Intersection of Life and Faith

10 Signs Your Church Is Bullying You

  • Lindsey Brady
10 Signs Your Church Is Bullying You

Take a moment to think about the most classic bully. Maybe Johnny from The Karate Kid comes to mind, or Biff from Back to the Future. Personally, I think of the Plastics from Mean Girls.

These are the characters we love to hate. They make you want to stand up and scream, "You can't do that!" at your TV.

As we all know, however, bullies aren't something reserved only for the big screen. There's a high chance you've experienced bullying firsthand during middle or high school. Heck—maybe you were even the bully.

But sadly, bullying doesn't end when you receive your diploma. It can show up in your adult life, and in places you'd never expect—at work, the gym, or even church. And while I wouldn't claim that our churches have a bullying epidemic on their hands, any amount of bullying is too much. The church is intended to be welcoming to all.

So, I've gathered ten of the most common forms of church-bullying. Let's read through these, seriously evaluate our churches, and commit to raising the bar on the way we treat one another.

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  • 1. Passing the Blame

    1. Passing the Blame

    Passing the blame becomes a tempting escape for when things don't go as planned. 

    The church goes over budget because expenses weren't tracked as they should have been? Blame the congregation for not tithing enough. No one shows up to an event whose details were poorly communicated? Blame it on laziness. Women's ministry attendance has been steadily declining for years because they're only given curriculum from that 1970s? Blame it on the lead volunteer for not doing enough.

    If you find yourself on the receiving end of this blame, I suggest first talking to the accusing party. There's a chance that it's all a miscommunication. Explain your point of view. If they continue to pile on the blame, consider bringing in a third party to help facilitate discussion. That doesn't work? You can brush it off and move forward. If it's too big of an issue or becomes a reoccurring problem, consider talking to elders, stepping out of the role (if possible), or even searching for a new church.

     

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  • 1. Passing the Blame

    2. Withholding Information

    Now, don't misunderstand—church leaders deal with a lot. And many times, withholding information isn't bullying; for instance, it isn't wrong if the entire congregation isn't privy to know who's coming in for counseling and why. 

    It becomes bullying is when a person is purposefully withholding information or supplying false information to deceive. This might include telling multiple lies, concealing the truth, lying to get one's way, or creating a false sense of hope with no intention of following up.

    For example, a pastor creates the hope of replacing outdated carpeting and furniture to encourage more generous giving. He, however, doesn't want to replace the carpeting; he just wants to increase giving to the general fund or even a pay-raise.  

    Lies seem extreme when we're talking finances, so here's a milder example. Imagine the moms group wants to host a craft fair, but leadership isn't a huge fan of that event. They don't want to veto the idea outright because it's not the popular opinion; instead, they lie and say that the church calendar is full and therefore the event just can't happen this year. This manipulation is bullying. 

     

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  • 1. Passing the Blame

    3. Criticism

    Raise your hand if you've ever felt personally victimized by Regina George—err—I mean, your church. 

    Ask this question, and more people than you expect might be raising their hands: the teenage single mom who wants to dedicate her baby, only to receive a poignant lecture from leadership about how bad her sins are. The recently clean drug user who can't find a small group to accept him. The ex-con who can't seem to shake the label even though he's been out of jail for decades. 

    The church is a group of flawed people who would be in deep water without the saving grace of Jesus. And honestly, these flaws can include being judgmental. What it all boils down to is being welcoming to all, discerning of position (example: running background checks for children's ministry volunteers), and willing to place criticism aside. 

     

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  • 1. Passing the Blame

    4. Threats and Aggression

    While this is a not-so-subtle tactic of bullying, it can be one of the hardest to escape. 

    When a person feels threatened, notably by a person of leadership, they instantly feel trapped. Even an outspoken individual can find it difficult to react when they're caught off guard, and the aggressor finds validation in his or her behavior.

    Now, I know this seems super intense, but we're not always talking about mafia-style threats here. It could be something as simple as a Children's Ministry director telling his volunteers that if they don't volunteer during the Christmas services, then they aren't invited to the end of year volunteer celebration. 

    While it's difficult, the best thing you can do is stand up for yourself and bring a trusted friend in on any conversations with your aggressor. 

     

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  • 1. Passing the Blame

    5. Shame and Guilt

    In my experience, this is the most common type of bullying within a church. 

    But before we go one step forward, I want to clear one thing up: there's a vast difference between the Holy Spirit convicting someone to repent and a pastor (or another church member) heaping shame and guilt on someone. The former is an essential part of our journey as Christians, and the latter can be a huge roadblock.

    While a good preacher will be able to teach the truth with grace, it's essential to be able to personally discern if a message is filled with shame or guilt. If it leaves you feeling closer to God, seeking a deeper relationship with Jesus, or encouraged that you can grow, then it's a good sermon. If it leaves you feeling worthless, embarrassed to talk with God, or weighed down to the point of inaction, it's time to reevaluate the teaching.

    Remember what Paul wrote in Romans 8:1—"Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus." 

     

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  • 1. Passing the Blame

    6. Turning People Against One Another

    A church should never, ever be trying to set two groups of people against one another. I mean, why would it even want to? But alas, it happens on two different levels.

    First, a person can be turned against another person. For instance, a pastor pulls aside a small group leader and says, "I heard that Jeffrey has a problem with the way you run Bible Study." While gossip is nearly inevitable, perpetuating it is juvenile. Instead of pitting two people against one another, step up and mediate the problem.

    It's even more toxic when the church turns one group against another. Like when they tell Celebration Recovery, "Sorry. We can't give any money to your ministry because we've decided to increase our budget for the church food pantry." While the church elders have the right to decide things like the budget, they don't need to seem like they are playing favorites.  

    Just remember: when in doubt, don't call people out.

     

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  • 1. Passing the Blame

    7. Minimization

    Minimization happens when a person brings forth legitimate concerns only to have them minimized, blown off, or wholly discounted. 

    This can become a huge problem in churches when you have a leadership staff that would rather sweep things under the rug than deal with them head-on. 

    On one end of the spectrum, this could be something like a worship pastor wanting to change the format of worship and the head pastor not taking the time to listen to his proposal. On the other end, this could be something as serious as minimizing a parent's concern of inappropriate interactions between a volunteer and their child.  

    As a rule of thumb, if the issue at hand is a concern to a person in your church, it needs to be listened to and addressed. 

     

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  • 1. Passing the Blame

    8. Exclusion

    This one makes my heart ache so badly. The church is supposed to be a place where everyone feels welcome, included, and a part of something bigger than themselves. 

    But time and time again I've heard the story of people being purposefully excluded from church activities and made to feel unwelcome because of one reason or another. For instance, how many times have you heard of a family who has deep roots in a church, being just short of excommunicated because their son admits his homosexual feelings? What about the family with a pregnant teenage daughter? Or the couple going through a divorce?

    We've all heard the stories. Now let's take a stand from excluding the lost, hurting and the people who are feeling broken. Let's surround them with kindness and compassion to better show Jesus' love.

     

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  • 1. Passing the Blame

    9. Flattery

    While flattery is a way more enjoyable form of bullying, it's still manipulation. 

    "But what's so bad about a compliment?" 

    Honestly, nothing! I mean, who doesn't love to hear great things about what they're doing? But it gets tricky when a person is intentionally using compliments to sway someone into doing something they don't want to do. 

    For instance, imagine a youth ministry volunteer who's expressed concern about having too much on her plate. She tells the youth pastor that she needs to drop down from volunteering twice a week to only once. The youth pastor, not wanting to lose a volunteer, asks her, "Are you sure? You're our number one volunteer and the most amazing asset to the team. I mean, no one can do this job as well as you. You're just too valuable."

    While these compliments are pleasant, it puts the volunteer in an awkward situation. Now, she feels incredibly pressured to stay working a schedule she can no longer sustain. 

    Remember: bullying can even be cloaked in kindness. 

     

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  • 1. Passing the Blame

    10. Intimidation

    Intimidation is a commonly used tactic to prevent someone from acting in a way the bully doesn't want. 

    I have actually experienced intimidation firsthand. One day, I attended an earlier service than usual and took a seat. Shortly before worship began, a senior woman approached me and asked if anyone was sitting next to me. I politely told her it was available. She leaned in close to my ear and whispered, "Good. I'm going to need you to move because my husband and I are going to sit in these two seats." 

    I hesitated as I processed what she said. She leaned back down again and whispered, "And you're not going to tell anyone I told you to move or else." OR ELSE?! Are you kidding me? 

    I was livid. I wanted to react, but I didn't want to be disrespectful. So instead, I succumbed to the woman's intimidation. And you know what? I left church feeling like I didn't want to come back. 

     

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    Lindsey Brady is a brand-new wife and stepmother who loves to spend time in nature or going for long runs. When she's feeling a bit more sedentary, she'll watch an entire season of any Food Network show in a single sitting. You can follow her on Instagram at real.slim.brady.