Reforming the Deacons (9): “Dealing With the Bully”

If the deacon body is to be healthy, it must get rid of toxic members in its fellowship.

Toxic member number one: The bully. He’s the guy who throws his weight around, demands that everyone follow his agenda, issues orders to the pastor and staff, and instills fear in half the people around him.

You thought the problem with bullies ended after elementary school? Think again.

Bullies can be found in the classroom (as professors), on football fields (as coaches or players), in the workplace (more likely, it’s the boss), and, most surprising of all to most people, in church.

All bullies are dangerous to the success of whatever mission they are engaged in. They can wreck the program by demanding their own way, by undermining the work of leaders, and by driving away good people who refuse to cave in to them.

Since the work of the church is the Kingdom of God on earth, a bully in the sacred place can cause damage having eternal consequences.

Now, the church bully can be a pastor, a Sunday School teacher, a somebody or a nobody. But when the bully is a deacon, particularly in a wonderful church doing significant work for the Lord, he is especially dangerous and must be dealt with.

Just one such monster left unchecked and unchallenged can stop a good ministry in its tracks, destroy the work of a faithful pastor, ruin a church’s reputation, hold the Lord’s people up as a laughingstock before the world, and splinter a united congregation.

Bullies cannot be left unguarded, their tactics unchallenged, and their demands unaddressed. Someone must do something.

Has anyone ever written on what deacons should do concerning the bullies within their fellowship?

Diotrephes was a bully. The Apostle John said, “I wrote something to the church, but Diotrephes, who loves to be first among them, does not accept what we say. For this reason, if I come, I will call attention to his deeds which he does, unjustly accusing us with wicked words, and not satisfied with this, neither does he himself receive the brethren, and he forbids those who desire to do so, and puts them out of the church” (III John 9-10).

The Pharisees were bullies. Jesus said they “shut up the kingdom of heaven from men,” they “devour widows’ houses,” and they are in danger of “the sentence of hell” (Matthew 23).

What should a deacon do about a bully within his own group?

By “bully,” we mean a dominant figure in a church who wants to rule the entire body. He cannot work with committees but is a one-man show. He cannot submit himself to anyone or anything. Somewhere along the way to becoming an adult, he came to the conclusion that he was gifted with the right to call the shots, to issue orders, to be the power behind everything meaningful in his life.

The wonder is how some men–it’s almost always a man–delight in being the big frog in tiny ponds, in ruling over even the smallest of congregations.

My friend Dave Jochum, a teacher of leadership principles, says a bully has such low self-esteem he has to dominate others in order to bring them down to a level beneath himself.

No one is saying such a fellow should not be in church. What we are saying is the church should not give a bully the means of dominating others. Do not give him membership on a committee (or he will soon become chairman and begin his work), do not assign him to lead a project no matter how insignificant (or he will turn into a monster which the pastor has to deal with), and do not recognize him from the pulpit for something he got right (or he will begin to draw the admiration of the less mature members of the congregation who will want to elect him to something).

How does a bully become a tyrant in a church?

Unthinking church members give him a platform by electing him to something. Anything, it hardly matters. From there, he’s off–exaggerating the scope of the assignment, drawing attention to himself, wanting resources, demanding helpers.

His strength is his weakness. His personality, which could be such an asset in the Lord’s work, is undisciplined and insatiable. He delights in dominating people.

How does a bully remain in power in a church?

People fear him. That’s the strangest thing of all. Even when there is not a thing in the world the tyrant can do to harm a person, the typical church member will cower in his presence and grant him anything he wants, even when that means destroying a pastor’s ministry or ruining a good church.

In the movie “Mrs. Miniver,” a vintage film from the World War II era, the villagers are having a flower show at the Belden Estate, ruled over by the dowager Lady Belden. The judges for the best rose are in a quandary. For years on end, Lady Belden has taken the blue ribbon, but this year, the station-master’s rose–named “The Mrs. Miniver”–is challenging her best effort. What will the judges do?

A friend teased that the judges dared not defy Lady Belden. “They are afraid of you!” And they were; he was exactly right.

That’s the power bullies wield: people fear them. It is irrational, impractical, and tied to nothing that makes any sense. But church members shrink in their presence.

Tyrants feed off the fear they sense in others, compounding the problem.

A pastor this week told of a bully on the finance committee in his church. “He’s not the chairman of the committee, but when I brought a proposal about the budget, he flatly announced, ‘No, preacher, we will not be doing that. In fact, we will be cutting the budget.'”

The bully issues edicts, he does not seek consensus. His is the only opinion that counts.

What a bully does.

a) He gives orders to the ministers.

b) He intimidates the members.

c) He steers the church programs and ministries.

How do we rein in bullies in the church (or inside the deacons)?

Here are four suggestions for dealing with bullies….

1) Do not fear them.

This is a conscious decision you will make. “I will not be afraid; what can man do to me,” comes to us straight out of Hebrews 13:6.

God is not honored when His children fear another human being, particularly one who is bringing dishonor to Him, placing obstacles before His work, and inflicting pain on His children.

Solomon said, “The fear of man brings a snare, but he who trusts in the Lord will be exalted” (Proverbs 29:25).

2) Stand up against them.

It will do a bully good to see someone stand and oppose his rant. He won’t enjoy it, he will wonder what right you have to question him, but you are doing him a favor. “Faithful are the wounds of a friend, but deceitful are the kisses of an enemy” (Proverbs 27:6).

Speaking up against a bully’s position will encourage the more timid in the room. They were waiting for someone to do just that. If your words are wise and your spirit gracious, you will carry the day.

3) If you are the chairman, ignore the bully’s rants and pronouncements and go forward.

You let him speak, stop him when he goes on too long, and then bring the committee back to reality with something like, “Mr. Big, we will decide this matter by a vote of the committee, and only after we spend time in prayer seeking the will of the Father. All of us need the occasional reminder that this is the Lord’s church and the only opinion that matters is His. Now, before we pray, does anyone else have a question or anything to say?”

Then, before the vote, Mr. Chairman, do not call on someone else to pray. You pray. Keep the committee focused, seek the Father’s will, and be quiet before Him. (Your quiet is in contrast to the bombast of Mr. Big.)

4) Do everything in your power to see that this individual is never again given a place of influence in your church.

It is true that once he realizes he has no following in one church, he will gravitate to another. When that happens, you will inform the next pastor what he’s getting and encourage him to quarantine the man until the Holy Spirit breaks him and makes him useful to the Kingdom.

The healthy church will not allow bullies to get established.

My wife reminds me that in several churches, a number of very strong personalities could have become bullies if the people around them had allowed it. But the churches were made up of so many strong leaders, all of them fine and godly and healthy, when someone tried to throw his/her weight around, the others simply teased them out of it, they all had a good laugh, and they acted as if it had not occurred.

This is why the truly healthy church does not fear when a bully joins the fellowship. They know how to deal with strong personalities because they themselves are so mature in the Lord. They fear no one and will quickly deal with someone trying to stir up trouble.

Truly healthy churches, that’s the goal. And one huge aspect of that is having genuinely sound deacons who are a strength to the church.

3 thoughts on “Reforming the Deacons (9): “Dealing With the Bully”

  1. What if there are 4 bullying deacons in one church. Do you use the same tactics with each of them to stop the bullying? Can they be “deactivated” from their positions?

  2. I have been dealing with a bully. I play piano and I am not very good with timing. I have played in many churches but I have never met anyone that was so critical. Every Sunday after service he would come to the piano, stand there to be recognized if someone was talking to me then proceed to tell me my timing was wrong, then one week he picked a hymn, I did not know it, if I don’t know the tune, I can’t play it, he again, came to the piano, interrupted me, I was trying to put the pages back in the hymnal, he told me I should know it, so he began to sing it to me….i still didn’t know it, and this was after he had already picked another one, but as usual, he had to make a point. oh I think I got one or two, that was ok. So I dealt with it, cried alot and finally we combined services and I was off the hook, so I thought. I volunteered to do the bulletin, here it is after about a year’s worth, this deacon was asked to read the announcements, now no one has said anything to me about mistakes, since I had a history with him, the first time he asked me to email it to him, I got nervous, all those inadequate feelings came back and I made a typing error, yep he caught it, I had already ran then, so thank God it was an easy fix with changing a c to a g. So I did 100 corrections by hand, well he couldn’t let it go, he took it to the deacons, the pastor emailed me and said I need to email the bulletin to him now and the deacon. Like our pastor needs one more thing to do, the deacons all say the same thing about him but do nothing. Oh that’s just him Well, I found out it was just him that went to the deacons, so I let him have it in a text. He apologized his intentions were not to make me cry playing the piano and his wife reminded him to tell me he was the color red. And he liked and said the deacons all were concerned. No they weren’t. So I cried myself to sleep last night. I emailed the bulletin to him and the pastor, now my day is held up to run the bulletin until they say ok. I’m not sorry I spoke back to him….somebody needs to put him in his place. I want to scream, run out the doors, and never come back but old satan would love that. I’m not I’m chairperson of outreach, I figure I must be doing something right to get the particular deacons feathers ruffled. What do I do now. How do I get over this run over by a bulldozer feeling ?

    • What do you think of the Lord’s command to “do loving things” to your enemy? To “do good, bless, pray, and give.” So, you go on the offensive with loving acts. Let me know how this goes. Bear in mind that nowhere in that Luke 6 passage does Jesus promise that the bad guys will stop what they are doing, only that God will do good things in your life as a result.

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