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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  • I attend a church of England in central London. I am deputy organist there. Three years ago I was shocked when the parish Administer just turned and shouted at me for asking for Sundays music list. It happened several more times and me being a gay man she must have thought she was now entitled to continue this. Ignoring her was the best policy but in the end, I warned her off and said I will take this further but before I even got home, I was reading emails from the female vicar saying I had been nasty to the administrator. I was never allowed to meet to defend myself and even if meetings were organised, last-minute cancellation came through and another delay until each case got swept under the carpet.
    Three weeks ago my day job involves freelancing as organist mostly in funerals in other churches and crematoriums, I called into the church to get some music for specific music but the glass doors were locked. The administrator cam to unlock it but out of sight of security cameras, she dragged me around, in areas not covered by camera but got away from her. The anger in her face showed such hatred, it terrified me. I am disabled and suffer emphysema, osteoporosis and in remission from cancer with other chronic conditions. I managed to get near the exit but she trapped me into an alcove. It was a hot day and she was wearing a floral blouse, she said “touch me and I will scream the place down”, then she took her left hand to her right shoulder and just as she was about to rip it, a young lad appeared and with her back turned to him, he could not see what crime she was about to do and turned her head to face him and told him to go to the office and write a report of me being nasty to her.
    I saw her chance to get out and bellowed out loudly to get her to back off more, I screamed “GET OUT OF MY F—–G WAY YOU PSYCHO” and safely got to my car. By the time I got home, the emails were in my inbox from the vicar with several copied in. She is (the vicar) aware of what happened, defending the administrator all the way. In my last email, there was a big list copied in of names not belonging to the church.
    My partner and I (my partner is non-church going) were asked to meet the vicar yesterday and said to meet in the church, a venue where this occurred and the administrator was there at work. I asked her to be considerate and change the venue to our home or hers, then she claims she was too frightened of us. (WHAT????????) Church only or nothing. My p\rtner called her 10 minutes before the meeting spoke to her but would not budge, my partner said, “no I will not allow him through the doors of the church in his present state and is yet to give a full report to the police.
    With how they were dealing with this and demanding us only to meet there, we both feared a setup. My partner called her as mentioned and told her the meeting is not going to happend there, wished a nice day. I got a text from the vicar and hour later, saying “I have not heard from you both, I am leaving ow to attend other things.. Now she can say we did not bother to turn up, but our phone rcords will show a voice call was made to prove her a liar in such a nasty situation yet again by the woman. What their game? Homophobia? Strange that when she came there was several LGBT people attending and getting very involved. Not long after the ordination, there was a sudden exodus of many including LGBT. When I see them, I hear the word toxic place from them and the administrator’s name comes up in most I have bumped into. I could be on remand now awaiting court and probably thrown into prison ruining my life and our home and she gets away with it. I am unable to enter a church in my life again because of th8is severe potential crime and I have been giving my all in its church life and can’t for the life of me think what did I ever do to this administrator to ever deserve this.
    My faith is unaltered. God sees.
    However I am broken, have not slept much since, not working and fear my personality and my character will be affected forever and how do I clear my name when there is a big wall of people surrounding her? Probably now saying in the area that I abuse women. Sexually I have never laid with a woman and never will. What an insult. Totally broken here. If my grammar and spelling are bad, forgive me, this is what no sleep and stress does.

  • What if the bully is your Pastor?

    • Lois Radke says on

      What if the bully is your pastor’s wife? I had to finally leave the church I loved just to get away from her.

    • This is nothing new. It’s why I will never, ever, EVER work for a church again. When a certain denomination changes ministers every few years, the staff holds their collective breath. If it was a good minister, we prayed to keep him/her as long as possible. If it was a toxic minister, we were trapped for a minimum of three years. There was no way to get rid of them. The system made sure of that. They’d let them run the church into the ground and then move them on, only to allow them to do the same thing to other churches. They usually target the youth or music director first and then go after the rest of the staff. Lies and verbal abuse are dished out. I was one of the secretaries and became a target after the youth and music directors were run off. I had done nothing wrong. My dear, kind boss tried to stand up for me but he was unable to stop the abuse. He was very afraid of losing his job and his insurance. His wife had cancer at that time. I kept a journal of dates, times, and everything that was said and done on both sides. Every day we all dreaded going to work. It literally made us sick. After six months of harassment, I left my file of documentation for the staff-parish committee right before their year-end meeting, and telephoned the chairman to let him know that an important package was awaiting him. They were utterly horrified when they read it. I had a good reputation for the thirteen years I had worked at that church, and these committee members had known me since I was a teenager. That evil man ruined every bit of joy I ever had in my job, and yes, I did love my job and the people with whom I worked. The committee made him apologize to me and instead of groveling and crying and saying I was sorry, which is what he expected, I quietly let him spout off his fake words of contrition and merely said “thank you.” His expression conveyed that I could’ve knocked him over with a feather. He left me alone after that but he moved on to harass and abuse his next victims. Nearly the entire staff quit during his appointment. I quit the following summer and my only regret is that my immediate boss was unable to get out at the same time. Thankfully he did find another job the next year. Eventually this evil minister was moved to another church and did the same thing. The pattern was never stopped. Years later he retired and collected his retirement pay – all without any consequences for his actions. The denomination was fully aware of his evil behavior and did nothing to stop it. Forgiving is one thing, but forgetting is entirely another. One day they will all have to answer for what they did.

  • Ruben C. Bedwell says on

    My name is Buddy and I teach Bible at our church once a month because of License requirements. I graduated from Bible college with a 2.5 g.p.a. , attended the Georgia School of Ministry and achieved a 3.5 gpa and am now enrolled in a Masters in Biblical Studies program. For many months my pastor has been using the following phrases: “get up off of your do nothings” and “I have come close to quitting this church many times” and the most hurtful was “I don’t want to pastor a seniors center or some variation of this.” After many weeks of prayer my wife and I approached him and talked to him about these phrases. I thought the meeting went well until the following Sunday. We had a leadership meeting and he started out with a book called Autopsy of a Dead Church. I had all I could take and disagreed with him and said that our church was far from dead. A Board member shut me down and said that I didn’t understand what he was saying. Other leaders were upset with him also but didn’t say anything.
    a few days later I talked with the board member about him calling me down. He said, “Your mind has been muddled by Satan and you don’t understand.”
    After several years of giving sound biblical teaching I am now muddle brained because I challenged the pastor. I fear my church is bleeding members because of poor leadership. What can be done?

  • Gena MCCown says on

    This article neglects to address when the bullies are within leadership (either ministry leaders, elders, Pastors, etc). How do members of the body (or lower level leaders) address this within their church?

    • Michelle says on

      Lower level leaders just leave. This has happened in our Church. Unfortunately I was the first whistleblower. Those from the diocese protected the clergy. Since then a lot of people have left due to similar issues.
      The bully started on someone else which I believe I stopped on speaking out again. However more bullying has gone down recently within the community which is a great shame. The diocese seem to be blind to all the complaints.
      Those in the congregation who have witnessed incidents again turn a blind eye.
      If you do speak out, life is awful. It has taken a year so far of meltdowns, depression and I am still being told I have hurt so many people and I am the problem.
      Speaking out against bullying in a Church should be safe, but I think you just have to jump ship unless you can endure the ill health which comes with the fight.

  • Just someone says on

    Good article. I faced racial bullying from two churches. In both cases, subtle attacks were directly made upon my race (being mixed race). Both the churches were “born again”. It caused me great distress. The pastors in both cases were silent and refused to intervene. There were “gangs-cliques” of bullies in both churches. The attacks were a combination of both spiritual and personal. I thought that moving to the next church, it would stop. It didn’t. Finally I stopped going to church. Strangely it was a Catholic Priest who comforted and helped me in the difficult times, despite me being a protestant. I feel at times, it is best to get the courts involved if something goes serious like this. While some may quote a pauline scripture about not involving authorites in church disputes, but those were roman authorities. Most of our laws now are shaped by Judaeo-Christain traditions and Romans 13:4 is clear, authorities are put to punish evil doers. I feel when things get out of hand, matters should be taken to court. Otherwise, it is best to stop church entirely and worship with family in house groups.

  • We have a few ‘bullies’ in my church as well. They are three women. They grew up in this church. They are convinced it is “their” church. Pastors over the years have done nothing to confront it. Other members do nothing because they too have been members for a long time. These ladies are very, very slick. They will put up this ‘holy’ face in front of the pastor, but the second the back is turned out come the degrading, sarcastic, back-slapped put downs, and remarks to people. So, the problem continues. People have left because of this. People have not returned because of this. If I (as a newer member, about ten years) try to tackle this…..and I have gently asked other members “what can we do” I am told:

    *Oh, don’t worry about it. Just give it to Jesus because He is in control
    *Just pray for them.
    *They are hurting, and hurting people ‘hurt others’ Jesus told us to not worry about it. You should just pray for them
    *Before you confront, maybe you should make sure you ‘remove the plank from your eye’ because we’re all broken here and not perfect, and you can’t judge! The Bible says so!
    *God is gonna make it right, and you bringing this up could be considered gossip! Be careful, we’re a loving church and gossip isn’t allowed!!!

    All these responses boil down to one thing. FEAR. I am ready to just “leave” and find another church.

    • Just someone says on

      Directly confront them if you are forced to leave the church and publicly rebuke/shame them if you have to. They have a Jezebel personality and spirit. Fast and pray before you do so.

  • I am in a difficult situation where I attend a church prayer meeting once a week. I am deliberately excluded while others are asked to pray. I am trying to just accept the situation but it upsets me. The difficulty is I am forced to go there by my husband. It started when a woman complained because I prayed across her which I admit was wrong. However the exclusion has continued over a year despite me apologizing for being out of order. The woman who complained about me my husband and we have given her lifts, given her $500 to help her, we have paid for lunches and dinners etc I don’t want to make a fuss because I don’t want to be a Jezebel. What should I be doing?

  • i think often bullying involves power differences between the perpetrators and victims

    position power is one of those power difference

    but more often than not, it is the social power that really make a difference in church environment

    if you are someone who is socially awkward and find it hard to make friends, that makes you an easy target, and people who has social power can bully you through gossip and slander, before you know it, it is like having a pack wolves attacking you all at once.

    i think this is why standing up for yourself is not always applicable if you are the loner in Church

    by the way, Thom, have you already written an article to help people who suffered from church bullying on how to move on based on scriptural truth?

    i think if you haven’t done that, i am sure it would be helpful for many for have an article that helps them to gain a deeper understanding on that matter

    when i read Jenny ‘ post, i can understand how she feels, she and her child are classic target for bullying, but what do you do in the aftermath? how do handle it when God doesn’t appear to intervene, and you ended up having to pick up all the pieces all by yourself, while those who tortured you got the look of victory on their face, and just keep on doing what they do?

  • we are all capable of being a bully at one time or another. I think one common bullying behaviors we are all guilty at one time or another ( God has dealt with me severely in this area) is gossip and slander

    i think often people who resort to slander and gossip are projecting some of their past experience onto others.

    another thing is in order for gossip and slander to succeed, there have to be plenty of willing ears, and there are always plenty of willing ears and willing mouth for that matter, to pass gossip and slander on, and thus the “fun” begins.

    i have been driven out a church once because of gossip and slander among Christians there

  • What do you do when a paid staff member is the bully and the pastors choose to do nothing about it and SPR knows and does nothing about it because the pastors do nothing about it? I have come to the decision that it is time for me to leave my position on staff and move on. I and other staff members who have since let have tried for years to confront this bully but with no support, it amounts to hitting your head against a brick wall. Any thoughts?

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