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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286 Comments

  • this is a subject that the Lord has laid on my heart recently. I am doing a devotion in April and I believe this is the subject he wants me to touch on. Can you give me any advice and or verses that will help me with this very touchy subject.

  • Bob Carl says on

    Bullies tend to be suffering from low self-esteem. Bullies in our schools turn into these adult bullies. They lack self-esteem, they have no real friends. They however have “hanger ons” that watch the circus the bullies create and laugh along with them. All these folks need our dear prayers, that God will forgive them and help them stop their malicious behaviors.

  • Thom, don’t know if you’ve ever read/heard about this book; “PASTOR ABUSERS
    When Sheep Attack Their Shepherd” by Kent Crockett & Mike Johnston. I came across it this morning and will be ordering it. I already ordered the “Antagonists” book someone referenced in an earlier post. My wife and daughters have been devastated by numerous attacks by so-called “sheep.” Pray for us and any counseling you may be able to direct us to would be appreciated. This quote from the book is DEAD-ON: “Pastor abuse is the church scandal that no one is talking about. The mistreatment of clergy is as horrifying as it is secretive, and the casualties are reaching epidemic proportions.”

    • Thom Rainer says on

      Thanks, Zolton. I am ordering it now.

    • I’ve not read that one, but I’ll very likely be looking for it.

    • Elizabeth Thorpe says on

      It is really sad when the pastor is the church bully. That was the case in our church. We left the church for a while but wrote a letter to the pastor and his wife telling them how we felt. Ironically he resigned about three weeks later. We now have a new pastor and our little church is growing by leaps and bounds.

      Elizabeth Thorpe
      Fresno, CA

  • A group of people have emerged to stand up to the bullying in the Greek Orthodox Churches of Chicago…hundreds of people have signed the petition against the bullying but the numbers should be much higher. People still are too reluctant to attach their own name:
    http://www.goccl.org

  • Another book I highly recommend is “Leading Your Church Through Conflict and Resolution”, edited by Marshall Shelley. It has a great chapter called “Wars You Can’t Win”. I don’t want to discourage anyone on this blog, but the reality is, sometimes the pastor is fighting a losing battle.

  • Pastor Timothy Walker says on

    Brother Thom, I was a member of “Simple Church”, and my wife and I were bullied out of the adult Sunday School class. An old, founding member widow bullied me out of the pulpit, going so far as to call the police one Sunday because I wouldn’t resign per her demand; then #7 took place, and I was left twisting in the wind…church would be a wonderful place if it weren’t for the people…oh, wait… 😉 Grace and Peace, Brother!

  • My child is the one that is targeted by bullies. For three reasons: I’m not a respected member where I attend (my husband won’t attend with me so I have no ‘voice’), my child is socially awkward and third (but by by no means the least); we are not life long members. I see the children of the elders being embraced for the same traits my child has and when my child behaves in the same manner you can spot looks of disgust in many faces. It’s heart breaking. My husband almost refused to let me bring my child back. But shortly after it built up I quit going (for health related reasons). I however returned two years later after having not attended elsewhere but continuing my walk with the Lord in His word and by listening to podcasts, watching sermons (online) and attending confrences.
    I made the difficult decision to return to the same place because I believe it would not be a good testimony to my child if I gave up, due to ‘bad feelings’. This place has solid doctrine, doesn’t wander into drawn out personal storytelling and digs deeply into God’s word anytime they get together (even if it’s for a baby shower!).
    It seems impossible to deal with because the child who is the biggest bully is quite sly about it, adept at hiding what he’s doing.

    I live in a small city, and have’t found alternatives in my area but it’s difficult going to a place where they all seem like family since they’ve known eachother for decades & then there’s us. Maybe you could address how to welcome (and be consistant with) new members when you’re congregation is 100 or less. Or how to teach your children inclusiveness. One would think it would be important to Christian parents but shockingly I find it’s the Christian world that rejects my child most.

    • Thom Rainer says on

      Jenny –

      I hurt for you and your child. I am praying for both of you right now.

      • Honestly Brother, it meant so much to me reading your comment tonight. Maybe it’s silly but I’m sitting here with grateful tears, that someone out there has compassion about this concern I’ve had so long. Thank you. Praying for you and your ministry right now.

    • When I was in elementary school, and continuing somewhat into High School, I had no trouble getting along with other kids at school but was mercilessly bullied by other kids at church. A lot of it boiled down to the fact that most of them went to a Christian school and I went to public school. And sadly I was typically the who got punished by Sunday School teachers or youth leaders because I’d get caught retaliating or defending myself. Looking back I feel it was only by the grace of God that I never held their behavior against God or the church in general.

      Now that I’m a youth pastor I try to keep a watchful eye out for the “good Christian kids” who are bullying others in the shadows. It happens far too often. In fact, as I read this article the first church bully that came to mind was a former teen from my youth group.

      • I am praising God in my heart for men like you, who are willing to truly shepherd His young flock. May you continue to bless the underdogs.

    • sorry to hear this. May God bring you and your family comfort and blessings, and allow you to move on and forgive, and one day allows you to see justice.

  • Charles Philip says on

    Thank you for this incredible power post!

    I am member of a small non-denominational congregational church. When I volunteered to serve as Treasurer I had no idea what I would discover. I was horrified that there were members of the leadership and the congregation who wanted to cover up years of fiscal malfeasance enables by a lack Board oversight.

    It was not until I read this blog post that I realized the problem – bullies, These elders and long-time members had done their best to hamstring the leadership, using their congregational pledges as bargaining chips. They had succeeded to replace the congregation’s mission of encouraging members to search for meaning with one that served their personal interests.

    An outside consultant was brought in to hold “healing circles” that gave the bullies a sanctioned forum. The fiscal problems were swept under the rug and those who sought to restore the church’s financial integrity have been targeted and shunned and subjected to the constant hum of self-righteous indignation.

    Now I realize that it is time to move on and seek a church that is true to its religious mission. Thank you for helping me gain clarity.

  • Tim Woodruff says on

    I was bullied in school, and I was bullied as a pastor.
    Thank you for what you have said. Much more could be said on this, because church bullies use many of the same tactics that school bullies do.

    Tim

  • Thank God for our Lord’s promise in Matthew 16:18. Thank God for His command in Romans 16:17 among all the wonderful people. Titus 3:10; 1 Corinthians 1:10. Pride is the root cause of this sinful people. As a pastor I pray for my church and all the families for their protection and preach His word (Acts 20:27-36)

  • I’ve been bullied before as a Pastor. However, I’ve learned that as long as I continue to preach God’s Word, the bully generally leaves. Moreover, I let him know that I wouldn’t be leaving!

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