People who delight in causing trouble, running down the church, or creating dissension in the church are known as bullies. They are comfortable only when they are fighting someone. They will either seek an official leadership position in the church or may be powerful without any official positions.
Church bullies start off with a massive ego, an inferiority complex, and some intense jealousy. They seem to be doing their work more furiously today than in recent history and seem like they are determined to create havoc and chaos for certain individuals. If you want to keep peace among your ministry keep reading to learn how to deal with church bullies.
How Can You Identify a Church Bully?
So how do you know if you have a bully on your hands? Bullying at church can be hard to identify, especially if you have a large congregation or people who don't attend every week.
It's part of your responsibility as a church leader to notice church bullies so you can protect the people at your congregation. Here's how to recognize bullying at church, even if it's subtle.
Listen to Other Churchgoers
This one is important. While many churchgoers may do their best to ignore the church bullies and "stay in their lane," this won't be true for all of them. Sometimes word gets around that someone isn't on their best behavior. Try to listen in on church gossip to ensure that nothing problematic is going on.
Some more forthcoming churchgoers may come right to you about their concerns. The problem is likely severe if a bully is disturbing enough to get this kind of response.
The churchgoers may not feel comfortable confronting church bullies on their own. It's a sign of trust that they'd be willing to come to you for help.
The most important thing is to listen to your churchgoers and believe them when they tell you that something is wrong. This doesn't mean that you have to think that the other person is a bully automatically, but you should take the claim seriously to get to the bottom of the problem.
Pay Attention During Service and Events
Ensure that you're keeping an eye on the congregation during church service and various church events. A bully may make themself evident if you know how to spot them.
Look for people whom everyone else is avoiding. It's uncommon for someone to be entirely by themselves during service and events, at least all of the time. This doesn't necessarily mean that this person is a bully, but something to consider.
Try to notice any bad behavior. Does someone appear to be picking fights or talking down to others? Is someone acting outspoken or offensive?
Look for Self-Defined "Leaders"
There's nothing wrong with being a leader. Strong leadership should be encouraged. Some church bullies like to fancy themselves as leaders when they're bossy.
When someone is a leader, they make the people around them feel good and empowered. They're empathetic, and they listen to criticism.
When someone is bossy, they "lead" because they want to control, even if it comes at the expense of the people around them. This person may always want to be in charge of events or try to tell other people what to do while they're at church.
Again, there's a fine line between leadership and bullying. Keep an eye on this person until you decide what side of the line they're on.
Evaluate Their Response to Constructive Criticism
Every adult should be able to handle kind and constructive criticism. If you think you may have identified a bully in church, start by making a casual comment and seeing how they respond.
For example, if they are bossing around other congregation members, correct the behavior right away and see what happens.
While they may respond kindly to you, they may also lash out. It's also possible that they wait until you leave and then take out their frustration on the people around them.
If someone cannot respond well to criticism and they display the other signs of being a bully, you likely have a bully on your hands.
How to Deal with Church Bullies
So, you have a bully in the church. Now what? Do you know how to deal with church bullies?
It's not going to be easy, but you can approach it in a kind and gentle manner to de-escalate the situation. Here's how you can handle bullying at church without having to remove the offending churchgoer.
Have a Clear Code of Conduct (And Repeat It)
It's likely that you already have a basic code of conduct for your churchgoers, but it may have been a while since you talked to them about it. This is a great time to send out a quick reminder.
You may want to modify your code of conduct to include the bullying behaviors at church. Try to avoid leaving any potential loopholes that a bully may use.
When you go over the code of conduct, make sure not to "call out" the bully. This is a subtle way to approach the situation, and most of the time, it will be sufficient as long as the bully is self-aware.
You could even include a specific church bullying policy.
Talk to Church Bullies in Private
If you know who bullying at church, pull them aside after your service and talk to them one-on-one. Try to approach them with a neutral attitude. Remember, you're not attacking the bully, you're just trying to make sure that they know that their behavior is unacceptable.
Some bullies don't know that they're bullies. If this is the case in your church, this might be enough to stop the problem.
Try to bring up specific examples of bullying that you've noticed but make an effort not to call out specific victims or imply that they "told on" the bully. You don't want the bully to retaliate.
Include Relevant Content in Your Sermons
Having a firm code of conduct isn't always enough. You can also incorporate relevant material into your sermons when you know that you have a bully in your congregation.
What can you teach from the Bible when you know that someone isn't on their best behavior? Look into Bible verses about kindness and find ways to work them into your following sermon.
This may be enough to make a bully realize that they're causing harm.
Set a Good Example
Go out of your way to set a good example of kindness, even if it feels disingenuous at times. You can create "mock-up" situations in which you have to respond kindly or handle church bullies.
Perform these situations when you know that the bully is nearby. Ideally, they'll see your example and adopt it.
Bullying in Church Youth Groups: What to Do
Oh, youth group. A youth group is an excellent place for children to stay safe while learning about religion, but children and teenagers are also more likely to be bullies (and more likely to be bullied).
When we talk about how to handle and recognize bullying at church, we can't skip the congregation's youngest members. You have to be careful when you're dealing with younger church bullies.
Remember that these children are still growing, and they may have something going on at home leading to their bad behavior.
Here are a few tips.
Encourage the Bullied Child to "Turn the Other Cheek"
Remember that it is never the responsibility of the bullied child to "tolerate" the bully. You absolutely should talk to the bully one-on-one. However, you will need to speak to the victim while you're doing that.
Comfort the child and listen to their story. Encourage them to "turn the other cheek" and ignore the bully. They need to resist retaliating, even if it's difficult for them to do so.
Talk to the Children About Bullying as a Group
Just as you would with your main congregation, talk to the children as a group about church bullies. You can talk about what bullying looks like and how to respond if you come in contact with a bully.
Don't call out individual children. The bully will often know that their behavior may have triggered this chat.
You'll also lay a good foundation for a bully-free future by talking to the children as a group. Give them pamphlets to take home with them about bullying.
Talk to the Youth Group Bully One-on-One
You will, at some point, need to pull the bully aside and speak to them. Again, remember that you're talking to a child and that they may not know that they're bullying, or they may have something going on at home.
Approach the situation gently. Ask the child if they know why you're talking to them. If they don't (or claim not to), talk to them about the situation that you're responding to.
Ask them why they behaved that way. Encourage them to behave and change their ways.
Take Both Children Aside for Mediation
This is tricky and it isn't always appropriate. Make sure that church bullies are genuinely apologetic and willing to change. You should also make sure that the other child is ready to accept an apology.
Bring the children together and have the bully apologize. Let both children explain themselves and see if they can come to a peaceful resolution.
You don't want there to be too much tension in the youth group, and mediation might be the best way to prevent that.
Talk to the Bully's Parents
If the bully isn't cooperating, you may have to speak to their parents. No one wants to have to do this but changing the bully's behavior is your top priority.
Try to do this gently. Many parents have a hard time believing that their children could be bullies. The child may be on great behavior at home.
Sometimes children who bully come from adults who bully. This could also be problematic during this conversation. Analyze the parents' responses to make sure that nothing seems suspicious.
Most of the time, as long as the parents believe you, this will be enough to stop the bullying problem.
How Do You Ask Someone to Leave the Church?
If, despite your best efforts, the bully is still harassing other people, you may need to ask them to leave the church. This isn't an ideal situation for anyone and it's going to be awkward, so how do you do it?
If you are asking yourself, how do you ask someone to leave the church? Here are a few tips that can make the experience easier.
Start With a Warning
If you're not ready to commit to asking them to leave, start with a firm warning. It might be helpful to put the warning in writing.
Write about the problem and how the person can fix it if they want to stay with the congregation. Make sure that you include a set period of time that they have.
This will hopefully be enough to either have them fix their behavior or encourage them to leave on their own.
Always speak with kindness when you ask the bully to leave your church. Remember, they were a valued member of your congregation and you're sad to see them go, even if they aren't on their best behavior.
Let them know that they can come back if they make amends and adjust their behavior, but otherwise, that they're no longer welcome.
Find Them Somewhere Else to Go
This isn't necessary, but it can help both you and your former congregation member. Find another local church for them.
It's a good idea to warn the leader of the church about this person's behavior. It's not impossible that they'll continue bullying members of the church at their new location.
Giving them a place to go can ease any tension and reduce the risk of them gossiping later on.
Consider Legal Help
If the person isn't leaving on their own, you may need to get legal help. This is a worst-case scenario and it's only for situations in which someone gets violent or belligerent.
Do not be afraid to contact the local police (on a non-emergency line) if the person is trespassing and refusing to leave.