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 ended up leaving a church I where I was the pastor because of a bully. The church board forbade me to ask the man to leave. The bullying became so bad that I started having anxiety attacks before services because I knew what was coming after the service. After moving, I was able to stop taking blood pressure medications.

  • Please pray for me. I feel I am passivly bullied. Even my pastor is distant with me. Im new to this Communion Ministry. It hurts cause this ministry reoresents Christ.

  • After being in church planting since 2005 my family and I can attest to the bullies in ministry. However, after reading many of these replys it seems that any church leader could be viewed as a bully. Recently while training a volunteer how to use Power Point, I discovered the system was set up wrong. I took a minute to fix the setup and explained to the volunteer about the system and the benefits of having the system setup properly would help the operation on Sundays go smoother. I spent a great deal of time teaching the program to someone who couldnt read. 2 weeks later the pastor called me in and told me I had acted like a bully with the volunteer. I was taken aback by his response and his use of the word ‘bully’. Many of the replys I see here use the word, bully, because someone is in leadership. To quote a scene from the Princeess Bride, Inigo Montoya replies “You keep using that word, I don’t think it means what you think it means.

  • Friend of God says on

    In every situation I’ve witnessed, it’s the
    one with the most power or influence that does the
    bullying. Therefore, more often than not, it’s been the
    pastor/associate pastor/youth leader, etc….It’s much
    easier to get away with bullying if there is a title or
    position attached to your name. If a member of a
    church is allowed to call all the shots, and they don’t
    even have a title or leadership position, then I would
    wonder why the leadership would give that much
    power to an individual. simply because they had
    the loudest voice or made the biggest donations.
    Any pastor that would allow a member of his church
    to manipulate other members or try to make the
    rules or call all the shots would be a weak leader.
    I’ve seen pastors in more than one occasion embarrass,
    shame and humiliate members from the pulpit during
    crowded church services, and when respectfully
    confronted, made it look like THEY are the victims
    and are being picked on by the actual victims. I’ve seen
    churches where the board was made up by close friends
    of the pastor, all “yes” men, and one church has NO
    board so is not accountable to anyone for his actions.
    I’ve also seen, in the church I attended the longest, over
    20 years, people with great potential driven out by the
    insecure pastor who felt threatened by their presence.
    One of them was the children’s pastor, and doing an
    excellent job, along with his wife; together they had built
    a successful ministry and the children loved them…..after
    all of that the ministry was transferred to a young man
    with no experience who ended up leaving after less than
    a year. The older man that started the ministry was
    taken from his position and made the janitors aide….all
    because he and his wife were getting older! They
    were in their late 50’s and were more like youthful
    grandparents to those kids. One more thing, the pastor
    is at least as old as they are….I wonder when he will be
    “too old” for his role as pastor. No one I’ve ever talked
    to felt like what they did to that couple was from
    God…..and most of them are people with discernment,
    many of whom still attend that church and respect
    the leadership. Of course, that’s only one example
    of many. Years ago the worship leader was also driven
    out though he was a kind man with a good family
    and had a passion for worship. Things were insinuated
    from the pulpit that anyone with discernment knew
    wasn’t true and it was all to cast a bad light on this man.
    To this day, many years later, he and his family have
    moved away but they are still together and happily
    married. It seemed that if anyone stood out for any
    reason they were sabotaged and even if not directly asked
    to leave, they were treated so badly they felt they had to.
    That is classic church bullying!

  • Too common of a person says on

    Wow. This is a convicting article for me. Am I a church bully? I honestly don’t know. Help me.

    What I do know about myself (not defense, just the way I live):

    1) I believe in absolutely submitting to the Pastor. If I cannot submit to the Pastor, I need to find a new church.

    2) Working within #1, I try to do those things that I am called to do.

    3) I believe in controlling what I do, not controlling others. This one is hard because say a church wants to do an event that I pray about and have no calling for whatsoever. Then I don’t participate, other than the participation that is asked of the church at large. For example, if the church is asked to hand out invitations, then I hand out invitations. If the event needs just warm bodies to wash dishes or fold chairs, then I participate at that level. I don’t take on added tasks like heading up some part of it.
    If I do feel called to some work, I approach the church leadership. If I get permission, great. If I don’t, I go back to prayer. Very often — too often — I get an answer like, “wow, that’s great. Instead of that though, do this {the opposite of what I am called to do and a truckload of work.}” This is where I’ve learned to say no.

    So, my big question, how do you not turn in to a bully by standing up to bullies?

    A few years ago we finally left the church we had been attending for twelve years. My husband and I had started a free legal clinic. A year after we started it (with the Pastor’s permission), we approached the trustees to get permission to do a fundraiser so that we could buy a printer, ink, etc.

    They blew up. Most of the trustees hardly ever went to church, so they hadn’t seen our multiple announcements and promotions about the legal clinic and thus didn’t know it was going on. Several of them were also lawyers, so they were furious that the church would “give away for free” what they sold.

    Instead of fighting, we resigned and left the church, again, after being there for twelve years. We didn’t leave in a showy way — there were friends of ours who didn’t know until three months later — we prayed and we left quietly.

    Should we have turned into bullies ourselves?

  • In thinking back over decades of church membership and active participation, I honestly cannot think of a single church (in multiple denominations) that did *not* have at least one bully. In most cases, it was a senior member (or members) who was frequently a charter member of that particular church and whose financial contributions were always given with a caveat. Occasionally, it was a pastor who used threats of shunning or outright expulsion from the congregation.

    At some point, I listened to an active bully piously praying over a group luncheon one day and realized that I simply could not continue to pay even lip service to a religion that not only allows this sort of thing to continue, but actively encourages it by church structure (elders, deacons, etc.) and doctrine. The words and actions that are used in today’s churches no longer resemble anything that aligns with those of one Jesus of Nazareth. I walked away and have never looked back.

    My worship is done at home, and my charitable works are done in private, through anonymous donations or specific acts. I am not a millennial – in fact, I am on the edge of the boomer generation – but I see why church membership in all denominations is falling; the current generations see nothing but negatives in organized religion (just as I have come to see) and want nothing to do with it. *That* is the price that churches pay when they fail to actively confront bullying – the church, both as individual units and as a whole, will not survive because it has not figured out that the actions of a few affect many…and those many are beating a path to the way out.

  • Bob Williford says on

    Number 9 may be the weakest of all the statements. My experience has been that the ‘bullies’ are most often the most influential of the congregation, have been around for a very long time and as has been noted, people are afraid of them…..

  • Douglas Seal says on

    Saw this and have lived this. My family and I finally were released from the job of staving off the attacks of a church bully and his whole family for 30 years with 20 of those years being a deacon. I won some battles against this man, lost some, but one year ago today he removed the full sheep’s skin and went full blown wolf. I often wanted to just leave the church prior to this but God never released me until these last attacks occurred. There were 45 to 50 working church members that left quietly with the spirit moving everybody in the same mind and accordingly, which I found out after all had left then conversed with them. Many wonder why myself and three other deacons did not take care of this man ( who was an elder deacon ), but when we discussed it we knew that there would have been a huge carnal fight with the wolves still staying at THEIR church. It has been a year but the spiritual abuse and attempted spiritual murders by these folks has made me and others distrust all churches to the point that they are all fake to an extent and more harmful than helpful. I know that there are no perfect churches and do want to worship but need prayers for strength and guidance to even want to go on.

  • AnonymousOne says on

    Thank you for your writing and insight. My wife and I are facing a bullying situation which unfortunately is not our first time. Although we read much about honoring the man of God, unfortunately when a new pastor transfers to your small church and the wife of the pastor immediately begins belittling the congregation of the previous church because they were mean and clapped when the pastor left, you can’t help but see flags raised. The pastor was awesome in his messages and his treatment of our members for several months but then things seemed to feel different. Members began coming to my wife and I (I am a member of leadership) and they were showing concerns with changes in attitude, church activities and especially the youth programs as the it seemed they were leaving the youth out of most everything. Eventually my wife and I were put in as Youth Directors and we felt the time had come to implement small changes and get our youth to fellowship more, to serve (first in the church and then grow to serving in the community) but we were told to make no changes until ground rules were set through leadership meetings. My wife was not allowed in these meetings as we do not have female ministers or deacons, so we accepted that. Then we were told what to do, when to do it, how it was to be done, who was allowed to take part. We accepted such direction as new leaders. We were instructed to purchase new and unique shirts for the drama team members only and control them as the choir controls the robes as these were part of a unique and honorable uniform for serving in God’s house. The instructions were followed to a “T” and suddenly I was called into a leadership meeting and told that I was not meant to do everything I was told, now I was being a micromanager, going so far as to control shirts instead of giving them to anyone that requested one. I reminded the pastor of each of his instructions and the dates they were given and these facts were acknowledged by the other members that were present in the various meetings. Sadly, the next 3 out of 4 services were preached to my wife and I as we were unable to lead without using common sense. I was even equated to the pastor when he was a small child on the farm. When he was a young boy on the farm and told to do a chore he knew how to get the job done. Here we have leadership that can’t get anything right and have to be given step-by-step instructions and still get it wrong. He then looked at the asst. pastor and said, do you think they get it now, do ya. They then shared a laugh in front of the congregation during the service. Following these issues and many that I can’t list in this forum my wife and I have offered our resignation to allow someone else to lead the youth that may fit the desires of the pastor since it appeared that now the pastor and asst. felt we hindered the youth program for the past 6 months. Our resignations were denied
    The pastor had during this time grown ever closer with another deacon and the next day he put that deacon as co-director over the youth which initially we thought would be great since they were becoming such good friends and maybe this would calm the storm. The same evening that the co-director was put in place he disagreed with my wife over a church matter that he had never dealt with before and he grabbed her arm, throwing her from the classroom and into the hallway while members of the youth were present to witness. She re-entered the room and he tried again but she pulled from his grasp and warned him to keep his hands off of her. She then went to the pastor and reported the incident as did the “co-directors” own wife. The pastor replied that he stayed out of drama and he walked away.
    Our cause for resignation was that each of the last 4 or more issues (not all listed) that we have had a disagreement and follow-up pulpit insult and thrashing episode, I have found myself either in the hospital or doctor’s office for heart issues. I have numerous heart issues and a defibrillator and now find myself almost using my nitro prescriptions before they are able to be replaced monthly. I am being warned by the doctors, my family and other leadership to de-stress and allow the youth someone fresh and younger (although I had to promise many I would stay active after stepping down because they love these 50 something folks-thank the Lord). These youth, parents and guardians have supported us all the way and stay as upset as we do when they approach the pastor and are told to leave the church drama outside because he is a pastor and not a drama counselor.
    I have truly been blessed by your writings and insight. I now look forward to some of that insight and possible suggestions to help us through this trial as well as your prayers that God’s Will is done in our church and our lives.


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