I had the privilege of volunteering in a local elementary school in its drug awareness and violence prevention program. The fourth graders were quick to identify behaviors that victimized others; we talked at length about bullying in the school and identified ways to deal with it. Most of us have had the experience of the bully on the school playground, but what about church? Is it possible that there are bullies in the church too? If so, what is a protocol in dealing with them?
Over the years, I have had the opportunity to be in a variety of ministry settings, both as a pastor and as a consultant, and I have seen a disturbing pattern. Many established churches are held hostage by one or two bullies. Some individual or small group of individuals are usually extremely opposed to the church making any changes, even if it means the change would give the church a chance to get healthy and thrive once again.
Almost every struggling church that I know has at least one dysfunctional bully who goes out of his or her way to be a big fish in a small pond. Oftentimes, that is the primary reason the church is struggling. This person gets his or her sense of self-worth by keeping the church so intimidated, either by their actions or their money, that very little can happen without that person’s or that group’s approval.
The sad thing is that most of the leaders know that this person or group is a stumbling block to the church’s future and they will not do anything about it. The church leaders ignore the bully, thinking that is the Christian thing to do, and in so doing, assist in the stunted growth or even death of the congregation.
If we really cared about people, if we really cared about the health and vitality of the church of Jesus Christ, we would not allow anyone to bully others into submission. Instead, we would want every person to feel free enough to express their hopes and dreams, to stretch their wings, and to reach their God-given potential. If we really loved people, we would not base our decisions on whether or not people would like us for those decisions. There are times when we need to stand up to the bullies.
Jesus did. He saw the wretched injustices being inflicted upon innocent victims by the religious establishment, and he did something about it. He fashioned a whip and overturned the tables of the moneychangers and drove them out of the temple courts. It cost him—cost him dearly. But it was what needed to be done; he did the right thing, the loving thing.
Bill Easum says that there are times when we Christians need to stop worrying about being so nice and start doing the right thing—the thing that God wants. Sometimes, confrontation is the most loving thing to do. People who would rather be nice than Christian do not love enough. They do not have enough compassion. Instead, they are afraid of hurting someone or being hurt themselves. But fear is the opposite of love.
The children I tutored learned that meanness and violence happen in school, and that people get hurt by being mean and violent toward them. They also learned that no one deserves to be hurt, and that they can help to make their school a safe and supportive place by taking action and saying something about it to someone who might bring about change. They learned a little rhyme about resisting the negative, harmful messages that bullies often like to send. “What’s the message? Is it true? Is it good for me and you? Don’t stand by and don’t be silent when you hear things mean and violent.” Church folks might benefit by learning and practicing that little rhyme.