Posted by: Botolff | September 20, 2009

Bullies in the Ministry

Corey and I have heard dozens of stories from ministers who have been forcefully terminated from their ministry positions.  In line with the statistic listed on “The Report” page of this site, we have found that the majority of the ministers we have spoken with were terminated as a result of relational conflicts with people in the ministry.  Some of those conflicts were with the people who had the power to terminate us, and some were with people who just had louder voices, or were craftier in their story-telling of why we were such a problem. 

When one person, or a group, makes the decision to swiftly cut another person off from their position and often community, except for the cases when abuse is clearly taking place (and even then it requires investigation), it is obvious that people are trying to protect themselves, their position, their image, etc.  They are too afraid to face the consequences of their own failings and/or inability to relationally engage the situation.  Thus, they get rid of the evidence of their own problem.  It’s an act of cowardice. 

When someone heeds the voice(s) of another person or people, without also heeding their own internal voice of curiosity and reason, that too can be an act of cowardice.  We have heard a few stories from ministers who were in conflict with someone in their ministries, and the leadership (and often the congregation) unwaveringly and uninformedly supported the person/people the minister was in conflict with.  At times it was even done believing that the leaders were “protecting” the other person or the congregation.  In a very small number of situations, that may have been true.  In most cases, it turns out the leadership was just protecting themselves.

Where am I going with this?  We have a bully problem in some of our ministries.  There is a bully or two, or a few, that have decided how they want things, and they are going to defend their own position or personal dysfunctions (and even recruit others to help) no matter what the cost is to some people.  Maybe the bully is a pastor, other people in leadership, or common lay workers/congregants.  Sometimes it’s obvious there is a bully, but other times it is not.  There are bullies who yell and sneer, and then there are bullies who put on a pleasant seductive “Christian” face until their comfort zone is threatened and they snap.  But snapping doesn’t necessarily include huffing and puffing and yelling.  A lot of bullies have learned how to quietly shame, blame and make their victims pay a severe price with very few people knowing.  I would say the latter happens more often in the case of many forcefully terminated ministers.  As “The Report” page notes, it’s a form of passive aggressive behavior, which translates to abusive or bullying behavior. 

Bullies have learned how to attract a lot of attention, and create an obvious or quiet fear that keeps people from pointing them out.  Some bullies have found a way to seduce people into “caring about” and protecting them; by the way, this is more common with female bullies because men don’t often draw out the same protective nature from people.  But the bottom line is that bullies don’t really care about other people.  Their primary concern is themselves.  And those of us who find ourselves supporting bullies really care more about ourselves in those moments as well, because we are more afraid of being hurt than of doing what’s right. 

It won’t be until we face our own shame that we will stop bullying, or stop supporting those who are.

Next post for sure…”What do I do with shame?”



  1. Thank you so much for this site. All my life I have had a strong love and respect for God. Yet I seen so much ! I couldn’t understand why or how people who claim to have that same value could be so hurtful. I struggle with this to the point of avoidance from the church . I have recently read scriptures from your site that seem to be pointing me in the right direction. Thanks it is very uplifting

  2. Thanks for commenting Stephanie. Claims and actions can often be so very different huh? Best to you as you contemplate what it means to be near or far from the “church.” Jamie

  3. Thank you so much for this website and your podcasts. I’ve been struggling with my own experience of being hurt by church leadership, not understanding how and why this could happen. Then I found you. Listening and reading your information has helped alot. Particularly about the dysfunctional church and bullies in the ministry. Female bully behavior. Passive-agressive behavior. It makes more sense now – a terrible sense, but understanding what’s going on is the first step in dealing with it. Thank you!

  4. Judith,

    Thanks for your words. I’m glad the blog has been helpful for you. Sounds a bit painfully so. And I agree… a “terrible sense” it is. I think that’s why we work so hard not to understand, not to see. Because if we did, I think we would be horrified, and everything about us wants to run from that horror like running from hell that’s in it. But without seeing and understanding, there is no healing; which ironically seems to perpetuate the very hell we think we want to get away from so badly.

    So, for the sake of your healing, and other’s, I’m glad you’re gaining more understanding. Hoping courage and strength for you.

  5. Very interesting piece. Bullies have been my thorn in the side since kindergarten. I have grown up under their abuse, and am somehow still alive to tell my story. I’m not surprised at all to find this kind of behavior in religion; they exist in every one, believe me. I am not Christian, and I have no problem with other Christians. It’s the ones that use their religion as a weapon to threaten and intimidate you into converting. You might want to look up the name Tempest Smith, and what happened to her because of religious bullying. I am pleased that you see your faith with open eyes and thoughtfulness. We need more of that in this day and age.

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