There are ways to deal with church bullies

Faithful pastor and godly Christians, do not go off and leave your church in the hands of tyrants. Stand up.

There are ways of dealing with them.

But there is no way to deal with church bullies that does not involve faith and courage.

Anyone treasuring his cowardice and blaming his wimpiness on Christlikeness need read no farther.

In his book, “No More Mr. Nice Guy! Saying Goodbye to Doormat Christianity,” Stephen Brown shares this advice with young pastors….

“I spend a portion of my time teaching seminary students, and one of the pastoral traits that I urge my students to develop is a ‘mean streak.’ One of the problems in many American churches is that pastors have become ‘free bait’ for neurotic (and they are a small minority) church members. If the members don’t like the way a pastor parts his hair or ties his tie, they feel free to tell him. If they don’t like his wife’s dress, they tell him. If they don’t like the way he smiles, they tell him.  I could write a book on the comments people make to a pastor, comments they would never think of making to anybody else.”

My wife and I have been discussing Brown’s use of the term “mean streak.”  She suggests “a clear head and courage” would sound better.  I say  “mean streak” certainly does communicate! (smiley face goes here)

Dr. Brown goes on to relay a conversation he had with a young preacher.

Not too long ago I was talking to a pastor who was in some serious trouble with his congregation.  He was being criticized and made fun of in a shameful way.  As we talked, it became apparent to me that it was necessary for this young man to develop a ‘mean streak’ or he wasn’t going to survive.  He told me that he felt he had been called to ‘love’ his people and to understand them even when they were cruel and abusive. I said to him that while I felt he should be loving and kind, it was very important that he be honest and strong, too.  I suggested that he bring the people who had been making the comments before the ruling body of the church and call them either to refrain from such comments in the future or to justify their disturbance of the peace and unity of the church.

That young pastor made a very interesting comment to me. He said, ‘Steve, I know that is what I should do, but I’m just not made that way. I feel my ministry is to pour oil on troubled waters, not put a match to them.’  Needless to say, that young man is no longer in the ministry.  He didn’t have enough oil for all the troubled waters.  He is now selling insurance.  (See my note on this book at the conclusion.)


A spine.  That’s the point.  Maybe not a mean streak as such.  The old folks would call it ‘gumption.’

It’s  a good thing for a preacher to have.

But, in moderation, let us add.

In reading Steve Brown’s call for a mean streak in preachers–and I agree with what he said–I thought of the people who tell me their pastors are the real bullies in their  church.  Rather than a good person who possesses a mean streak, a few seem to be “mostly mean with an occasional kindness streak.”

We are not calling for pastors to run rough-shod over anyone in the church. We are not urging pastors to take a loaded pistol into the pulpit (you’d be surprised; it’s been done).  We do not want God’s servants to be bull-headed and cantankerous always insisting that because they are sent by God, everyone must get out of the way or risk divine wrath.

If the pastor is the bully, he must be dealt with in the same way as lay-bullies: with courage by the sweetest and godliest people in the church.

1. The best people to deal with the bullies.

Not the pastor.  He’s too vulnerable. The bully can rally his forces–he will always have his little entourage, lackeys afraid to tell him ‘no’–and get the preacher fired.

But he cannot fire other church members.

Those who can deal most effectively with tyrants in the Lord’s churches are the ones who:

–hate conflict with everything in them.  People who “love a good fight” should stay out of this.  (“Beware the fury of a patient person” is an adage worth remembering.)

–have shown their devotion to the Lord and their great commitment to this church. If they’ve been slack in either area, their authority is weakened when facing Goliath.

–are sweet-spirited, good-natured, and loving.

2. The best place to deal with church bullies.

Is in a church business meeting, if your congregation still has those on a regular basis. (So many these days are putting decision-making in the hands of elder-type groups and moving to annual business meetings.)  As we have said in similar articles on this website, the simplest way to deal with a despot who is trying to run the church is by standing in the business meeting and asking a simple question.

What’s the question, everyone wants to know?

Usually, it’s a variation of “Pastor, could we ask Mr. Bully to tell us why he is (doing whatever)?”  Or, “Could we ask the chairman of that committee (you already know it’s Mr. Bully) to explain how this decision was made?”

Hold him accountable.  Let him find out the congregation has had its fill of his free-wheeling antics.

a) So, ask a question in the church business meeting.

b) And afterward, consider making a motion.  What motion? That depends on what’s going on.

The process might look like this: “Pastor, could I make a motion at this time?” If he approves, you say something like “I move that this congregation reject the decision of the Personnel Committee and retain the services of the assistant pastor, with our deepest apologies to him for the way this was handled.”

Clearly, you have to plan this out in advance. And, unless you are Solomon reincarnated, you’ll want to get with two or three (no more!) like-minded members to pray and think this out and make plans.

This is not for the faint-hearted, or those with only a mild love for the Lord’s church.

c) You may wish to alert the pastor in advance on the possibility of someone rising in the business meeting to deal with Mr. Bully.  Even if he is suddenly thrown into a panic–we preachers do like things neat and orderly!–he will appreciate a heads up so he can be prepared.

If however, the pastor, is not in favor of your doing this, everything changes.  Sometimes, the pastor is one of Mr. Bully’s lackeys (sad to say) and panic at any thought of riling the man’s feathers. If this is the case, you have bigger problems than a bully in the church.

3. The best time to deal with a church bully.

Confront him only after you have sent up lots of prayer and when conditions have gotten to the point that numerous members are concerned.

If, as some have told me, the despot and his lackeys have run off several pastors in a row, your church is long overdue in dealing with them.  Chances are most members have given up and accepted the bully’s domination as “how things are.”

The reason for these two requirements–prayer and desperate conditions–is that what you do must be done in the power of the Holy Spirit, and you will be needing the support of like-minded church members.

Timing isn’t everything, but it’s a great deal.  Ask the Holy Spirit to lead you.

Be wise as a serpent and as harmless as a dove. (Matthew 10:16)

One final thing….

Don’t be surprised if the Holy Spirit takes matters into His own hands and suddenly hands you the solution when you least expect it.  Mr. Bully, for instance, gets upset when he is not obeyed or honored and in a pique, resigns his positions.  That’s the moment for someone to stand to their feet and say, “Pastor, I move we accept Mr. Bully’s resignation.”

Oh, that it would happen that easily for your church.

(Stephen Brown’s book “No More Mr. Nice Guy” was published in 1986, so it has been around for a full generation.  My copy is dog-eared and marked up, as I have returned to it again and again.  Online sources for used books like amazon and alibris will have this book for something like 99 cents plus p & h.)


2 thoughts on “There are ways to deal with church bullies

  1. Sounds like great advice. But when the bully IS the SENIOR PASTOR, then what? Trust that God will set things right someday, and find a church that follows Jesus and the Gospel, NOT a man.

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