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The Church Bully

Many of us have attended churches where a strong personality or family so controls the church that it stifles growth and spiritual leadership from others.  Most people see the elephant in the room but don’t know what to do.  When the bully shouts “no,” leaders and pastors have to tiptoe around them, weak decisions are made to keep the peace and the ministry becomes weaker because it cannot change.

The greatest tragedy of tolerating bullies is that the testimony of Christ in the church and community is damaged.  New ideas are pushed aside, ministries stagnate, reputations are hurt and people give up out of frustration.  The elephant in the room is able to grind evangelism and discipleship to a stop.  People slip away while a once vibrant church fades.

Have you ever wondered how and why these bullies arise to do what they do?  It has been said that half the solution is defining the problem.  I believe that Hebrews 12:15 reveals their problem and helps us understand them better:

See to it that no one misses the grace of God

and that no bitter root grows up

to cause trouble

and defile many.

First, bullies miss the grace of God.  They are so self-willed that their opinions fail to calculate in God’s grace and the church’s mission to share that grace with others.  If these bullies where involved in ministry, not just power positions, they would understand the damage they are doing.

Second, a bitter root is able to grow up in them because they have missed God’s grace.  They develop attitudes toward other people and ministries and treat them with disdain.  They now believe that they are the smartest person in the room.  Since church is a family affair, sometimes these criticisms may come from their family members.  Sin has now taken root and controls them.

Third, this root of sin now pushes them to cause trouble.   They criticize a ministry, bring conflict to a congregational meeting or campaign against another leader or pastor.  They are so blinded by their bitter root of sin that they feel justified.

Forth, to win they must defile many to build a mob movement.  This is easy to do in a church since other godly leaders cannot lower themselves to this level to counter a bully.  They know that when they play with a skunk they will smell like a skunk.  Unknowing people only know what they hear from the bully and jump on board.  I have often said, “Blood is thicker than theology.”  Relationships trump right and wrong.  The shrewd bully knows how to select and feed weak people to get them on his side.

Do you see the momentum in this progression?  When someone acts outside the grace of God, there is no limit to the destruction they can bring.  So, what is wet blanket that can extinguish this fire?

I think the best place to start is just the opposite.  Since the bully misses the grace of God, let’s determine to wrap ourselves in it.  That grace is described in the previous verse as making every effort to live in peace, to be holy and to please God.  If we govern our lives and choices by those standards, we will shine in contrast to those who don’t.  Be proactive with grace.

So, have courage and stay faithful to your mission.  Remember that bullies killed Jesus, but he knew it was worth it all.  One day, you will look back and realized how much you learned about the Lord and his grace, even from the abuse of a bully.

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