Bully behaviors in the church, whether from a board member, a pastor, or others in the congregation, are usually narcissistic behaviors. A bully wants to get his/her own way and will use whatever means possible to achieve their goals. This can include manipulation, creating leadership division, gossip, slander, passive-aggressive behaviors, threats, and intimidation. All of these are classic narcissistic behaviors. And, when confronted, they will play the victim and claim that they are being treated unfairly. It is also why if confronted, they will often run. Bullies and narcissists don't like accountability and seek to avoid it at all costs.
A friend left his comment on Facebook to an earlier article in this series. "We dealt with a bully in our life group recently. We made it very clear that the behavior was not acceptable. We were very willing to walk through it with her if she desired to change. She left the group. We shared this with our church leadership so they would be aware. When she repeated the behavior with others, the leaders confronted her. She left the church. Repentance and healing was our main goal, but it was clear that was not hers. The results were a blessing to all." This is not an uncommon outcome because bullies hate and avoid accountability. This is classic narcissistic behavior.
I shared several reasons that boards do not deal with bullies in the church, but there is one reason that I did not cover. We simply cannot believe that these people whom we know would have impure motives. After all, they are Christians! Their motives must be good!
When we think that way in the face of behaviors that are toxic, we must wake up and smell the coffee. You need not judge motives, but you can always judge behaviors. Narcissistic behavior or bully behavior hurts people and organizations, and the church is meant to be a place of healing and unity. To give people a pass on behaviors that violate the Fruit of the Spirit, demand their own way, and use intimidation and underhanded tactics to achieve that is sinful, destructive, and evil. Yet church boards give such behaviors a pass on a regular basis. The result is that people get hurt, deeply wounded, often leave the church, and sometimes abandon the church because of the terrible behaviors they encountered among God's people.
Regardless of how long the offending individual(s) have been in your church, or how spiritual sounding their language (I call it God talk), when bully behavior is present along with the toxic kinds of behaviors listed above, do not give it a pass! If you do, you are giving them a free pass to hurt people - God's people - and that is not OK. When you do that, you become complicit in their behavior. So now, the very people who are charged in Scripture with protecting God's people, become complicit in allowing them to be hurt instead. You cannot teach from the pulpit Godly behaviors and allow the opposite to exist within the congregation because you are unwilling to call it out!
Narcissistic behavior is the polar opposite of the humility that Jesus himself exhibited and teaches us to exhibit in our lives. Humility is like Jesus. Pride, arrogance, and narcissism reflect the Evil One, not Jesus. So when we give it a pass, we are platforming the Evil One in the same church that we teach Jesus and His character. How can that be? On the one hand, you teach people the character of God and the Fruit of the Spirit, and on the other hand, allow the opposite to create cancer in the church! These are opposing cultures, and you end up destroying the very culture you are seeking to create in the church.
Where there is a bully in the church who is creating chaos with their tactics, and the board refuses to deal with it, and it is long-standing, I have counseled pastors caught in the mess to leave. The board is allowing someone to destroy what they are trying to build from the Scriptures, and the two cultures cannot co-exist. But if you confront the behaviors and stick to your guns as Paul did in his letters to the churches in the New Testament, you can root out the rot. But that takes courage. I hope if you are in leadership, you will have that courage when faced with narcissistic behaviors and church bullies.
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