7 Ways to Respond to Church Bullies

After I finished talking to a group of pastors recently, one pastor approached and asked, "What do you do when there is one person who is always trying to disrupt what you are doing? He is never satisfied with anything I do, and he incites people against me. I know he's going to complain about something every time I see him or his name comes up in my inbox. Honestly, I think he's the one obstacle in us being all we could be as a church. He's like an 8th-grade bully who never grew out of it."

That's a paraphrase–but it's a true story. And most churches have one person of this type—or more. They remind me of 1 Samuel 17 and the introduction of the giant Goliath.

These people are intimidating, disruptive and frightening at times. But I don't believe these people are as big an obstacle as we make them out to be. We allow them to intimidate us—and they usually know it.

The ruddy shepherd boy David was willing to call Goliath's bluff. So how should we respond to our own bullies? Here are seven ways:

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 1) Understand their pain. I have found there is usually a story behind most of people who are like this. They have been injured at some point in their lives. Perhaps they feel the church has let them down. Maybe they have had a hard time forgiving. They may have an injury in their personal life that hasn't healed. They hold—unfairly—that injury against everyone else. Get to know them. Hear their stories. Attempt to place yourself in their shoes. Sometimes God may use you to help the healing process. Understanding always helps you be better prepared to respond.

 2) Pray for them. "Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you" (Matt. 5:44). I see people in a different way when I pray for them. When I worry about approaching them, what they're saying about me or the impact they are having, I never seem to affect the situation in a positive way. Prayer works. If it doesn't change them, it always changes me.

 3) Love them. Smother them with love, genuine love. They likely need it. And aren't we commanded to do so? We don't have to love their actions, but we are called to love. And the only way I know to do this is to love God first. If I can't love the unlovable, I always know it's an indication of the quality of my love for God—always.

 4) Speak truth. Don't say what they want to hear if it's not true. Be honest with them. Chances are good that half-truths were a part of their history, causing them to be the way they are today. Be transparent and authentic. Be kind always, but don't sugarcoat. Sometimes people like this are waiting until you push back. They'll likely push you with bully tactics until you do. Stand firm.

 5) Don't let them dictate your actions. When you give in to a strong-minded, complainer-type person, the negative atmosphere between you never goes away. You'll lock yourself into being dictated by their negativity and complaints. You'll only find more complainers—or they'll find you. They know you'll yield with the right (or wrong) amount of pressure.

 6) Remember your calling. Really negative people can sometimes make you feel like you are doing no good. It's almost never true. This is a good reason to keep an encouragement file from past notes or emails you received from people who appreciate your work. Go back and review some of them. Think about your past success—and how God has and is using you. Seek your affirmation among the people to whom God called you to minister. Your calling probably wasn't to the select agenda of a negative few. When complaints are at their highest, remember why you are doing what you're doing. You have a purpose. You have a passion. Renew it.

 7) Confront when necessary. There are times you need to confront the one who is continually responding in an unbiblical way—in a direct and firm but loving way. Call them out on their sin.

There are healthy ways to do conflict. We are to be kind to one another. Some people need help learning these truths just as others need help learning to tithe. It's part of discipleship.

Practice the Matthew 18 model of confrontation. Don't talk about them. Talk to them. The crazy thing is they may not even know the damage they are causing.  

Ron Edmondson is the senior pastor of Immanuel Baptist Church in Lexington, Kentucky. To see the original article, go to ronedmondson.com.

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