Nine Traits of Church Bullies

Church bullies are common in many churches. They wreak havoc and create dissension. They typically must have an “enemy” in the church, because they aren’t happy unless they are fighting a battle. They tend to maneuver to get an official leadership position in the church, such as chairman of the elders or deacons or treasurer. But they may have bully power without any official position.

Church bullies have always been around. But they seem to be doing their work more furiously today than in recent history. Perhaps this look at nine traits of church bullies can help us recognize them before they do too much damage.

  1. They do not recognize themselves as bullies. To the contrary, they see themselves as necessary heroes sent to save the church from her own self.
  2. They have personal and self-serving agendas. They have determined what “their” church should look like. Any person or ministry or program that is contrary to their perceived ideal church must be eliminated.
  3. They seek to form power alliances with weak members in the church. They will pester and convince groups, committees, and persons to be their allies in their cause. Weaker church staff members and church members will succumb to their forceful personalities.
  4. They tend to have intense and emotional personalities. These bullies use the intensity of their personalities to get their way.
  5. They are famous for saying “people are saying.” They love to gather tidbits of information and shape it to their own agendas.
  6. They find their greatest opportunities in low expectation churches. Many of the church members have an entitlement view of church membership. They seek to get their own needs and preferences fulfilled. They, therefore, won’t trouble themselves to confront and deal with church bullies. That leads to the next issue, which is a consequence of this point
  7. They are allowed to bully because church members will not stand up to them. I have spoken with pastors and church staff who have been attacked by church bullies. While the bully brings them great pain, they have even greater hurt because most of the church members stood silent and let it happen.
  8. They create chaos and wreak havoc. A church bully always has his next mission. While he or she may take a brief break from one bullying mission to the next, they are not content unless they are exerting the full force of their manipulative behavior.
  9. They often move to other churches after they have done their damage. Whether they are forced out or simply get bored, they will move to other churches with the same bullying mission. Some bullies have wreaked havoc in three or more churches.

Church bullying is an epidemic in many of our congregations. The bullies must be stopped.

Posted on March 30, 2015

With nearly 40 years of ministry experience, Thom Rainer has spent a lifetime committed to the growth and health of local churches across North America.
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  • Young christian woman says on

    I was searching for help in how to deal with church bullies and came across your article. You are correct the is an epidemic if church bullying going on. I have experienced it an epidemic amongst older church women. They seem to attend church to mock and scoff. The church kitchen is a hotbed of mockery. You have church women mocking other church womens new haircuts, clothes, shoes. If your hair is not cut in a style they deem appropriate they mock you or very boldly patronise you. I find the ministers do nothing. Even having a baby is turned into an excuse for bullying. Your bump is too big, you’ve put on too much baby weight. That maternity dress makes your bump stick out more. Was your baby planned or was it a mistake ? Oh how I hate attending church vile bullies can be little old dearie.

  • Hank Hill says on

    I have suffered from church bullying. In a particularly upsetting case there was an individual who during a 15 year period spent time and bonded with two elderly lay leaders who were mentally frail and encouraged them to heckle and insult me as I would speak to the group. It was humiliating. It got worse during the holidays when there were more visitors than usual. Not surprisingly few of those visitors stayed . I stayed at the position for over a year because I was an employee. Other church members told me they were sorry for this individual’s behavior. The individual who gave me this trouble told me that they had been there for 15 years and knew how things worked here and that they were more knowledgeable than I was about how to do my job. The entire staff and I resigned from this church. This church was a flourishing church in the 20th century but is now 15% of its size in 1965.

    I have written this note as an attempt to find catharthis through reflection on this painful experience. I have just begun a new, better paying position with another church. At this time I will try to prevent bullying by building bridges with the people I look forward to serving.

  • Radical Non-Conformist says on

    What a great read! I’ve heard it called “church politics” before, too. I’ve experienced this first hand. The problem got so bad that even the pastor would allow it to happen. Not because it was right or wrong but the church was experiencing a season of low attendance. The “bully” was an entire family who had been attending the church for generations. Losing them would empty two rows of pews (and two church leaders). So the pastor appeased them and turned a blind eye. He would tailor the church to their suggestions, even if it was at the cost of casting new people away.

  • ALivingNoBody says on

    I often feel disappointed by many of those articles on Church bullies. They often very narrowly define who those church bullies are.

    Bullies are almost cartoon villain like, they are always the bad guys who does not seem to walk close to the Lord, or may not be real born again believers. Church bullies are always painted in a very two dimensional way.

    While I suspect it does applies to some church bullies, many church bullies are more complicated than that.

    I knew this woman once, she clearly was a born again believers who experienced an amazingly deep of God’s grace.

    She does have a loving side

    But she is also a real bully

    She has a real force of personality, and like any bullies, she knew how to pick her target

    She has a son who is a real bully, who constantly uses his position to settle personal scores with others.

    whose idea of repentance is ” If Holy Spirit convicted me, and I feel kind of bad” than that is it. From what see, there is no change to his behaviors

    maybe because this is the kind of repentance mummy endorses ( for her son only, anyone else will be destroyed if they pull this kind thing on her and her family)

    When she talks about love and forgiveness and understanding, she really is talking about her son or people that remind her of her sons.

    If situation is reversed, she conveniently apply a different standard if she could get away with it, and is not afraid to use extreme bully tactics to enforce it.

    She has been this way for a long time, while I have not seen her in a while, knowing her history, the likelihood of her changing is very small.

    but then again, God appears to have blessed her greatly in her ministry, which is like having salt rubbed into your wound.

    it is bad enough that you see Christians who colluded with her to allow her hurting people

    but when you do not see God’s justice, it just plain hurts.

    I do think God is righteous, but I have no idea what is going on here.

  • You missed Pastors and secretaries on your list of likely bullies. It only takes a Pastor using a couple of lies to force anyone out. Then it’s your word against theirs and you are screwed.

  • Sometimes they stay at their church to further work their magic

  • This was a fascinating read for me, as I just left my small church where a close family member was the ‘bully’. So I am going through double broken-heartedness right now. He is the worship leader, and I was asked to lead on the days he had to workand arrive late. I was blessed and honored to do this, since I had not led worship in a few years, being of the previous generation. I learned new worship songs and poured my heart into leading, singing and playing acoustic guitar, with beautiful songs such 10,000 Reasons, Oceans, etc. My heart was to draw everyone into a deep time worshiping our God. Well, I did this 4 different weeks. The congregation loved it for the beauty, freshness, and depth. But after each service I literally got blasted for something by the ‘bully’. The songs weren’t right, the key wasn’t right, my voice wasn’t right, my guitar playing wasn’t right, my sound system wasn’t right. Or my motives weren’t right. Just about everything was wrong. Except he was the only one who thought so. The first time I was taken aback and hurt, but tried my best to adjust. Each time the reprimands became more severe and hostile, until finally I felt crushed and unable to lead anymore.
    Because this person is part of my immediate family, amd I was unable to talk to him without more bullying going on, I had to leave. I still feel crushed and confused. Trusting Jesus every day to helo me through this. 🙁

  • I think we need to be aware, as leaders, that #3 can influence #5. They can rally up a team of weakers, who then get the ear of another member who has influence & manipulate them into being a mouthpiece. I’ve seen it in the corporate world and in the ministry environment.

    So, not all people who have executed a #5 are bullies. We should be taking into account, is #5 part of their M.O. or is this the first/only time this has ever happened. Then, we can ask the right questions to get to the bottom of it.

    I also think we should do a better job of training our leaders to recognize these things. In the corporate world there is “on the job training” and then “leadership enrichment” training throughout your career. In ministry, I see far less of that. Most leaders are volunteers who are thrown into the fray with no training or support. Even when the Pastors/Staff go off for a leadership conference, how often do they bring that opportunity to other leaders in the church?

    If we were training our leaders better, they could spot these types of people better. They would know how to handle the situation better. Then #7 would become less of an issue.

  • JK LaHam says on

    I could have written your article, it is so accurate, and indeed, have, in emails and in conversations with congregation officers and even colleagues to whom I turned for help. Help is not forthcoming. He is very very good at manipulating. I saw early on what he was doing–gathering weak people around him, intimidating me by walking into my office threatening to fire me–he hasn’t the authority, but I’m a single mother of 2 disabled daughters so its unnerving–then more: “You make too much money. Prove that you work all day. You need a pay cut, etc., etc., I wouldn’t budge. Eye rolling and huge sighs when I was speaking at council meetings. Yelling at me in public. Stopping all ministries to the point that I literally had nothing to do. Petty things like closing the window behind my chair in church after I had opened it and hiding the handle so I could not open it again. Lying lying lying. The problem is, he then talks about how much I have hurt him and since I fight back, and the women on the council do not support women in ministry (I’m a woman by the way), they say “awwww” when he makes insane claims. He has the men in the church cowed and terrified. I sincerely believe the women are simply seduced. Yet, I keep fighting because I am called to defend this church that he is destroying. Yes, we dare to declare the presence of the demonic–even we who are not evangelic must do so. My career will likely not survive this but my soul will and I will have served God as I am called to do. Anyone who thinks this is not the work of evil is naïve.

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