Recognize and stop bullies in church

By Eddie Hammett

Bullies can destroy a church by their determination to get their way or sway people to their side.

Bullying is a growing issue in our culture — in schools, businesses, organizations, families and communities. It is also a major problem in churches and other religious organizations. It often hides in the shadows of being right, politically right, getting control, or “this is the way I/we like it done.”

Church bullying is growing across the country as churches struggle with declining attendance, finances, commitment and community impact. Often church bullies target the pastor and staff, blaming their leaders for the decline in their church’s metrics or status. While certainly leaders do bear some of the responsibility, more often these diminishing numbers and impact is a pulpit, pew and cultural issue.
How should a pastor, staff member and congregation deal with church bullies?

Recognizing bullying
I realize that change is a difficult concept and process for many churches, and that many churches and clergy have little or no training in dealing with the exponential change we find ourselves in these days. Such a deficit raises fears, anxieties and frustration levels when things do not go a preferred or familiar way in a church.

Having coached with clergy and other church leaders, it is clear to me that pastor bashing and bullying is a critical issue in many churches regardless of size, type, theology, age of church or median age of the congregation. Church bullies not only do not want to change their preferences, but they want to blame others in order to protect their preferred ways or comfort zone. I have heard of or experienced church bullying in a variety of ways in a church:

  1. A Bible study group of older adults who repeatedly attack the pastor and staff with judgmental words accompanied by a spirit of anger, revenge or
    desire for their way.
  2. A finance or stewardship committee that holds the church purse strings as if the money were in their household family budget. They often control what is or is not permitted by controlling the spending based on their personal preferences rather than the church’s
    mission or desires.
  3. A very active, engaged lay leader that has his orher hand in everything not just to be a help, but to exercise some control in the way things are done to ensure their preferences are not ignored by others.
  4. A parent or guardian who becomes the mouth-piece for their child or grandchild in order to exercise control by evaluating all others by their personal preferences of parenting styles, disciplinary actions, dress preferences, programming preferences and standards. These parents usually are demanding, vindictive, persevering and filled with anger and revenge.
  5. A deacon body or trustee group that is more committed to their personal preferences or comfort zones than the divine mission for the church. This control is most often exercised in micromanaging pastor and staff, wanting the pastor to be all things to all people and keeping everyone happy. The mission of the church becomes maintenance – by the deacon or trustee’s standards – and very often inhibits the pastor to live Christ’s call on their lives and the church.
  6. 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 more comfortable with rather than contextualizing ministry and facing their own learning curves and challenges.

Dealing with bullies
Church bullies like to stir up trouble; they love attention as much as they like getting their way. The more attention you give them the more they stir the pot. Of course, when you don’t give them attention it often initially escalates their anger, determination and vengeance. Very often the bully cannot let go of their agenda. It has them at the heart and no one sees it like they do! They truly believe they are doing the right thing and saving their church. However, more often than not, they have tunnel vision and it’s all about them.

If the church or group plays into their game, the bully wins, and very often the pastor, staff and the church loses because the community learns they fight at that church. Bullies create a bad reputation for the church, and often people – weary of the internal war and conflict – leave the church because of the bully control rather than the issue the bully is mad about. A group of bullies can destroy a church by their determination to get their way or sway people to their side. They very often really do not care for the pastor, church or community reputation or wounds. It’s all about their agenda!

So how do you manage such within a Christian context? How do you deal with such vengeance, anger, self-centeredness and hurt in a redemptive and Christian manner? Many pastors and churches have weakened because they opt to do nothing for fear of hurting people. They allow a small group to hurt – if not kill – the spirit and mission of their church in order to preserve someone’s feelings. How long will a church let the desire of a few condemn or control the future of their church?

Approaching the situation

  • Be prayerful and intentional while following the principles in Matthew 18.
  • Invite a neutral outsider to help with the process.
  • The issue has to be dealt with by trusted lay leaders who have earned the right to talk and be heard and are  willing to step up to the challenge of leadership.
  • The clergy are the target and they need to empower the lay leadership to determine next steps and carry out the desires of the congregation.
  • Go to the bully and respond to issues by asking, “What do you need from me that you are not getting now?”
  • Following this, negotiate with lay leadership and congregation if the bully’s demands are in line with the congregation’s mission.
  • Invite trusted friends and colleagues of the bully to become an advocate for furthering conversation, being careful not to get triangulated in the relationship.
  • Scripturally, if these ideas do not work, then you take it to the congregation. This can be done in some church governance, but depending on a possible pathology of the bully, it could become detrimental and destroy, or certainly scar deeply, those involved and the reputation of the congregation in the community at large.
  • Church bullies must be dealt with; otherwise the poison they spew will negatively impact the church’s forward movement, generate polarization and often fuel adetrimental reputation in the community.

Eddie Hammett lives in Hendersonville, N.C., and is a ministry colleague with The Columbia Partnership. He is a certified coach with the International Coach Federation. and


8 Responses to “Recognize and stop bullies in church”

  1. Teresa Harrell Moten

    I am a Full Time Evangelist with own ministry! I am also a member of a congregation filled with evil mean cruel bullying member forcing members out of church body! They even get together in people faces to run off members! We have a relative new Pastor who goes a long with them and they block members from serving in positions! The finace Director has taken over congregation and Pastor scared of him too! Lots of folks stop participating and the people run folks from church! It is aweful and when pastors come if certain one do not want them, they run them off! Satan has a foothold in the midst and soon as God’s word, prayer and unity come about, those demonic members show out and block the word and work of God! Jealously, pride, rebellion and evil works have come from generations of some of same family members! Many of our evil bitter meanspirited member who refuse to reconcile, forgive, repent and show mercy succumbed to death! Yet their families continues the bullying!
    We are few in numbers, yet some families have many still members who argues, block God’s work, shut down programs, refuse to allow church congregation to know state of church business! Finance person runs pastor, hides information! When congregation vote on new officers and leaders in the congregations, those same evil folks block them! This folks block new people whom congregation vote on and refuse to let them come into position! We are in a very sin sick way, people are afraid to speak up! Committee tell lies and church body afraid! I pray for God to intervene and help me and others who love our congregation to stand up against bullying or move us on! It is very very sad to the point that the evil few do not want to see God at work, sunners coming to Christ, backslidders coming back to the Lord, forgiveness, healing and restoration take place! Please please pray for Haven Memorial! Fighting, lying going on and I pray no one get killed! Mercy!

  2. AwesomeGod

    Church bullies must be dealt with. Too many people leave the church because of it and not say anything thinking that is the way to maintain a harmonious illusion in the church is the right thing to do. Sometimes the bully is the Pastor. Christians are taught to submit to their leaders, however, the Bible also teaches us to be bold and courageous. They bully because no one spoke up to them and just leave, they need to be confronted even though you may not win the popularity vote. Just make sure you consult other spiritual elders, pray and meditate in the Word to be sure you are not doing this just to vent your anger, and speak the truth in love, after all, this is the greatest commandment other than love the Lord your God with all your strength, your heart and your mind.

  3. Tired of bullies

    I am in a very similar situation. I left the church I’m now attending many years ago because of one person there. I recently went back and one of the first people I met was this person. I got bad vibes off them straight away however they were lovely to me and so I buried the negative feelings. Today I was instructed by the vicar to lead a group in the church. This person saw that and came across and said in front of me “I’ve nominated *another person* to be the leader of this group” and looked at me as she said it. She was not even in the group I was in but another. It was purely to undermine me. I didn’t give anything away in my face but I was livid.

    She is known to be a troublemaker, firing off letters to the vicar and his superiors if something isn’t to her liking yet he says nothing and lets her get away with it. In fact everyone knows what she is but says nothing. I have to now leave this church again because I am a natural leader and sadly won’t be able to progress there as I would have liked. I want to believe that Christians are above this but sadly they seem to be just as bad as the people out there in the world and often times, worse. I despair.

  4. annette everson

    I have just left a church which I loved. I have been through lots of things including great poverty This women had helped me and I was extremely grateful, but helpful turned into control and when I started getting independent. Then the bullying started, if I disagreed, if I put as much as foot wrong, Digs, telling off, insults. I tried not to argue and went to the churches seniors, a young pastor family. Only told that adults we both were. I got no support, and the bullying continued. Now am without a church, faith has taken a battering, as feeling anger, bitterness. I believe now that they are hypocrites. They just stood by and said nothing. No phone calls nothing, so much for being one of the lords creatures. I do though still try and have faith.

  5. There is a situation with a church with the daughter of a colleague of mine. She had been a member of this church for two years when the unthinkable occurred. The man she was to marry grew chronically ill. She grew ill with Type II diabetes (no insurance), and time went on. She had not attended that church for almost a couple of years. The girl still attended a public outreach ministry where the church donates handmade items to the community. As a near burned out caregiver, the girl at least had this one outlet. Last year the girl’s daughter went on chemo. So this young woman was very ill herself, still caring for another individual with chronic pain, and traveling to another state to help take care of her daughter. The church women involved in this one particular group began to treat her extremely differently, leading her to believe that there is some type of gossip going on. Of course no one has talked to her privately to ask questions or tell what they know. She has just decided to have nothing more to do with them because of their very unchristian attitude towards her. She is shatteredr, but her faith in Christ has not bee swayed. What else can you suggest for someone like this? She had set a time to talk to the pastor who is new to her. She voted this new pastor in while she was active, but he does not know her. I had advised her not to talk to him, because even with Christians, no one likes a squealer. I mean, what can he do? Nothing. These church women are acting like their in a feeding frenzy. I’d never heard of church bullying, but this is pretty close.

  6. Donella

    Thank you for your article ~ As a church administrator I have watched bullies work to destroy the church and it’s leadership! There is not much information on how to handle this type of behavior so I really appreciate your writing this because it is exactly as I have experienced and I believe you will be a help to others. I just wanted you to know how much I appreciated reading the warning to others on what to look for and what to do….very clear direction!

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