How do you deal with bullies in the church, workplace, community, even in your own family?
1. Recognise what a bully is.
– They are someone who uses their perceived strength to pick on people that they see as weaker than themselves in order to benefit themselves.
– This means that we can identify different ways in which a bully can use their strength. It may be about physical strength but not always. Other ways in which bullies use their power to manipulate and control others include financially when someone is dependent on them, emotionally when loving people are afraid of how they will react, intellectually and spiritually when they use perceived superior knowledge or spiritual status to get what they want.
– A bully may hold influence over individuals and a group -they think that they can set the agenda either by pushing people faster than they can go or trying to hold everyone back, slowing things down. They do this not because they see the needs of the group or the goal of the group but because it suits their agenda.
– A bully is an idolater. They seek to turn worship away from God to themselves. They usurp and take authority that does not belong to them.
All of this means that we should never make light of bullying even when it isn’t obviously physical.
2. Exegete your own heart
– We all have the ability to bully. How do I treat others? What is my motive? How do they respond to me? Do they live in fear? Are people guilt-driven or grace motivated as a result of knowing me?
– We may be making decisions because we are being bullied. When we do this, we are idolaters too. That’s tough language but remember about how we have often talked about the way that the things we fear are the things that become our idols. When we give in to bullies, we give them authority that belongs to God.
– The cure for bullying both for those of us who find ourselves being bullies and those who find ourselves bullied is the Gospel. I do not need to fear men because I find my hope, security, identity and joy in Christ alone.
3. Bullies need to be confronted
– We often try to appease bullies but this just results in them coming back for more. Think about how the loan shark never accepts a payment as the final settlement
– Most leaders don’t really like confrontation. Confrontation zaps energy and many church leaders face enough confrontation in the workplace. They would like somewhere that is more peaceful.
– Following on from that, being willing to confront does not mean that we have to be confrontational. This is not about personality but about being ready to tackle a problem face on.
– We should not get sucked into their games. They will try to manipulate you into pointless arguments and try to catch you out by provoking anger in you. Bullies love to play the victim.
– The confrontation we seek is not between us and them but between them and the Gospel. Just as in every other pastoral situation we need to come back to the Gospel.
4. Sometimes you need to make it easy for bullies to leave
– Our heart’s desire is to see their heart changed but it may not happen with us. If we think we can do it then we may risk becoming the bully to them.
– I’ve learnt from several older and wiser pastors that in church life you focus on who you want to keep. This means church life is prioritised around how you disciple and care for those people. Our focus is on seeing people who don’t know Christ come to know him. Our desire to see people who are hungry for God and his Word to stick with us and grow in Christ. We focus on them not on trying to keep the bullies. This does not mean that we put together a list of the people we don’t want to keep and try to force them out. It means that we put our priorities elsewhere and make sure that an exit as well as an entrance is kept open. This is not least so because the bullying behaviour may come out the fact that the person feels trapped themselves.
Practically in church life we’ve had to confront bullies from time to time. In some cases the nature of things has meant that there had to be church discipline leading to them leaving the church. In other cases, we have simply made it easy for the person to leave. Those occasions are often deeply painful because we don’t like letting go, we desperately want to see a positive gospel outcome and if we are honest because it makes us feel like failures.
Yet even in painful situations, we can see God at work as we become more dependent upon him and his sovereignty. We submit to his authority knowing that he will never bully or manipulate .
I believe this is a significant challenge in church and work-life. I’ve opened up the comments below as others may wish to chip in with comments, experience and additional advice. If you wish to get in touch confidentially for prayer/advice about a situation, please feel free to use the contact form.