In Junior High I was one of those skinny kids (you’d never believe it if you saw me now) who wasn’t into sports, was self-conscious, and lived in fear of being beaten up by a bully. I was very aware of who the bullies were and where they hung out. My life-preserving strategy was simple, avoid the bullies and you won’t get beaten up. I made many hard-rights and hard-lefts to steer clear of these ruffians (which, by the way, is a word we seldom use any more and I’d like to see us bring it back). Apparently it worked because I made it through Junior High without ever getting pounded.
Pastor Jim (not his real name) had a problem on his hands and he wanted to process it with me during one of our coaching calls. Bubba (not his real name but I thought that was a good name for a bully) had been a church board member, had taken a year off according to the church by-laws, and now was letting everyone know that when his break was over he intended to return to his position on the board pending nomination and approval by the congregation.
“So what’s the problem?” I asked.
“None of my current board members want him back.”
“He’s really difficult to work with. Bubba is a big guy, boisterous, and he uses his size and words to intimidate others. People in the church are uncomfortable around him and some have even shared that they are afraid of him. But he’s been in the church for a long time and he has a lot of influence even if it’s bad.”
“Sounds like you have a bully on your hands.”
“I think you’re right.”
Small church bullies come in all shapes and sizes. They might not look exactly like Bubba but they are just as much a bully.
Small church bullies intimidate and threaten overtly or coverty, consciously or unconsciously. They might use their influence or money or ministry position to pressure you and others to do what they want. Some will actually threaten the pastor.
“We voted you in and we can vote you out. I was here before you came and I will be here after you’re gone.”
The only way to deal with a bully is to walk right up to them and smack them good and hard in the nose.
No…not really, I’m kidding…kind of.
Church bullies won’t stop until someone stops them. You get what you tolerate. Do you have a church bully who needs to hear, “STOP IT”?
Confronting a bully is scary and risky. It can be dangerous…but not as dangerous as letting the bully continue to bully. It’s not uncommon for me to find a pastor who is intimidated by one or two people in their church and those one or two make life miserable for the pastor and can actually put a damper on the over all ministry of the church.
Do you have bully on your hands? If so, might I suggest a few steps, none of which involves slugging them in the nose.
1. Devote some time in prayer to make sure that you really are dealing with a bully and not something else. If timing isn’t everything it’s close enough. Is the Father releasing you to confront the person now or later?
2. Find a couple wise, mature, trusted people in your church who have the same concerns about this person that you have who will accompany you to a meeting with this person.
3. Send a well-crafted letter to this person stating that you and a couple others would like to meet with them to discuss some concerns you have about their behavior. I like the ‘letter first’ approach because it gives the person some time to think about things and because nobody likes being surprised.
4. At the meeting get right to the point. Don’t bother buttering them up and then dropping the bomb. Give specific examples of the behavior that is unacceptable and why it’s unacceptable. Communicate to them that you are for them and would love to meet with them on a regular basis to help them grow in these areas. But be firm and clear that their behavior will no longer be tolerated.
This is scary. This is risky. They might blow out of the church taking their money and their friends with them. They might lead a campaign to get you fired. You might get fired. But there are many churches across this nation of ours that are being influenced by bullies rather than godly, humble leaders. Someone, sometime, has to stand up to them face to face and say, “STOP IT!”