How Do Churches End Up with Domineering Bullies for Pastors?

"What leadership virtue are we mistaking bullying for? Which trait is such a priority that we aren’t even aware when it is deployed in an ungodly, and biblically prohibited, way? In short, why do we end up with bullies as prominent pastors?" - TGC

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Ed Vasicek's picture

This article is solid and strikes the Biblical balance.  The author does not name names or even imply certain instances of pastoral bullying, but, even without the particulars (and the fact that bullying is a problem in small churches, too, not just the mega-churches), his thoughts are worth contemplating.

"The Midrash Detective"

Bert Perry's picture

The article isolates, appropriately, the notion that in various degrees, a causal factor for pastoral bullying is the notion as pastor as CEO, not shepherd.  I've thought of it as well in terms of the difference between stereotypical cowboys and shepherds; the former drive, the latter lead.  (gross oversimplification; stereotype only)  Think the Good Shepherd, whose sheep know His voice, versus cowboys taking Longhorns from lush pastures in Texas up the fairly desolate Chisolm Trail to Dodge CIty and slaughter.

In a broader sense, this article ought to alert us to the dangers we all face (whether we like the idea of pastor as CEO or not) in absorbing our own culture instead of being transformed by Scripture.  Different cultures will have different dangers.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Craig Toliver's picture

I observe that the most abusive systems are:

  • The single elder pastorate where "the pastor" is the man of God
  • Also the, this is prevalent in the larger baptist churches, the Senior Pastor with a hierarchy of hired assistants
Ron Bean's picture

In my personal experience with bully pastors, I've observed that the majority of the membership is passive. Some may whisper against the pastor but they often feel that they should stay loyal to "their church". As long as his behavior doesn't affect them personally they are content to let him have his way and just "go to church". Some have no idea what to do with the bully and either remain silent or move quietly away. 

"Some things are of that nature as to make one's fancy chuckle, while his heart doth ache." John Bunyan

Jay's picture

...at just how much stuff will be tolerated by church members as long as they can stay in “their church”.  I have seen some absolutely crazy things and people were just so committed that I am not sure they would leave if the building burnt to the ground.

That being said, what really worries me is when I see that level of psychological dependence on the pastor himself.

"Our task today is to tell people — who no longer know what sin is...no longer see themselves as sinners, and no longer have room for these categories — that Christ died for sins of which they do not think they’re guilty." - David Wells

G. N. Barkman's picture

Is that now considered an acceptable reason to leave a church?  (It seems to me that members should rally to keep the church going, and get into new facilities.)

G. N. Barkman

Jay's picture

Is that now considered an acceptable reason to leave a church? 

Um... yes.  If the building is literally on fire, please leave the building in a quiet and orderly manner.  Or maybe not so quietly.  Just get out of it and then you can worry about rebuilding/relocating/etc.

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"Our task today is to tell people — who no longer know what sin is...no longer see themselves as sinners, and no longer have room for these categories — that Christ died for sins of which they do not think they’re guilty." - David Wells

G. N. Barkman's picture

Agreed.  If the building is currently on fire, get out!    (Apparently I misunderstood your intent.  I thought you meant leave a church if the building has been burned down.  My reaction is, NO.  Stay and help it rebuild.)

G. N. Barkman

G. N. Barkman's picture

Perhaps if you had said, "Some people wouldn't leave even if the building was on fire," I would have understood your intent.

G. N. Barkman

Bert Perry's picture

....maybe you stay, maybe you don't.  I hate to bring seriousness to Jay's lighthearted turn of phrase, but there are some times where an adverse event like a church fire ought to generate some thinking about "why did this happen, and does it indicate something about our church culture?".  For example, one time when putting VBS materials away, one of the deacons asked me what I thought of the state of the church attic.  Without thinking it over too much, I answered "it's a fire hazard.".

To his credit, when I came by the next weekend to mow the lawn, that deacon had his 28' trailer loaded with previous years' cardboard VBS decorations taken out of that attic.  But had they not, and had they had a fire without realizing "we helped cause this", that's a level of obtuseness that ought to lead to people saying "I'm not going to go with this leadership anymore."  

Get repentance and understanding, I'm with rebuilding, sure.  But don't ignore that these things have causes.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Jay's picture

Perhaps if you had said, "Some people wouldn't leave even if the building was on fire," I would have understood your intent.

Yeah, I originally wrote it differently and then modified it so it wasn't really clear.  I'm sorry for the confusion, but I do hope you enjoyed the joke.  I didn't intend to be rude or condescending, and apologize if it came across that way.

"Our task today is to tell people — who no longer know what sin is...no longer see themselves as sinners, and no longer have room for these categories — that Christ died for sins of which they do not think they’re guilty." - David Wells