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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  • Jeannette de V. says on

    I’m a pastor’s wife. We had a triumvirate of “ladies” that everyone knew were bossy, but nobody realized the harm they’d been doing for years. They were the committee for weddings, supposedly assigned to help couples, but they’d been abusing their power to control for years!

    Brides were told that all inquiries were to go through them, because the pastor “doesn’t have time for this, and it’s our job.” This was, of course, just to keep him from finding out what they were doing! It only came to light when an angry bride and groom confronted the deacons at a board meeting. The bride had been told to “replace” her Maid of Honor, who was of another race, suggesting that she be “given another role” like handing out programs and greeting guests!

    The explosion was predictable, but it didn’t end there. Other couples who had been married at our church came forward with stories about “rules” and approval they’d been “required” to obtain for wedding gown and bridesmaid attire, music and readings that the “wedding committee” had vetoed, types of flowers that had been prohibited, etc etc etc. There were, of course, no such rules, except in the minds of The Church Ladies.

    I thought the committee at previous church was bad. We returned from vacation to find that the furniture in our parsonage, which we’d rearranged when we moved in, had been put back in its original places!!!

    They also tried tocomplain to my husband about my wardrobe. Apparently I was too trendy and fashionable, and my jewelry too flashy and expensive. I have my own career and earn considerably more than my husband does (I suspect they disapproved). I can afford designer clothes, and if they had asked I could have told them the jewelry was actually faux diamonds!

    Ask ministers’ wives about church bullies. You will get an earful.

  • Bill Rodriquez says on

    Sir, I am writing to you on the topic of bullying. I have been preaching at the same church for almost two years and have noticed that the few members always arrive mins. before services start, I finally said something about it and in their eyes I was wrong to say anything. There are a few ladies there that have been there for over 40 years. But one in particular believes she is in charge of the church, when I was being considered to be ordained she snapped at me saying the pastor is not in charge of the church. I shrugged it off and said nothing to avoid any hard feelings on anyone. This lady from what other ex members have told me is she is the reason other members have left the church to another. I was there for over 2 years and they always sing the same hyms because thats what she wants. The very same every sunday. Now because I spoke up when they kept showing up mins. before services I have been replaced. The four women had a meeting without me being present and decided I go, I did mention on that Sunday that I might turn in my keys next day but didnt, I love what I do with a passion. They are replacing me with some man from Mexico as I was told by that lady in question. That same man and his brother left our church before because he suggested they practice on other hyms but the lady’s never showed up for the practice. I am Bi-lingual and preached as such and I love the word of God, I feel Satan is working through these lady’s, by the way one of the younger lady’s practices withcraft as she has said before. I wish I knew how to get over and stay preaching. But they seem to have the power to do what they want to do. There are only five members left including me. I believe this lady in question needs to be talked to about what is and has been going on in years past. I dont even believe their finances are up to IRS Guidlines. By the way, my daughters mother in law past and that lady in question refused to help with a little money since they had not worked because of the covid, but she did help a visitor when her husband died with $200.00. The lady that past had been a member for years. Thats what I see there and I wish someone would investigate the church, I dont know how to do it or whom to contact.

    • Hello Brother Bill,
      Reading your story I could tell you are really hurting, so I want to encourage you.
      You could begin to take a stand against the controlling behavior of these ladies by sharing the story openly that you just
      shared here. Make a few copies and put it out there for all to see. You have been too patient in dealing with this witchcraft,
      especially since one of them apparently openly is a practicing witch!
      Review the passages in scripture that address these types of abominable behavior. Such as Paul’s letters to Timothy, etc.
      The Pastor is to be in charge, not a controlling group of old crones.
      Armed with the truth, keep applying it to your situation. Don’t let anyone stop you from what God has called you to do,
      preaching the word and proclaiming the truth.
      I can tell you have a heart for the Lord. God is for you. Keep “Fighting the Good Fight”! The Lord will stand with you, and bring the right people to support you as well. And give you wisdom to deal with difficult people, and those who won’t repent.
      Also it is god to remember that even the Apostle Paul had only the Lord to stand with him. Love you, Brother!
      Brother Dean from Lifeway

  • I am a Pastors wife and my husband and I have experienced this from a couple congregation members. It was very toxic for the church. The church board allowed it to to go on and would not support addressing the individuals. When all said and done because of the lack of Spiritual discernment we were destroyed and the church lost most of its congregation. This is a very reall issue in the church. I read the persons comment that stated if you stand up to a bully be prepared you will pay a price. The enemy is cunning and swift and uses these individuals to create as stated in this article to create chaos and division. Unfortunately the ways and agendas of the world have crept into the church. Spiritual warfare, leadership training and Godly teachable hearts are what this world needs if we are going to be the church God called us to be. He is coming for a church without spot or wrinkle. I pray the Holy Spirit would have his way and his kingdom agenda would be our agenda.

  • The Pastor of my Catholic church is bullying me. He knows I don’t have anybody to stand up for me. He called the police on me because I gave a sizeable donation then needed part of it back for groceries. It was him the entire church staff against me. I have been told by the police he doesn’t want me there( simply because I am a woman with a disability) and I will be committing a felony if I ever go back to my church. I have a feeling he is attracted to me. My friends have told him to stop it and he won’t. He says if I ever come back he will get reassigned and it will be all my fault. When he doesn’t like somebody he literally drives them away. God has not told me to go to another church. I’ve been there 5 years. God tells me to stay because He tells me He doesn’t barr anybody from His church.

  • Dont fit the Bill says on

    Well, I on the other hand was just yelled at and called a bully by my pastor. This was part of a conflict resolution between myself (deacon-chair) and a lady in the church who seems to be favored by the pastor. I read these attributes of a bully and I find myself in 2 but only in the statement not the explanation. I don’t know where to go next? I am heavily involved but I don’t force my way on anyone.

  • Min. Joanne Bias says on

    PTL. I and my granddaughter just recently began attending a holiness church. All seemed well until one of the sisters suddenly wasn’t coming to the services anymore. After several weeks of not seeing her, I asked where the sister was, there was an immediate attack on her. “She was the devil, the enemy…satan took her over, she was full of sin…etc. I am a minister and one evening the sister unexpectantly called me and asked if she could talk to me. I informed her that I do not gossip and whatever answers I give her will come from what The Word says, and after the conversation, suggested that she voice her concerns to the pastor, who is also a woman. {Nothing wrong with that except when there are nothing but women in the church…women tend to be catty…no balance…and so it begins… :-(( }. The demeaning way this sister was put down by both the pastor and her pulpit bully, {the mother of the church}; and the brow-beating, insults, threat and false accusations I experienced myself when I tried to talk with the pastor about it, is the reason why my granddaughter and I are now leaving. I do plan on confronting the Mother and the Pastor before I leave because I feel it is necessary that they know the great harm and damage they are doing. I talked with the sister again, she was very hurt by this, and I didn’t want her to leave the church as a whole. She fortunately found another church to attend and they are now helping her to heal. It’s no wonder that this church is so small. And no men, well, they openly bash them and have no respect for them. I thank you for this article, it was spot-on and its very sad that anyone would have to go through something like this. Its really despicable, unnecessary, and not Christian at all. Sincerely, Min. Bias

  • Debra Scott says on

    This is exactly why I left my church. Although, still confused I did the right thing? I should have confronted the bully b4 leaving…(like Matthew, Scripture says, calling a person out on it, if they don’t agree, take to elders & or Pastors), I’m afraid I didn’t do this, until after I quit, then, learned it from the Bible, Amen. May God forgive me. And Thank you.

    • Min. Joanne Bias says on

      Hello Debra,
      Please don’t blame yourself as some people are not confrontational; this is where prayer is applied. God will handle it and it will be done according to His will. Stay encouraged and I pray that you have found a safe and healthy church to worship and praise the Almighty God who is worthy. Take care. Sincerely, Min. Joanne Bias

  • Just Dealt With One says on

    I have sadly seen this and have seen the people elevated into leadership. Lies, plagiarism, a trail of destruction, and still people close their eyes. Standing up to the bully only made leadership look at me as a problem. If you speak up against a bully, be prepared for the possibility that you may be moving on in your journey. It is sad when it is allowed to continue when it is so blatantly obvious. Great article, thanks for sharing.

    It’s amazing the twisted stories they will come up with. I have also noticed that they may over flatter the person that is coming against them, then try to hit them with some made up accusation. I dealt with someone who rebuked me because ‘hypothetically someone could take something wrong’ . Hypothetical sins, missed that one in scripture.

  • Kay Thomson says on

    Our minister is a bully to two congregants who contribute, musically, to the life of the church. My friend and I are songs leaders. We make a joyful noise by encouraging and singing with the congregation. We have developed a loving musical relationship with the congregation, much to the minister’s disapproval. They do not respond to her as they respond to us. In front of the congregation she is polite to us. We are not fooled by her niceties, so we direct our positivity towards the congregation, because they deserve our attention. We are scheduled to sing once a month and even at that, we have to be prepared for her sense of entitlement to make an appearance. She called me at home to pay us a compliment, only to take it back by cancelling us out of our next sing-song. That meant we did not get to sing with the congregation for two whole months. The list goes on and on. United, we stand, but the atmosphere she creates at church is toxic to us. Our church board has no spine and chooses to wear blinders when it comes to dealing with problems.

  • As a person who has experienced forced religous conversion, I am interested in this. Bullies exist in all areas. It’s a shame when they are tolerated and the issues they present are not addressed in sermons. They may not listen, they may switch churches, but should they be held onto in the first place? In terms of personal happiness and mental wellness, despite having more problems before the conversion attacks, I was happier before this agenda took my personal choice away. And I imagine the same is true for those who actually want to be in church beside other believers.

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