnerable pastors (and young vulnerable church members). “Screwtape Letters” is a perfect model for this, as unsuspecting innocents are caught in the web and (young pastors, especially) then fall victim to inaccurate and mean-spirited accusations.

    So for those of us with sufficient experience, an adequate c.v., and solid references, there is a responsibility to have the guts, summon the courage, and work with the system to change it. You may need, in addition to smstrouse’s therapist, spiritual director, and colleagues, a medical doctor attuned to your blood pressure, anxiety, and other needs. It takes a village!

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  19. Another classic tactic of the bully is to threaten withdrawal – to leave, to resign from something, to stop doing the important job that they have. They play on the anxiety that ‘replacing’ them arouses. The golden rule is “always accept a resignation” – if necessary, extend that to “never allow retraction of a resignation”!
    The died-in-the-wool bully will then snipe from the outside, continuing to employ the gossip, anonymous, group building etc. tricks, but that is still easier to deal with than having them in positions of official influence.

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  20. Unfortunately for me, I learned too late that I was being used by a bully and didn’t try to stop it soon enough. Our pastor was forced to resign today and it hurts me to know that I, by remaining silent, only aided and abetted these bullies. My pastor has forgiven me as has The Lord and I pray that I will be much wiser and vocal if I’m ever put in this position again!

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  21. I’m not sure I agree with you, therevsteve. I’d rather keep my friends close, and my enemies closer. Of my 2 bullies (and a 3rd, less caustic), 1 has been in a recognized, official position of power, and the other feeding to her from the shadows. That one has just come onto the “real” (not shadow) board. I welcome that, because she can be dealt with by the strong leaders around her who will now begin to make her accountable.

    That might not be the case had I not spent this year empowering the board. A good number of them are now more savvy, more courageous, and less likely to give in to being bullied, and allowing others to be bullied.

    I did receive her resignation from one board position this week, but suggested she resign from a different one!!! The first one she is good at, the second one is very destructive. We shall see what transpires. I’ve given up being subtle. Jesus said (having used my “Young’s Analytical Concordance” and some other resources, to avoid eisegesis), be *shrewd* as serpents and innocent as doves. This is my year for shrewdness. Innocence was not benefiting the family of faith.

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  22. I grew up with conflict and have fought all my life to survive the bullies at school, at work, and even at home… When bullying started at church I stayed and tried to survive — but I am old now and tired.

    I am one of those church goers who took flight (actually left the church) because I was accused by the bullies of being “unkind or unchristian”

    I do deeply miss my church, but strangely I don’t regret flight for God commanded Lot to leave and not look back. So neither am I.

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  23. But if you leave, you often leave the problem to another person. I’ve done that before (because I lacked the courage to do what I was encouraged to do – I was younger then), and I will not do it again. The disaster that followed I consider to be partly my fault. But this is what exit interviews are for, if there is no other means.

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  24. Thank you for an insightful and clear article. I see this also in synagogues where I have served. I imagine happens in most houses of worship. Clarity and perspective is very helpful.

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  25. This is really helpful! These things can be even harder to deal with (at least in some ways) in an unprogrammed and un-pastored Quaker meeting like mine, because we don’t have an obvious authority structure or formal training. Mind you, Quaker structure at its best works beautifully in many ways, but it can make us more vulnerable to bullies, particularly passive-aggressive ones.

    My own reactions to bullies have been mixed. If and when I can remain calm and centered, I can speak plainly and truthfully. However, certain people and behaviors all too easily provoke me into being angry and confrontational. Being prepared for the encounter is all; it’s when something comes out of the blue at me that I get reactive — and of course the bullies rely on this.

    I’m forwarding this to my fellow members of our Ministry & Worship Committee, as well as our Pastoral Care Committee and our Clerk. These three entities share many of the responsibilities of a church pastor (in many meetings the two committees are combined).

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  26. I was seriously considering applying to divinity school, but this really depressed me since I’ve seen it in so many churches. In one church it was so bad that I stopped going maybe two weeks after being received as a member, etc and one of the pastors later had a nervous breakdown and quit. It’s scary that a place of refuge is often more dysfunctional than the workplace, school or usual sources of distress.

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  27. Wonderful thread. Francisco, I hope you keep searching till you find a healthier church. As for seminaries, I have found (having gone to three) they are always full of politics and are usually under the control of a clique. One needs to know what one’s own focus will be before going in. I knew I wasn’t going to bother fighting the entrenched clique at any seminary, although I sometimes did express a dissenting view. Several pieces of advice above were good. One was “don’t take it personally, even when it is a personal attack.” Another (from Gill) was “respond with facts; don’t be manipulated; name bad behaviour face to face but also, without shaming anyone.”

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  28. I found your article tonight, seeking encouragement and understanding. We tried to stand up to a bully by talking to a pastor about his parishioner’s demonic attitude toward his tenants. Instead of listening to us, the pastor judged us for being “emotional” and insisted we were in the wrong. Afterall, for the pastor to believe us, he would have to acknowledge his lack of discernment. Of course, the pastor spoke to the bully and the bully pulled the victim card. At this point our son refuses to have anything more to do with “organized religion” since throughout his life he has watched bullies get away with their behavior in nearly every church we have attended.

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    1. I don’t know if bullies in the church are becoming more numerous, or if leaders with very little moral backbone are becoming more common, but these are sad stories, and they keep coming. Thank you, Erik, for a positive word of encouragement. I am looking for a healthy church, and I intend to find it.

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  29. Actually, Jesus did call out the pharisees on their hypocrisy. As a matter of fact, he spoke some rather harsh words with them.

    Otherwise, I myself have just realized that I might be a target for a church bully at one of the Church gatherings I go to. He is not in a leadership position as far as I know, but he does try to pick on me based on my financial status. (I’m not the richest in the church). However, so far it is just that one person. But I do know that there is a (small) group of people at that Church that could be targeting me. Because he is apparently well liked.

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  30. I was summoned to a meeting last night at my church where not only was I bullied, but I felt like the member of the church staff (I do not want to use the word “pastor” for this) was teaching students to be bullies too. I have been an unpaid volunteer in our student ministries for seven years, starting with a group of students in sixth grade and moving up with them each year. One year ago, just before the students’ senior year of high school, I tried to resign as a volunteer. My job was being outsourced, and my best job prospects were in another city. I was manipulated with guilt into staying, despite my inclination that I would need time to take care of myself.

    So I willingly gave up job opportunities, and ended up going back to night school to try to find a foothold in a new career. Again, when school meant I could not attend Wednesday nights, I tried to resign. I told my girls I wouldn’t be there for the year after, again, it was rejected. And I felt guilt. And shame. And like a failure, simply for trying to hold things together. Then a couple of my family members died in an accident. So I missed a Sunday. I started having health problems, to find I had a tumors in my lymph nodes and thyroid,and with tests and treatments and everything that came with it, I missed more Sundays. All I could do was make it to school, do my homework and pray I would be able to stretch my savings to cover everything as I was still unemployed.

    In the middle of this, I tried to help someone else, and during the time I went to help her, I was sexually assaulted by her boyfriend. I started having panic attacks. So I was absent more and more, after having been at absolutely everything as a volunteer leader for over six years, I could barely function, let alone had anything to give to students. Every time I asked to resign, it was refused. At no time did any adult, staff or volunteer call or email me during this time to ask me how I was doing, despite knowing of these things. If I mentioned anything at all when I was at the church about my need, my brokenness, I was told that I was out of line because my focus should be the students. My students knew of both my schooling and my illness.

    Then, Last night I was ambushed. I was summoned to the church for a meeting, with no information. When I arrived, it was set up as an intervention type confrontation because my students felt “hurt and abandoned” because of my absences over the course of the year. When I apologized (again) for it, the students were encouraged by the staff member to keep heaping instances where I had not been there throughout the course of the past year, even though I was already in tears. At one point I mentioned that I had been barely able to function and had done my best to return phone calls and texts anyway, and the staff person interrupted me to say to the students “what do you hear in that? Do you hear her blaming you? To me it sounds like she is blaming you for her failure.” and so forth.

    I left a mess. For me, it was this session of being accused for students feeling hurt because I couldn’t be who I had been for the past six years. I am horribly sad about it. I was devastated to not be able to be involved in those girls lives like I wanted to and had up to that point. I sacrificed time and money and job opportunities and health insurance to try to be around as much as I could, with no emotional support from the church staff for me at all in my own season of brokenness. I apologized and asked forgiveness of those I hurt, even though I do not know how I could have done anything more when I was hurting so much myself. But I love those girls and it makes me sad to see them hurt. I just don’t understand why I had to be beat up with shame. What did that accomplish except to make me feel worse about myself? And I don’t really know what to do or say, if anything about what happened. I feel like not only was I bullied in the name of Jesus, but witnessed others being taught that doing so is right and appropriate.

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  31. I was summoned to a meeting last night at my church where not only was I bullied, but I felt like the member of the church staff (I do not want to use the word “pastor” for this) was teaching students to be bullies too. I have been an unpaid volunteer in our student ministries for seven years, starting with a group of students in sixth grade and moving up with them each year. One year ago, just before the students’ senior year of high school, I tried to resign as a volunteer. My job was being outsourced, and my best job prospects were in another city. I was manipulated with guilt into staying, despite my inclination that I would need time to take care of myself.

    So I willingly gave up job opportunities, and ended up going back to night school to try to find a foothold in a new career. Again, when school meant I could not attend Wednesday nights, I tried to resign. I told my girls I wouldn’t be there for the year after, again, it was rejected. And I felt guilt. And shame. And like a failure, simply for trying to hold things together. Then a couple of my family members died in an accident. So I missed a Sunday. I started having health problems, to find I had a tumors in my lymph nodes and thyroid,and with tests and treatments and everything that came with it, I missed more Sundays. All I could do was make it to school, do my homework and pray I would be able to stretch my savings to cover everything as I was still unemployed.

    In the middle of this, I tried to help someone else, and during the time I went to help her, I was sexually assaulted by her boyfriend. I started having panic attacks. So I was absent more and more, after having been at absolutely everything as a volunteer leader for over six years, I could barely function, let alone had anything to give to students. Every time I asked to resign, it was refused. At no time did any adult, staff or volunteer call or email me during this time to ask me how I was doing, despite knowing of these things. If I mentioned anything at all when I was at the church about my need, my brokenness, I was told that I was out of line because my focus should be the students. My students knew of both my schooling and my illness.

    Then, Last night I was ambushed. I was summoned to the church for a meeting, with no information. When I arrived, it was set up as an intervention type confrontation because my students felt “hurt and abandoned” because of my absences over the course of the year. When I apologized (again) for it, the students were encouraged by the staff member to keep heaping instances where I had not been there throughout the course of the past year, even though I was already in tears. At one point I mentioned that I had been barely able to function and had done my best to return phone calls and texts anyway, and the staff person interrupted me to say to the students “what do you hear in that? Do you hear her blaming you? To me it sounds like she is blaming you for her failure.” and so forth.

    I left a mess. For me, it was this session of being accused for students feeling hurt because I couldn’t be who I had been for the past six years. I am horribly sad about it. I was devastated to not be able to be involved in those girls lives like I wanted to and had up to that point. I sacrificed time and money and job opportunities and health insurance to try to be around as much as I could, with no emotional support from the church staff for me at all in my own season of brokenness. I apologized and asked forgiveness of those I hurt, even though I do not know how I could have done anything more when I was hurting so much myself. But I love those girls and it makes me sad to see them hurt. I just don’t understand why I had to be beat up with shame. What did that accomplish except to make me feel worse about myself? And I don’t really know what to do or say, if anything about what happened. I feel like not only was I bullied in the name of Jesus, but witnessed others being taught that doing so is right and appropriate.

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    1. I am so sorry this happened to you. Those in leadership pushing this kind of behavior are demonically inspired. This is not how Christ would handle your situation at all. You should have received love and support instead. I pray God ministers to your wounded heart, mind and spirit.

      Please don’t beat yourself up. Instead know that the Father is well pleased with your willingness to be available despite your challenges. Christ says to pray for those who despitefully use us. They have been blinded by a religious spirit and have no part of God at this time. Pray that God removes the blindness, and opens their eyes to truth. Pray also that God will do whatever it takes to protect the young people being influenced by the religious leaders.

      I know it is tempting to stew in anger, or relive the situation over and over again. That is what the enemy would have you do. Instead, hand the lot of them over to God and let Him deal with them. That’s what I had to do recently with a “pastor” who isn’t interested in truth. Whenever the situation comes up in my mind, I plead the blood of Jesus and move on.

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      1. I realized I left out an important bit of encouragement. By no means should you allow yourself to embrace guilt for what was done to you. Obviously healthy boundaries are neither taught nor honored by this religious group. If you haven’t walked away from them, I encourage you to do so without looking back. You need to take care of your personal needs (i.e. job, health, etc.) I pray God leads you to a healthy fellowship where you will find healing and acceptance.

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    2. I’m so sorry to hear about the lengthy and painful experience you have endured. I would point out that no one has a right to compel you to stay in a volunteer position, especially if they are mistreating you there! I would encourage you to take care of yourself, to speak to your one or two closest spiritual friends. And I don’t think you should feel guilty about anything in this situation.

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      1. Thank you, Anne and Steve. I am fortunate to have good Christian friends outside the situation. And Steve, you are absolutely right. I was not forced. I made a choice. Even if I was bullied, I chose. Hopefully I will choose better in the future. And be able to leave graciously, as after the realizations of the past week, I will be searching for a new church home.

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