There was a long period in my life where the nickname “church girl” would suit me perfectly. Raised in church, became an almost fanatical Pentecostal young adult, and then by God’s mercy, translated to a well-balanced Christian woman.
On that journey, I had several opportunities of working behind the scenes as a choir leader, group leader, church worker, pastoral assistant staff and I believe those experiences were instrumental to my breaking free of the bounds that I almost didn’t realize held me.
Bullies exist in every walk of life. They’re in our homes, in schools and they’re in the workplace and they’re in church too! The thing is, the bullies in church are very good at cloaking this horrible act in spiritual hocus pocus. It’s painful to watch so many Christians slowly get sucked into the vortex of charismatic pastors and leaders who are skilled at making followers who are so eager to please them, do what they want.
If you are a serving church worker or staff, you need to realize that a good number of these Pastors feed of your need for approval and validation. Like emotional predators, they smell your vulnerabilities and once a weak spot is located, they will pounce. Before you know it, you’re hooked under their thumb.
How do you spot a Bully Pastor?
If your Pastor’s sermons emphasizes how important church leaders are, how “it is not in your place” to question them and how you might be risking the wrath of God if you dare disobey their instructions and ask questions, you just might be dealing with a bully in pastoral disguise. When sermons about obeying instructions given by church leaders leave you with fear and make you rush to do their every bidding, you’re obviously in trouble.
There are churches where being a worker (which is a volunteer position by the way) means having the majority of your productive time and finances tied up in church activities. Meetings where you are told you MUST not miss, (even if you have other commitments, you are told they are not as important as those meetings because it’s an “instruction” from the pastor), coerced financial contributions to projects even when you know you can’t afford it; If you’re in a church where that is your reality, then you are BEING bullied!
Are you allowed to have a different opinion? One of the easiest ways to spot a bully pastor is to look at his followers. When members cannot have a different opinion about life, politics and even relationships from the one fed them by their pastor, something is obviously wrong. It’s one thing to teach biblical principles; it’s another thing to turn your followers into zombies and clones of yourself.
Is your pastor the same person he is on the pulpit as the person you work with in the office? A lot of pastoral staff members are emotionally and verbally abused by the pastors they work with. There is a culture of silence in the church community and this is further perpetrated by these bullies who are one thing on the pulpit and another thing behind the scenes. Indeed, pastors are human and like us, they have their own failings. But we must not be silent or intimidated into covering up when a pastor crosses the line; especially when he is unrepentant and unapologetic about it. If you are a pastoral staff, you should respect your pastor and not FEAR him. When staff members cower and cringe before their pastor, then something has gone very wrong. You should not have any reason to be intimidated by your pastor.
Does he call out his critics on the pulpit? I know a good number of pastors get criticized and some if not most have felt the need to address the issues on the pulpit during Sunday service. How this is done is another thing entirely. Calling out members who speak out against him and threatening spiritual damnation is a sure sign of bullying behavior.
Do you feel stalked on social media? This might sound improbable but I have actually lived the experience. A certain leading pastor of a church I used to attend had a habit of stalking member’s timelines to make sure they’re saying the ‘’right things’’ about the church and about the ‘supreme leader’. Ludicrous I know! He then comes into your DM (private message box) with some ‘spiritual advice’ designed to influence your opinion.
A church where emphasis put on serving the head pastor or General Overseer, is a church where bullying can thrive. Over emphasis on “submission to authority” and teaching that God speaks directly to the lead pastor about the vision for the church and everyone else on staff are there to help the lead pastor accomplish his vision is problematic.
What essentially happens is, if you disagree with the lead pastor, you are to submit to his authority and keep your mouth shut. The dangerous thing is, as this teaching continues, the pastor becomes like God. He is projected to be more spiritual than everyone else.
The same Holy Spirit that resides in your pastor is the same Holy Spirit that you have dwelling in you. It’s the same spirit that raised Jesus from the dead. (Romans 8:11) As much as you respect your leaders, you must never think God loves them or listens to them more than you. Let your need for validation and affection draw you closer to GOD. he is the only one who’s approval you need.