Dealing with the "Church Bully"
Every kid knows the class bully. Most children will try very hard to avoid the class bully, because they fear they will meet the wrath of the bully. Eventually, many children either end up dealing with the bully, or the bully grows out of his bullying phase. In some cases, he never learns, and he lives his whole life bullying people to get his way.
But what about the bully in the local congregation? There are bullies in congregations. Sinful and shameful as it is, it is the truth. So how do we recognize the church bully?
First, look around. Is there one person who has generally been the one to make or push all the decisions? Now, we have to be careful here, because sometimes the ones who make the decisions are forced into that role because there is no one else who will help bear the responsiblities (we are not talking about these people).
But if you have a man (or woman) who has generally done all the decision making, without really taking other people’s thoughts into consideration, you might have a church bully on your hands.
You may not know who he is at first. But if you are in a congregation for any long period of time, you might start to see that he is the guy who pushes people with his words in order to get his way. Bullies in the church are much harder to recognize because they do not use their size or their muscle to push people around. Church bullies can be much more subtle. Instead of dealing with people based upon logic and kindness, and in a spirit of true discussion, he deals with them using emotion and manipulation.
He is the guy who pushes for his way in all cases. Yes, he (or she) will "listen" to what the other person has to say, but not sincerely. As he listens, he is not trying to understand the other person's position, but is simply thinking of how best to respond so that he can get his way. The bully is also a master manipulator. He does not push and shove people around as the playground bully does. Instead, he does his bullying by manipulation. He knows how to twist scripture just enough to make sure that the person he is talking to agrees with him. Then once the two of them agree, the two of them will begin to manipulate others.
He (or she) will go behind people’s backs, speak disparagingly about those who hold a different opinion from himself, and will "poison the well" against any who he fears would get in his way.
Generally, the last person to find out that this has been happening is the person who knows how to properly use the word of God, to untwist scripture. He knows how to properly argue, and defend the truth against the bully. The problem is, by this time the damage is done—the church has been bullied and manipulated into following the plan of the manipulator, until those who are trying to do right have no voice any longer.
So how do we deal with the bully?
As is the case with all bullies, you must stand up to him. You must call him out and let him know that you will not be bullied or manipulated. But be ready for intense retaliation, and be ready for him to go around behind your back to talk bad about you to as many people as he can.
If a bully is not afraid to sin by manipulating, then he is also not afraid to sin by talking bad about others. And since you stood against him, you will be Enemy #1. Mark it down, you will be talked badly about in secret.
The key is that others need to be mature enough not to be manipulated by this bully either. When he shows up to talk bad, the listener should tell him to go and work his problem out with his brother, as the Bible says.
But, what if he will not? If he refuses to change his ways, what options do we in the church have when it comes to dealing with bullies? Well, since bullying is wrong, we deal with him just as Jesus has said in Matthew 18:15-17:
Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother. But if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established. And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican.
So what shall we do with the church bully?
- We talk to him using God’s word to show him that these actions are sinful. He needs to be reproved by the word of God, and he needs to repent.
- If he does not repent, we call other brothers to join us when we go to him to discuss his actions, asking him to repent.
- If he still refuses to repent, then we bring him before the whole church, tell them of his actions, and the church will then ask him to repent. If he still refuses, we will treat him like a heathen man.
The sin of bullying is like any other sin, and it needs to be handled the same way that God’s word teaches us to handle these types of sin.
We do know of a bully in the New Testament. John writes:
I wrote unto the church: but Diotrephes, who loveth to have the preeminence among them, receiveth us not. Wherefore, if I come, I will remember his deeds which he doeth, prating against us with malicious words: and not content therewith, neither doth he himself receive the brethren, and forbiddeth them that would, and casteth them out of the church. Beloved, follow not that which is evil, but that which is good. He that doeth good is of God: but he that doeth evil hath not seen God.(3 John 1:9-11)
John was seeking to have fellowship and hospitality. But Diotrephes, being "one who loves to have the preeminence,” would not allow it. He bullied the church, and even though he might have thought his motives were pure, he led them down the wrong path. He sinned in not allowing other faithful brothers to come and help, and he spoke harmful words against those who would come to help labor for the Lord.
Do we have any Diotrephes in our congregation, people who are always wanting to control the church? Who always have to be right, regardless of what others in the congregation might think? Be careful, churches. If you have a bully in the congregation, he will stifle the growth, the spirit, and the health of the Lord’s work in the church.
May we maintain a spirit of peace and unity. May we never become bullies, or allow bullies to force their wills onto our lives.