Bullying in the Church

As a parent of four, I regularly encounter bullying. No, my kids aren’t getting abused at school. But we often receive messages from educators teaching us how to recognize bullying.

We have become a vigilent and well informed. society. We no longer tolerate bullying at school or the workplace.

But what about bullying at church?

Hardly anyone talks about this – unless it’s sexual abuse, in which case it’ll make the front page. But there are many other types of bullying.

Over the years, I’ve heard hundreds of stories from readers and church leaders. You wouldn’t believe the damage done to people in the name of God.

Jesus is not a bully and his church ought to be a safe place. But religion turns people into bullies. (By religion I am referring to that pseudo-spiritual system of self-improvement that Jesus condemned.)

Bullying is using power to control, harm, or intimidate others, which sounds a lot like what religion does all the time. In essence, religion is a system to control and coerce people through intimidation and manipulation. Which makes religion pretty stinkin’ evil.

So why aren’t we talking about this?

If we are to stand up for the weak (Ps 82:3-4), doesn’t that mean standing up to bullies wherever they are found?

My desire is not to name and shame anyone (and I won’t publish comments that do), but to start a conversation about bullying behavior.

I suspect a lot of church bullying is unintentional. With the best of intentions I have bullied people from the pulpit. This was wrong. Forgive me. My only excuse is I didn’t know I was doing it. Which is why we’re here.

My purpose is not to hurt anyone but to identify hurtful behaviors so that all may be free and Jesus may be glorified. If you have come looking for stones to throw, you are in the wrong place.

But if you want to be forewarned about the types of bullying in the church, read on.

Bullying behaviors in the church

Below is an incomplete list of 30+ ways we use power to harm others in the church. In the comments below, let me know what I missed.

A: Bullying from the pulpit

  1. Preaching law (which condemns and inflames sin (1 Cor 15:56, 2 Cor 3:9)
  2. Lording it over others (1 Peter 5:3). “Obey the man of God!”
  3. Terrorizing people. “God is mad at you. He hates you.”
  4. Making threats: “If you’re not careful, Jesus will blot out your name.”
  5. Dispensing condemnation: “You’re not doing enough. Receive some guilt.”
  6. Withholding communion from those who need it. “Communion is for the worthy.”
  7. Naming and shaming publicly: “Let’s see who hasn’t paid their tithes this month”
  8. Prostituting the love of God. “God loves you more if you obey.”
  9. Extortion: “If you don’t tithe, God will take it off you in doctors’ bills.”
  10. Pressuring people to get with the program. “If you’re not serving you’re not part of us.”
  11. Shutting down dialogue prematurely. “I’ve heard enough. I’m pulling rank.”
  12. Yelling, threats of violence.
  13. Attacking those with a different revelation. “False teacher. Heretic. Burn ‘em all!”
  14. Cultivating a “do not ask questions” environment. “Good soldiers do what they’re told.”
  15. Passing off punishment as discipline. “You must pay for your sin!”

B: Bullying from the flock

  1. Making threats. “Preach on that again and my family will leave.”
  2. Slander and gossip. “I heard Pastor Jim got fired because of inappropriate conduct.”
  3. Constant personal criticism. “He’s useless. He’s not called to be a pastor.”
  4. Crushing leaders with unreasonable expectations. “I’m not being fed.” “He hasn’t grown the church.”
  5. Unfair comparisons. “He doesn’t preach as well as the last guy.”
  6. Baseless accusations. “I got cancer because you don’t preach from the KJV.”

C: Bullying in the fellowship

  1. Name-calling: “You’re a Judas.” “You’re Jezebel.”
  2. Threatening to expose sin. “I’ll tell the pastor your dirty secret!”
  3. Damaging someone’s reputation: “She won’t be wearing white on her wedding day.”
  4. Looking down on someone on account of their youth (1 Tim 4:12). “What do you know? You’re just a kid.”
  5. Looking down on someone on account of their gender: “Woman, submit and do what you’re told.”
  6. Looking down on someone on account of their education. “Have you been to seminary? Then be quiet.”
  7. Promoting sin (which corrupts and enslaves): “In this church we’re free to do A, B, and C.”
  8. Discrimination: “Our church/denomination is the best. The others are stupid.”
  9. Marginalizing people on account of their past: “Divorced? You’re a sinner!
  10. Demeaning those who are suffering: “If you had faith you’d toss those pills.”
  11. Slander: “She’s sick? She must be a sinning.”

A church that is subject to bullying will be depressed, weak, and unfruitful. If you are part of such a church, your choices are either confrontation or departure.

But before you do anything, pray for grace. If you’ve been bullied, look to Jesus your Healer. Be better, not bitter.

And pray for wisdom. I know some will criticize me for not standing up sufficiently for victim’s rights, but often bullies are victims themselves. They need healing too. So pray for those who’ve hurt you (Matt 5:44).

And don’t forget to check the log in your own eye, for we are all broken people. We all need grace.

The tragedy is that religion brings out the worst in us. Religion makes us ugly.

But the good news is that Jesus loves us at our worst and his love changes us. Just look at what he did to that bully of bullies Saul. He turned him into the Apostle of Grace!

Jesus loves all of us. He loves bullies and their victims.

By his grace we can be free.


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3 Comments on Bullying in the Church

  1. Wonderful reminders Bro.Ellis! You asked us to share something you may have missed. In section C, number 6, something I’ve seen a few times is just the reverse of the example of someone being told to keep quiet if they’ve not been to seminary. I’ve been on the other side where folks, likely well-meaning, but cutting just the same, have almost made fun of one who has been to seminary or Bible college with the attitude of, “God called me, and I don’t need no stinkin’ seminary!” But your article as always is excellent and a blessing to me!

  2. Wooow. These are so apt Paul, thanks for writing about this. I have committed some of these… it’s actually embarrassing and I’ve been wincing as I recognize myself in some of these. I’ve also been forced to confess sin which is either real (from the past before I got saved, and therefore forgiven, but who am I to counter the ‘wisdom’ of my elders), or false (created by the person who regularly takes me through these sessions). It’s ridiculous and God’s grace is definitely needed in large, large doses.🙂

  3. A(16) Drying up your ministry opportunities because you had the temerity to be the squeaky wheel. It doesn’t matter how respectfully or lovingly you seek clarification, to some people. You risk getting sidelined.

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