Three huge mistakes church bullies make (and what to do about them)

Anyone interposing himself between the Lord Jesus and His church is asking for it.

Sometimes–as I keep getting reminded by readers–that would-be dictator is the pastor, a man sent by God to be the shepherd of the sheep but who has forgotten that he does not own the flock and cannot do with it as he pleases.

More likely, however, the man (it’s almost always a man) who takes it upon himself to run the church is a layperson with what he thinks are dynamic leadership skills.  My observation is that he is a bully in other ways and places too, particularly at home and in the office. (He usually owns his own company and thus calls the shots without interference from anyone.)

1) Bullies are wrong about themselves.

They don’t think of it as bullying: they’re just taking the leadership when no one else will. Filling the vacuum.

Church bullies tend to be assertive, take-charge people. And that’s not all bad. We need such people in society. So many problems go neglected until someone steps up and says, “We can fix this.”

The  error comes when they run over people to “fix” matters, when they ignore the God-appointed leadership to get their way, and when they get angry if they are not honored as the true congregational leader they see themselves to be.

The best way to tell if one reading this is a bully is to ask yourself, “How do you handle rejection?”

No one likes rejection. No one enjoys our opinions and recommendations being ignored or even dissed. But that happens to all of us from time to time, and when it does, the way we handle it tells worlds about our character and our motives.

Can you remain in the background and simply pray for the leadership of your church, and submit yourself to their decisions?  (See Hebrews 13:17 and be amazed.)

2) Bullies are wrong about the church.

Jesus said, “I will build my church” (Matthew 16:18).  It’s His church and He will build it. He is both owner and operator.

Everyone but a bully believes this.

Bullies feel superior to the rank and file of church members.  Some readers will recall Leona Helmsley, the hotel “empress” (she called herself that in publicity), who said, “Only little people pay taxes.”  She ended up going to prison, proving there can be some justice in this life.  People who worked for Mrs. Helmsley were unanimous in calling her a bully.

Church tyrants do not think of their dictatorial actions as unhealthy for the Lord’s work. If everyone would just do as they say, the church would be fine.  They’re just fixing what’s wrong, keeping matters on course.

Bullies often know a lot about the Word of God, but they do not know God’s heart.  I’ve known some who could teach a great Bible class and bring in terrific insights from their study.  Among the missing elements, however–in addition to a humility in the presence of Almighty God, which should be basic equipment– is they do not believe its prohibitions are for them personally.

Bible believers know that because it’s the Church of the Lord Jesus Christ, the only thing that matters in its daily operation is His will.

Our Sovereign Lord cares little for advice from the business community, votes of the majority, or pressure from the strongest personalities.  His will is the only one that counts.

Our single prayer should always be, “Lord, what will you have us to do?” (see Acts 22:10)

Whatever we do to the Church–the Bride of Christ, the Body of Christ!–Jesus takes personally and will hand out rewards to us and judgment on us in accordance with our behavior toward her.

Whatever we do “to the least of these His brethren,” we do to Him (Matthew 25). And that’s as scary a thought as it’s possible to have.

3) Bullies are wrong about God. 

“Surely the Lord is in this place and I knew it not. This is the very House of God, the very gate of Heaven,” Jacob said at Bethel.

Once we decide that this is God’s House, these are God’s people, and I am accountable to Him for my behavior, nothing is ever the same.

The Lord said, “I will never leave thee nor forsake thee” (Hebrews 13:5-6).

He is here, and He is not absent, silent, or passive.

He knows who He is and what He wants, and is not reticent or hesitant about speaking up for those who are listening.

Bullies act like the Lord has gone off and left the church to operate on its own. They seem to think that the strongest can pull the cords and run the show, and that they will never be brought into accountability.

Their actions show this. Whether they ever actually give a thought to what they are doing, of course, and its eternal ramifications is another matter.

I would assume not.

That’s why many of us who have gone up against church bullies over the years (and carry the scars to prove it) have concluded that most are actually atheists by practice if not actual theology.

A friend of a church tyrant once told me, “I think he has a demon.”  What’s funny about that is the speaker was a theological liberal. I had no idea he even believed in demons at all, but perhaps his control-obsessed friend with whom I was contending had convinced him otherwise.

Spiritual warfare must be conducted in the Lord’s ways and by His power.

Pastors and other church leaders who go up against bullies must keep in mind these facts:

1) You are not contending against flesh and blood.  Your enemy is satan and his demonic forces.

2) You must not stoop to use human tactics.  Revenge and ugliness have no place in this conflict.  Rather, you are to employ the greatest weapon of all: love.

3) Anyone dealing with a church bully must live in Luke 6:27-35.  Read it again and again, and practice the four most basic acts of love Jesus commands:

–Do good deeds to the culprits who are hating you.  (This is the last thing they expect!)

–Bless them (say good words to them). (They will keep trying to find a negative slant to them, so it’s important to keep your words pure and Christlike.)

–Pray for them. Ask God to change them and to do His will in this situation. (Do NOT do like the Psalmist did in places and ask the Lord to destroy them! Smiley-face goes here.)

–Give to them.  Look for appropriate gifts to give the culprits.  For one, I bought a cake and took half to him and his wife. To another, my wife baked a cake.

4) Doing these four things to those trying to do you harm will accomplish a hundred things, none of them pleasing to the devil: You will honor God, please Jesus, and be used of the Holy Spirit. You will infuriate the devil, puzzle the tyrants, and shut the mouths of your critics.  You will bless the church, encourage those going through hard times, and draw outsiders to Jesus by your behavior.  Your anger will evaporate, and according to Luke 6:35, your reward in Heaven will be great and your reputation goes through the roof!

5) You will not roll over and play dead for the dictator who wants to be “the only tater,” as I once heard a pastor-bully put it.  You will stand up and be strong, but in the sweet power of Jesus Christ.

6) When you address the bully in public–in business meetings, from the pulpit, wherever–your primary goals are not to convert him to your point of view.  Your uppermost aims are to honor Christ, to bless His church, and to win the hearts and supports of all the spectators who sit there watching the back-and-forth give-and-take of your dealings with the bully as though it were a tennis match.

7) By doing loving deeds to the bully, you are claiming the high ground and leaving him nowhere to go but the mud pits.  Whether he chooses to sink into that slime and sling it at you or to repent and get right with God will be up to him.  But if you are doing good, blessing, praying, and giving to the culprit as Jesus instructed, in many cases even his family members (who are frequently his victims too, do not forget) will join your side.

God bless you, friend.

Be strong. Be consistent. Stay there and win this battle for Jesus’ sake.

5 thoughts on “Three huge mistakes church bullies make (and what to do about them)

  1. It works the same outside the four walls of the church. Bullies are everywhere. Remembering that our weapons are not of this world is important there, too. Eph 6 gives us those weapons we have available to us as Christians. Didn’t have those for a long time.

  2. Pastor Joe,
    You are dead on. Our church has recently gone through a situation like this. We brought in a mediation team and did not back down from the bully. Finally the bully and his gang left. Which left a hole financially and physically and the Lord soon filled it. He is so wonderful and The Lord of Host always comes through. Thanks Pastor.
    Bob Gosey

  3. your words on these topics have been very thought provoking. In hind-sight, I know now (with no sense of pride other than knowing my Lord has redeemed me from this behavior) that I was one such person. It reflected mostly when I was in college going to required chapel services (which I resented at the time). I would just wait for that one mis-wording from the speaker so I could justifiably erupt in my righteous indignition. I wouldn’t necessarily storm out of chapel services, but I would use it as an excuse to rant and rave for the following days to weeks.

    A church I used to go to called this a “religious spirit.” That church actually believed it was an actual spirit as opposed to using to work “spirit” not in reference to an entity but to an attitude. While I definitely believe in the influence of “spirits” (battle is not against flesh and blood), sometimes that word does refer to a personality and attitude and not an entity. I digress.

    What I really realize, however, is that the “bully” is extensively talked about in Scripture. The New Testament calls these people “pharisees.” These people have all the right “religious” answers but are nowhere near what God intended.

    Thanks for these great writings.

  4. I have to say, at first I thought about going head on with this bully but I also thought why bring myself down to their level? Pastor Joe, Thank You for the light of truth.

  5. bullies never sees themselves as bullies. I think those who are on the receiving end of bullying need to have confidence in themselves, are realize God’s words already clearly define right and wrong, and if you know for sure you have done nothing wrong in accordance to Lord’s word, then under no circumstances should you allow bullies to redefine God’s words. You need to stand firm and don’t appease bullies. One of the most difficult lessons i learnt is appeasing bullies never works long term. Yes, do good to those who hurt you, but do not confuse that with not standing up for yourself. You can and should do both. You can and should do good to your enemy but at the same time you should also let them know you WILL NOT put up with their craps.

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