Is Your Pastor A Bully?

If you have been in ministry for any length of time, chances are you have worked for a bully pastor.

To be honest, I have bullied people at times, so I can speak to both sides of the issue.

My point is the problem is not unique to any particular church.

One definition of the word bully is “use superior strength or influence to intimidate (someone), typically to force him or her to do what one wants.”

The key words here are “intimidate” and “force.”

Ask yourself some questions:

  • Do you feel intimidated by your pastor?
  • Do you work in a threat environment?
  • Are you afraid to ask questions?

If you answer “yes” to these questions, then it is one of two things.

Either your pastor/supervisor is a bully, or you are a fearful person or possibly both.

Many times people that lack confidence will end up working for employers who use intimidation to control people.

My point is both people may have issues that they need to work on.

If you have trouble saying “no,” there is a good chance that you will end up working for someone who does not respect other people’s “no.”

I want to say upfront that while I believe all bullying is wrong behavior, that does not mean you should quit your job just because your pastor is a bully.

There are two types of bullies in ministry, and one is much more dangerous than the other.

This is my story.

I will be very transparent without mentioning any names other than my own. I do not wish to bring further pain to others including those that have wronged me.

My goal is simply to create a straightforward discussion about a subject that is taboo in many circles.

My hope is to help people who find themselves in the challenging position of following an authoritarian style leader.

I was 21 years old when I started in ministry.

I graduated from Bible School and got my first job at a new church. I was promised gas for my car and food to eat.

Everything else I would have to trust God for. Even though I wasn’t paid very much, that didn’t matter. I was serving in the Kingdom of God and that was exciting.

As time went on, there was significant emphasis put on serving the lead pastor.

Preachers that I looked up to would come to our church and teach on “submission to authority” and “God’s armor bearer.”

The thinking goes something like this: God speaks directly to the lead pastor about the vision for the church.

The other pastors are there to help the lead pastor accomplish his vision.

We are simply to carry the pastor’s armor while he fights the enemy.

The pastor is essentially king and we are his servants. If you disagree with the lead pastor, you are to submit to his authority and keep your mouth shut.

While there is some truth in the statements above, they are incomplete.

The scary thing is if you take this thinking to the nth degree, the pastor becomes like God. He is more spiritual than everyone else. Many times these pastors will use their divine connection with the Almighty to bully, intimidate and control their staff. This kind of pastoral bullying is most dangerous because it breaks down your personal relationship with Christ.

If you have more confidence in your pastor’s relationship with Christ than your own relationship with Christ, you have made him to be like God. It is a form of idol worship.

I reached a point where my pastor controlled every area of my personal life.

I was working 12-hour days 6 or 7 days a week. I wanted to take some night classes to continue my education, but he said no.

Twice he told me that the girl I was dating was not right for me, and he made me break up with her.

You may be thinking how could you let that happen? It’s really pretty simple.  I was young and inexperienced.

I loved God and wanted His will for my life. I came to the place where I believed that my pastor was closer to God than I was.

There was a very real fear that, if I disobeyed my pastor, I was disobeying God and I didn’t want to do that.

Here are the red flags to look for:

• Is there more emphasis placed on serving the pastor than reaching the lost?

• Do you find yourself regularly working 60-70 hours a week against your will?

• When people leave your church are they ex-communicated or labeled as a wolf?

• Is the pastor viewed as some kind of a super saint, where he is almost worshipped?

• Is there a way to privately ask a question if you disagree with something?

• Does your pastor control personal areas of your life?

This type of bullying is very dangerous and destructive.

If you find yourself in a church like this, start working on your exit strategy.

Do not try to talk to your pastor and get him to change.

It’s not going to happen. People who gain this kind of power over you do not want to let go of that power.

There is another kind of bully pastor. These pastors are confident and passionate.

They love God and genuinely want to reach people for Christ. It seems that many pastors who have successful churches also have trouble controlling their temper.

Why?  It takes passion (emotion) to build a successful church, and passion can be used positively and negatively.

Eventually I resigned my position at my first church and found my way to a healthy church that was experiencing tremendous growth.

The pastor was a strong leader, but he was willing to listen to different opinions before making decisions.

It was the first time that I worked for a pastor where I felt like he was not only interested in church growth, but he was also interested in my growth.

As the church grew over many years, the pastor eventually added another level of leadership. I was not directly accountable to the lead pastor but to an associate pastor who was over all of family ministry.

This was going along great until I got a new supervisor who didn’t seem to like me.

My new supervisor would regularly lose his temper and humiliate me in front of my peers and the people I supervised.

As you can imagine, this made my job very difficult. I had been in ministry for decades, but I had never experienced a pastor that was just plain mean like this one.

I dreaded participating in Tuesday staff meetings never knowing what verbal assaults were headed my way.

My assessment of the situation was that my new boss didn’t like me and was bullying me to get me to leave. I was determined to stand my ground, do my job well and not be pushed around.

Things came to a head one day when I lost my temper with an employee.

Knowing that my supervisor would hear about it, I decided to be proactive and tell him what happened. I put on my imaginary bulletproof vest as I prepared for another verbal assault.

His response was, “You need to have a healthy fear of me. I want you walking on eggshells every time you come into the office. If anything happens like this again, you are fired.”

To say the least, I was overwhelmed. I had given fifteen years of my life to the church. I had always had good reviews.

Our church was known for an effective kids ministry program where we had people coming from across the nation to learn from what we were doing.

To make matters worse my new supervisor was the pastor’s son.

If I appealed to the lead pastor, he’s not going to side with me against his son. I didn’t see a way out, so I began to prepare my resume.

Then I heard a still small voice, “I don’t want you to quit.”

I began to argue with God, “Lord, this is not fair.”

“Do you have a problem with your temper?” He asked.

“Yes,” I replied, “but his temper is much worse than mine.”

“His temper is not your problem. You cannot control his temper. Your temper is your problem.”

Many times when we are being bullied, we want to change the bully, but we can’t. Nowhere in the Bible does it tell us to practice “other control,” but it does tell us to practice self-control.

I spent a year working on controlling my temper. It was not easy because I had developed some lifelong habits. I looked up all the scriptures on anger and memorized them. There were people I had to go back and apologize to.

One scripture that helped me a lot was, “A fool shows his annoyance at once but a prudent man overlooks an insult.”

We all experience anger. It is a normal human emotion. Anger alerts you when someone has crossed your boundaries, but that does not give you permission to cross their boundaries.

The truth is – anytime you use your anger to intimidate someone or to make him or her pay for what they did, you are being a bully.

Did my boss ever learn to control his temper? Not really. In some ways he got worse. I kept my job for four more years, but eventually resigned.

It reached a point where his venting was affecting my own self-esteem and I moved on.

The bottom line is that the Lord used a bully to get the bully out of me.

I didn’t realize how harsh of a leader I had become. It wasn’t until I experienced the pain of angry words that I understood how my anger was hurting the people that I loved the most.

Sometimes that’s how it works. You may be working for a bully to learn how not to be a bully. That’s what happened with David.

He was working for the biggest bully of them all, King Saul. 

Saul was throwing spears at David, but David didn’t throw them back. Eventually David left but he left alone.

He never tried to pull down Saul’s kingdom even though he knew that Saul was wrong. For David, it wasn’t about payback; it was about what was best for the kingdom.

If you are working for a bully pastor, should you leave?

That depends on what the Lord says. If I were you, I would try to make it work. Most bully pastors just want to be the leader, so let them lead.

The chances are pretty good that the next place you go there is going to be a bully in the organization somewhere, so you will not solve anything by running away.

In summary, this is a verse that helped me a lot in dealing with my supervisor.

“Be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to wrath.”

Mark Harper

Mark Harper

Pastor, Filmmaker and Coach, Mark Harper has over 30 years of experience in the local church. He is the creator of the Super Church 2.0 Curriculum, which is used in over 5,000 churches worldwide. The focus of Mark’s ministry is helping leaders build strong churches and helping parents build strong families.
Not only has Mark served in the local church as pastor, associate pastor, and family ministry pastor but he is also a certified coach with the John Maxwell Team.
Mark Harper

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23 thoughts on “Is Your Pastor A Bully?

  1. KenK says:

    Wish I had this wisdom 30 years ago when I walked into ministry. What an amazing picture of growth. Thanks Mark for being so transparent. Always look to God and be willing to learn.

  2. Irvin Dyck says:

    Thanks Mark. I appreciate your words of wisdom. I worked for one of those type of pastors. I tried like crazy to leave but it was a great learning and growing experience.

  3. Rich Maus says:

    Good post Mark. I came from a situation in a mega church where bullying was the norm. It wore me out. It can suck your life out of you if you let it. My friend that I now labor with has started 18 churches. He has actually pastored brother Big Name’s church as well as being 1 of 4 national directors for a large ministry fellowship. I too will keep names out of it, but we both are well acquainted with these men. Not once during the time that God was dealing with him to start any of the 18 churches did the pastor or “spiritual father” ever agree with him. In fact, they usually told him it wasn’t God or he was missing God big time, usually causing a rift for a period of time. After he started the ones that those over him said wasn’t God, they usually came to him later and said, “sorry, I guess God was in it”. I believe that the reason they didn’t believe that it was God was because God was not dealing with the pastor, he was dealing with my friend. In Romans we are told that as many as led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God. I believe God will deal with you. Your pastor may or may not know that it is God or not. Hopefully he is secure enough to have taught you how to hear God for yourself and will help guide through the spiritual principles and steps, but after many years of ministry I realize that God is probably not dealing with him about your situation. I am not speaking of some kind of lack of submission to authority or rebelliousness, but it seems to me that the writer of Hebrews tried to get over to the recipients of his letter that thought you no longer had to go through a priestly system to get to God. I thought that men and women in 5 fold ministry were supposed to be there to train and equip the people of God. Sadly, it has sort of digressed to the people of God being there for the vision of the pastor only. If you leave, then you are “dead” to them. Not really the gospels and epistles that I read. When I was on staff at the church (for almost 14 years) I received several national awards, was voted one of the top 10 children’s ministries in America and all was good. Then, God began to deal with me to leave and all of the sudden I was the anti-christ. We were lied about, cut off and forbidden to speak to anyone. I didn’t want to cause problems, I just wanted to leave! It was a bad scene. Some pastors are the most insecure people I know. Not all pastors of course, but I have worked with and around many who are. I agree, God wants to deal with me and deal with my stuff even when I am not at fault. I just hope that those called to ministry will learn to hear God for them self while working in a spirit of cooperation and unity.

  4. Dave Beebe says:

    The church has one commandment, John 13:34-35. We all need to be more spiritual – the world is watching us turn against each another.

  5. taradiekmann says:

    Wow! Awesome article! I have worked for some bully pastors it was hard. Your issue you said was a hot temper mine was insecurity I so wanted that dad/father approval. The process was painful but I can confidently say now I know who I am in Christ I am confident in him. I’m glad that that insecurity was delt with so I am no longer an insecure leader. Insecure leaders turn into bullies.

  6. Doug Kruzan says:

    I don’t think the church needs another blog to talk about another Pastor. I think the blog here is good but to have people get on here and basically gossip or write about a pastor I feel is wrong. Most people don’t know the whole situation anyway. I think if we all open up our closets we’ll find skeletons somewhere. Maybe if you’d left out the public figure?

    With that being said as for bullying, I’ve recently worked for a Executive Pastor who used bullying techniques to get his way. He has since been removed from his position.

    • Super Church says:

      Doug,

      I respect your opinion but I disagree.I don’t see people gossiping here about Pastor Mark. I see people talking about their life.

      I mentioned the situation at Mars Hill because it has become a public story in the media. I did not take sides. I have no way of knowing if the accusations are true or not. Before posting I ran the blog by a friend who was part of Mars Hill to make sure I was not offending or disrespecting Pastor Mark.

      I did leverage the Mars Hill story to talk about something that is a real problem in many churches. My heart is to help people that find themselves in what can seem like a hopeless situation. Not sure if you read the blog or not, but it was about my journey and what I learned by working for some difficult leaders. The message of the blog is to stop focusing on changing your leader and focus on the only thing you can change – yourself.

  7. Helena says:

    I have been in that same position….for nearly 21 yrs of ministry…..been there twice….I was hurt and some things were said to me in front the congregation and was made an example to the congregation after I left that ministry….I had put my heart and soul in that ministry and standing along the pastor….I tried to look the other way….but I left after the pastor said some real mean things to mean about my father and I had just lost my dad…..I was crush and hurt….but was rather confused and not wanting to get back into ministry again….then I was asked by another pastor to help in their ministry but was quiet hesitant to get back into ministry again….after what I went thru with the first ministry…..I prayed about it…..told the pastor that I will sit under his ministry for 6 months and see what happens….then I started as children’s ministry director then followed and help in all areas of ministry at this ministry…. It seemed that it will later happen again this second time….putting my heart and into this ministry….after stepping down from ministry and finally left this ministry…..I was hurt again…..I had to put everything and even the pastors in God’s hand….now I’m at a different ministry…..not wanting to get hurt again and quiet hesitant to be involve again….I have learned that being in ministry all these years of how not to treat people and encourage them…..it’s just a very long story….but in the end I had to just let God deal with this situation……

  8. Billy Burns says:

    Great post Mark. These are words needing to be shared with all working in the ministry. Thankfully this isn’t the case with all churches. Vickie and I just left a church after being their children’s pastors for 25 years. We were truly blessed!

  9. Becky V says:

    Thanks so much for sharing your experience Pastor Mark. Having worked at 3 different large churches in the last 10 years as a ministry its helpful to see I’m not the only one who has had to deal with the issue of a prideful or insecure leader. I find that I bully most when I am insecure about my leadership and that trust with the employee, intern or volunteer changes the nature of my response and my emotions going into a tough conversation.

    After leaving an unhealthy situation in 2012, God actually told me to go back and apologize to the leader who was bullying me, it ended up being very smart as our churches interact on a regular basis and even though it was hard to admit blame where I didn’t feel it was deserved having peace and reconciliation between our ministries to advance the kingdom was worth it.

    Thanks for being honest and real- this was very valuable to me.

  10. Edward Gonzalez says:

    Thank you Mark so much for your thoughts they really help. I am currently in this situation where I am an assistant pastor to the head pastor and he is a bully. He treats me an my wife like we are his slaves. Last week he told my wife and I in front of everybody that we were not ready to be pastors. that we had no clue what a pastor really has to go through. This has been going on behind the scene for 2 years and I have tried my best not to confront him and accept in love (He does not respond). My wife and I both feel like he would like us to leave because we will speak up and voice our opinions and he does not like that.

    I am a minister who has to work under him for 3 years to get ordained and I feel like he is telling me I own you in so many words. After his tirade last week my wife left the church and said that is it I have had it.

    I am going to school and the emotional energy that I have to waste on this is affecting my Christian walk.

    I feel like I must either transfer or leave the problem is that my transfer must go through him for his recommendation and he has already said that he in good conscience cannot recommend me (In Public). he sends me rude texts or ignores me, it has me questioning whether I want to be part of a church that would allow this to happen. (I realize the Church Superintendent probably is not aware)

    I am hurt but I want to respond in a Godly manner I feel like my only option is to to quit the ministry, but I feel like if i do that I am letting the devil win.

    I realize that when we get angry we want to respond emotionally but I do not want to do that. He is very well connected in the church but I know someone higher than him and that is God.

    Any advise you can give me would sure be appreciated.

  11. Nicole says:

    Great post. Explains a lot about my Lutheran pastor. Knowing everyone is not perfect I gave her so many chances but she seems to be getting worse. What kind of pastor makes her own congregation cry? Fear them even? I have decided to leave my church but my heart is so torn because it means I’m leaving behind a great family (congregation). The church council is made of 6 body’s. 3 are whom have blinders on and are friend. Where does one go to get help with a pastor who is mean an manipulative? We tried talking to her in witnesses like in Mathew:18 but she flips the conversation. Anyone can help would appreciate it.

  12. Todd says:

    Wow, thanks for posting this. I am going through a very similar situation. I have been yelled at, insulted, and even cursed at. Publicly and privately. I am a part of a charismatic church that professes to be one of the most anointed and glorious churches around. We are a “remnant” church. All that means is that the people are taught that the rest of Christianity is lost and we are the only ones who really “get it”. I used to be just like the people who have hurt me. I was the most zealous, judgemental, and loud Christian you would ever not want to meet. I have been a part of this body for six and a half years. I can definately relate to the God using a bully to destroy the bully in you thing. That is what has happened to me. That part of me that would rise up in anger and say hurtful things to those I care about has completely died. Instead there is a deep wound from where I myself was bullied over and over again. I am thankful for it. As Jesus heals this wound I know I will never be the same. When someone squashes you like a bug when you have done nothing wrong it really changes you. Especially, when you look up to and respect that person. Especially, when that person tells you that they are going to be a father to you. The list of things that I have endured is enough to fill a book. But the main thing I wanted to say is just thank you for posting this. It is a relief to see others who have experienced this and come out better in the end. I am on my way out now. My wife and I are moving away from the church and back to where our families live. I am so excited to be with those that truly love and respect us. I can’t wait to love them back!

  13. Phillip says:

    A website called Parish Hope has information that might help you be brave enough to say something at your church:

    St. Simon and Jude in Huntington Beach, CA is dealing with similar issues. The pastor Fr. Daniel Barica is the one who has been said to be the bully. Parishioners and staff who are upset but will not speak up are actually his enablers. He usually stops talking to people who do say something. Then no one helps them through the emotional abuse this puts on them. Many have left. His sermons and behavior really contradict each other. I know people who have reported him to the bishop of Orange but there has been no change.

    There is so much on the internet about what is going on here. Millennials do not put up with these types of priests like my generation did, so they just leave the church. You would think the bishop would be worried about future donations. Search “Daniel Barica” to see what people are saying.

    More families left after hearing what he said about other religions during this past school year at a eucharistic meeting with the parents. I heard it too. The pastor said any religion other than the Catholic religion is a cult. Can you imagine the reaction from all the non-Catholic parents in the room? To me this is a racist remark because referring to Jews, Muslims and Buddhists as members of a cult is an insulting and hateful comment. Even Lutherans and other Christian religions are cults? I know families who were so upset that they transferred their kids. There used to be a waiting list to get into this school. Not any more.

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