Bullying in Church?

So, I was thinking that with all the attention that bullying is receiving in school and workplaces and such, it might be good to be honest and say that the church is not without bullies. I have encountered bullies in just about every congregation in which I have had the pleasure of serving. (And if I count all my stewardship work before ordination – it is over 50). We can all have moments where we bully, and I am sure that I might be as easy to accuse as anyone on a given occasion. But I’m not thinking of folks who fall into a moment of frustration or passion and intimidate.  I’m thinking more about folks who do it all the time.  It is a modus operandi.

Church bullies usually don’t resort to physical intimidation or abuse (though they can). Usually, it is more emotional bullying. They are men and women, young and old. If you have ever gone to a meeting saying a secret prayer like, “Please Lord let so-and-so not get mad about anything at this meeting,” or avoid someone consistently because they are always complaining and trying to draw you in, you may know a church bully. If you know someone who never has anything positive to say about the church, you may know someone who is prone to bullying and is seeking support. Church bullies have learned that if they act badly enough, if they complain loudly and often, if they militantly stand in the way of change that most folks will back down and give them what they want to make peace. After all, isn’t the church supposed to be a place of peace? Aren’t we at least supposed to be nice to one another? Bullies use that goodwill to get what they want.

Now, I don’t have anyone in particular in mind as I write – as I said, I have encountered them everywhere; nor is there some recent event that has made this something to address. This is some thinking about an issue that plagues the church in our uncivil society and vexes the Christian leader in congregations nearly everywhere. Pastor Erik Parker has written about this phenomena in a pithy, ironic – and a little sarcastic – way that offers up a good analysis of what creates bullies in the church (and in almost any other setting).  Check out what he has to say at: http://millennialpastor.net/2014/01/23/12-reasons-why-it-is-good-to-be-a-church-bully/

In the end, as Pastor Parker says, it takes courage to stand up to bullies and say, “Stop it. You are not going to get what you want this way.” In Christ’s name, we can call them to repentance and healthy behavior. But we can’t let them run the church. It may make us unpopular and raise our own anxiety.  It will usually lead to escalation and even behavior that sabotages mission and leaders until, after a time of being strong, the old behavior is broken. Then, we become a more healthy, vital community of God’s people.

That’s what I was thinking, today.

Pastor Tim

3 thoughts on “Bullying in Church?

  1. Nancy says:

    “….In Christ’s name, we can call them to repentance and healthy behavior. But we can’t let them run the church. It may make us unpopular and raise our own anxiety. It will usually lead to escalation and even behavior that sabotages mission and leaders until, after a time of being strong, the old behavior is broken. Then, we become a more healthy, vital community of God’s people.”

    I too am tired of being bullied – but I’ve learned there is a reason the person bullies and it’s not that simple to correct. We (as a church) should never be discouraged from teaching healthy behaviors. God made our minds and our bodies – sin (and earthly environment) made our unhealthy behaviors and survival skills. If you grew up only knowing bullying or other unhealthy behaviors, it’s not that easy to change for you didn’t choose this, your environment did. If we don’t ask “why” the behavior began, we can’t acknowledge what caused the unhealthy behaviors. For some people, discovering the cause is too painful to relive the environment which lead to the behavior and will refuse to acknowledge out of fear and pain. But if we don’t know what went wrong, we don’t know what to change – or even how to change. This is why help and counseling to overcome behavior is so important, for the behavior may have been a “survival behavior” and a new, unfamiliar behavior will need to be developed in its place.

    With God, nothing is impossible and He will send us the right people (even when we are not asking for it) to help us and encourage us to overcome our unhealthy behaviors.

  2. Christine Johnson says:

    Great blog, Tim. Part of the seriousness of this is that in some cases bullying harms others in irreplacable ways. Pastors leave the ministry. Church members leave the church. In my case, it’s led to being unable to work. Sad.

    • Pastor Tim Olson says:

      Thanks, Christine. Very sad to hear about your situation. Very sad your story is not the exception rather than a kind of cancerous rule. I should have commented more about the cost of bullying in the church… perhaps a sequel. Peace to you and praying God restores your many gifts and heals you. The Church needs you!

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