When the church bully happens to be the pastor

Shepherd the flock of God among you, exercising oversight not under compulsion but voluntarily, according to the will of God;  not for sordid gain, but with eagerness;  nor yet as lording it over those allotted to your charge, but proving to be examples to the flock.” (I Peter 5:2-3).

We have written extensively on this website about church members who take the reins of the church and call the shots, who bully parishioners and pastors alike.  But a friend wrote, “What are we to do when the bully is the pastor?”

“What does your pastor do?” I asked him.

His bullying pastor demands his way in everything, tolerates no dissent, and ousts anyone not obeying him.  He intimidates church members and dominates the other ministers.  His opinion is the only one that counts.

We could wish it were a rare phenomenon.  It isn’t.

The definitive bully found in Scripture is Diotrephes.  In III John, we read, “I wrote something to the church, but Diotrephes, who loves the preeminence (“loves to be first among them” (NASB), does not accept what we say…. 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.”

That’s the bully:  loving preeminence, rejecting outside interference, bringing accusation against the opposition, and putting people out of the church when they oppose him.

 We’re thankful the New Testament churches had these problems

There’s a certain degree of comfort from knowing that the problems churches experience today are not new, not signs the church is going to the devil or evidence we’re being swamped by the world.  The problems of division and strife (see I Corinthians), heresies (see Galatians), and petty egotism (III John) have been with us from the beginning.

This forever prevents us from piously withdrawing from today’s churches experiencing the same internal strife while claiming that they no longer do God’s will.  There are more churches at this moment in time doing great work for the Savior than at any time in history.  And likewise, more experiencing the cancers of worldliness, division, jealousies, and egotism.

There is nothing new about this.

It’s not even new or unheard of that pastors would be the bullies.  After all, there must have been a reason why Peter wrote what he did in I Peter 5.  For him to have cautioned pastors not to lead in such a way indicates he had seen it happen.

In a similar fashion, we have seen husbands lord it over their wives.  “God made me the head of the home,” the bully says, “so that means you are to take orders from me.”  It means no such thing, of course.  In fact, Scripture says the husband is to love the wife as Christ loved the church and gave Himself for her (Ephesians 5).  So, there’s a dichotomy here:  The husband is the head, but he is to sacrifice himself for his wife and family.  A faithful husband does just that.

Wrong ways to lead the Lord’s church

The great apostle spoke to “the elders among you as your fellow elder” (I Peter 5:1).  These are pastors. Peter considers himself a pastor/shepherd also.

As “a witness of the sufferings of Christ and a partaker of the glory that is to be revealed,” Peter’s credentials are impeccable.  He was with the Lord when He walked on earth and is in line to share His heavenly glories in the future.

Elders/pastors are to exercise oversight of the Lord’s church (5:2).  The word episcopos (root of episcopountes, the word used here)  refers to the overseeing assignment of the pastors (see Acts 20:28).  A shepherd watches over the sheep, leads them to green pastures, is ever alert for dangers and threats, and has the welfare of the flock uppermost in mind at all times.

Do not lead the flock in the wrong way or for impure motives, Peter advises…

Not under compulsion but voluntarily.  The KJV says “by constraint,” meaning the pastor is doing this “because he must.”  There’s no joy but total drudgery, no inspiration but a harshness.  Instead, the faithful overseer is glad to be preaching the word and tending the flock.  He loves the people, loves the Lord, and loves his calling.

Not for sordid gain, but with eagerness.  He doesn’t do this for the pay.  This is not just a job, not a vocation, and not a work he entered because it paid well.  He is serving the Lord Jesus Christ and is thrilled at the privilege.   Asked what he missed most about the pastoral ministry, a man said, “I miss the trumpets in the morning.”  Ask any God-called and Heaven-anointed pastor.  He knows what that means.

Not lording it over the flock, but being an example.  And here we have the key passage for our subject today.  The pastor is not to “lord it over” the flock.  Jesus is the Lord and he isn’t.

Pastors are not allowed to lord it over the Lord’s church. 

Jesus said, “I will build MY church” (Matthew 16:18.  It’s His church, His body, His bride.  No pastor in his right mind (with his heart right!) would dare to insert himself between the Lord and His bride!

It is true that Hebrews 13:17 calls on God’s people to “obey your leaders and submit to them.”  But that same passage says pastors “keep watch over” (overseeing!) “your souls’ and will “give account.”  Pastors will stand before the Lord and account for their stewardship and care for each sheep.  A scary thought if there ever was one.

A pastor lords it over the church when he…

–makes decisions unilaterally for the church.  He considers no one else’s counsel, believes God speaks only through him, and rules like a potentate.

–micromanages his co-workers and colleagues.  He alone knows what is best and allows them no room for individual expression.

–feels threatened when someone disagrees with him.  Usually reacts angrily and with harshness.

–forces those taking contrary positions out of office.  “My way or the highway” is his mantra.

You get the picture.

Final question: What if you are a member of the bully’s staff (as a worship leader, student minister, etc)?  What are you to do?

I’m tempted to ask how this happened, how you ended up on a church staff with someone so difficult to work with.  But I’m aware the answer is often: “I was here first.”  The bully pastor came later, and might even be new.  The church leadership–knowingly or cluelessly–brought in a pastor who would rule over the church with a heavy hand. And you are left to deal with it.

So, what should you do?

–Pray, pray, pray.  Ask the Father all the questions bugging you.  How to respond to the pastor today, what to do when the pastor asks you to do something you cannot or would rather not do, how to make your thoughts known to the preacher, and so forth.

–Get two or three or four friends in other areas to pray for you constantly.  These could be members of previous churches or classmates from school.  They should be able to keep a confidence.

–Don’t get territorial–as in “I was here first, and God called me to be minister of music and this is my job.”  That attitude will get you a quick exit and a bad recommendation for the next church.  Keep your eyes on the Lord and look to Him.

–Ask the Father about making this situation known to a key church leader, someone of great integrity and trust.  If you do this in the flesh or if it’s handled wrongly, it could be interpreted by the pastor as you making an end-run around him and be considered disloyalty.  A pastor who is a bully would see this as grounds for dismissal.

–If things are really bad–to the point that you are considering leaving, but would rather not–then try something bold.  Go in to the pastor’s office and tell him kindly, gently, forcibly, assertively what he is doing and how it feels to you, and why it is wrong.  You do this only when you have come to the point that “if worse comes to worse, all he can do is fire me.”  I’d rehearse again and again, with my wife but mostly with the Lord, what I wanted to say to him.  Then, go for it.

–If nothing changes and the bully continues to tyrannize the staf, get your resume’ up to date and share with your most trusted friends.  Ask the Father who called you into this work in the first place to open up the next assignment for you.

–If nothing else opens up or if you do not feel led to leave, then ask the Father to show you how to do your job well under these most difficult circumstances.  It can be done.  If you make the decision to try to stay, then consider walking in to the pastor’s office and asking, “Tell me what you’d like me to do.  You are my pastor and my boss and I want to do everything I can to bless this church and honor your leadership.  Tell me how.”

God bless you, friend.  The good news about having a tyrant for a boss is the next place you serve will feel like heaven.

 

 

 

 

17 thoughts on “When the church bully happens to be the pastor

  1. Pingback: The Top 10 Leadership Posts I Read The Week Of November 13th | Brian Dodd on Leadership

  2. Pingback: When the Church Bully Happens to Be the Pastor

  3. We are going through this now. We are seeking legal advice because our pastor and the President our Board ( his hand-picked yes man) have continually broken our by-laws.and because of their arrogance about this, are putting our 501c3 status in danger.

    • I’m assuming the pastor’s offenses are not something person to you, which is what Matthew 18:15 deals with. But when a pastor bullies a church, he’s violating scriptural commands and abandoning the Lord’s instructions to feed and nurture the sheep. So, while a visit by one person is not out of line, it’s probably not going to be effective. Every church needs some kind of mechanism–a committee, a church council, something!–for speaking to the pastor when he needs it. Call it a “pastor advisory committee” or even “pastor support council,” but it exists as a go-between for the congregation and pastor.

      • If the elders do their job, i.e. guarding the flock from fierce wolves rather than being part of the wolve pack, the there is hope. But if the elders see their job as licking up to the pastor and shoring him up at any (even spiritual) cost htere is little hope, especially if the church is very independent with no wider accountability such as leaders of a movement to which ordinary church members can appeal to if necessary, not so much to receive justice but proper, love filled, treatment with consideration.
        I feel that complaint procedures should be part of every church, strictly Bible based with the possibility of an outside mediator. All that in the hope of never needing to be used. Companies have that because the human factor is taken into account, but church usually doesn’t see the need, yet loose sight of Christ and anybody can misbehave.
        I have long, sad experience of being asked to do something then hung out to dry, then labeled as couldn’t be bothered even though having talked with elders and pastors what the problem is. When you get repeatedly blocked, undermined and even maligned, the pastors preaching especially in love, grace and unity becomes a clanging cymbal with consequent ear and headache (God’s real word is difficult to hear), that causes bellyache (it bugs you and chases your mind) and might even end in amputatted limbs (the we have no need of you, obviously not stated plainly usually but sneaked in, a bit like constructive dismissal.

  4. What do you do when your church is losing members because the Pastor won’t follow the riules and asks forgiveness each time he breaks them? He acts like he’s above the law.

    • If your church has no mechanism (a committee of some kind, church council, something!) for speaking to the pastor when he is doing well or not so well, it’s asking for all the trouble it gets. No pastor should be turned loose with no accountability.

      • Each family that has tried to talk with him has left the church. He has taken the authority away from the committee that is in charge of finances and removed it’s commitee head even though the head was put there by church vote and not Pastor appointed.. This Pastor wants total control and no committees that can tell him what to do. Unfortunately there are a few men who are staying to try and save the church and other members who will keep quiet because the Bible says not to go against the Pastor. We’ve lost one Pastor due to indiscretion with a female, the next one stole money and now this one using the church to look good in front of his peers. We are heartbroken by his actions.

        • Well, some thoughts. 1) Don’t go to him one or two at a time. Have a large group go together. 2) Find out who the decision-makers are and talk to them. If they refuse to do anything, you may be helpless. 3) Talk to some denominational person from outside your church, asking them what to do. If you are Southern Baptist, you start with your director of missions, and from there go to the state convention office.

  5. Great article, I’m obviously reading it because our church is going through this very thing. The pastor has been with us a year and slowly overtime we’ve lost many families, he’s bullied many people with anger and harsh and deceptive words, and refuses to listen to anyone. We recently told him how we felt and he decided to resign and now his family members are spewing untruths all over the internet, causing further divisions. It’s very hurtful and sickening to go through this with a leader!! I need the Lord to give me peace in this situation, I know we are to respect our leaders and I feel we showed them love and respect. With this situation though I feel very uneasy and do not want to be out of the will of God. Please help!

    • If he’s gone, then try to put it behind you and let the Lord deal with him and his family members. Pray now for healing for the congregation during this time and then, determine the church will check the next guy out thoroughly to make sure the same mistakes are not made. A thorough checking could have turned up this guy’s character.

      • We are going through a very similar situation except the pastor is not willing to leave. He has taken complete control of everything. He continues to hurt people, he even tried to excommunicate the founders of the church who have been there for over 10yrs had it not been for Godly people who came to their defence they would of been hurt by him. What can we do?

        • Get the counsel of some denominational leader. If your church belongs to no denomination, even so a leader of another denomination would be willing to hear your story and advise you. Please do this.

  6. in mine experience, many church bullies are not so cut and dry. many of them have experienced the love of the Lord and part of them do have the passion to bring people to the Lord and help others, sometimes with a heavy cost of course.

    not only that, the fact they do have a good side often make them more damaging to their victims

    here is why

    1 whatever help they have given to other members of the congregations help them build social capital. and when the times comes, they are not afraid to abuse those capital they have accumulated. This means those members of congregation often ends up becoming their enablers which could also becomes their helpers. or just their helpers from the very beginning.

    this is because it is human nature for people to take the sides of those they have a relationship particularly a close relationship with. they tend to rationalize and minimize what their buddies does, in which case they becomes the enabler and just stand by and watch and allow their buddy to just get away with whatever they do. Eventually they might become helpers if you choose to stand up for yourself. or if they simply assume the guilt on the part of their buddies’ victims even if their buddy is being a bully right in front of them. in which case, they are just the helper from the very beginning.

    for example, i went to this church for the very first time some time back. the pastor was a bit sensitive and read too much into my facial expression which was a bit expressionless due to mine medication maybe ( my expression was definitely not rude) he keep give the evil eye which was extremely rude, but what really made me angry was the fact i know from experience, as the leader of the church and all the social connections he has already built and me being the new guy. There bound to be members of the congregations who took it upon themselves to “assume’ i must have done something and join in the bullying. you would think a pastor who had ministering for years would know this. if he is so ignorant or incompetent, that is still a disgusting way of treating someone new

    i stood up for myself, and sure enough many within the congregation began to give me the evil eye.one old man even stood there at one point and glared at me.

    i was definitely intimidated, needless to say i know i could not go back.

    2 Jeremiah 17:9 The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?

    the sinful nature that is inside every single one of us that make us want to throw others under the bus in order to get what we or those closest to us want. but the worst kind of manifestation of this sinful nature is when a person utterly and completely justify this part of them, or even convince themselves they are throwing you under the bus for “your own” good.

    people often to do this to weakest members of the church, those they know can not defend themselves and can not push back against this type of bullying.

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