Tag Archives: confrontation

Bullying, the church is not immune, too often it’s the passive-aggressive kind.

Thom Rainer has become one of my go to guys in Christian church research and he has really hit on the theme of church bullying. I have some personal observations to offer, that Rainer is pretty right on with his observations.

First, I have spent most of my professional life in the world of corporate finance and military. Yea, there was bullying, but… when it comes right down to it, it really wasn’t tolerated. Frankly, I’ve seen far more bullying in government, public schools (no not just students), unions and other not for profits and ya, even churches. Let’s face it, more passive types of environments generate more fear and more boundary guarding. The perspective in these environments is that there is only so much to get and you have to just grab for all you can. It’s an attitude that is just not tolerated in the private sector and I have twenty years, or the military 29 years. There’s too much to do and too much to earn and too much at stake for people to be quibbling as you see in the other sectors of society.

Full disclosure, the town we moved to when I was ten years old, was the home of Rocky Marciano, the only undefeated heavy weight boxing champion of the world, he had died that same summer. Also,  I grew up with Marvin Hagler a middle weight world boxing champion. The culture was very much boxing and football. And yea, I was relentlessly bullied from sixth grade until about tenth. But I dealt with it, created my own niches, played football, not well, but stood up for myself, i.e. if you want to bully me you will pay a price, and overcame it. So if I have a personal sensitivity to bullying, I will stipulate to that, but it doesn’t make the bullying any less that’s going on now, especially the more pernicious “passive-aggressive” bullying we so see much of today.

The distressing thing about bullying is that it’s not just about throwing punches, overt insults, just over the top actions. There is very much passive-aggressive bullying. Now I don’t have a lot of experience with it, although it seems to me that it’s a way of life for way too many in the church. Seminary professors and staff, pastors and church goers, it seems to be the preferred go to and it’s often an effort to generate active push-back which ipso facto, become evidence of aggressiveness on the part of the person who is really innocent and is being goaded by the passive-aggressive behavior, just an effeminate way to avoid the real issue. Seems that for those in academia, church, not for profits, other rather passive sectors, a profound inability to actually confront issues and actively resolve them and prefer the passive-aggressive, a clearly more effeminate means of bullying. So yea, those in these sectors, especially in academia, all levels, who like to pat themselves on the back as to how they are so unaggressive, no, it’s really more about your inability to confront and resolve issues. One reason most of you wouldn’t last in professions that require results is that you’re not really interested in the results, you’re simply interested in maintaining your little fiefdom.

So, ya, I’ve been victimized by church bullying also. Interesting findings though, when you do actively confront those who are trying either the active bullying or the passive – aggressive you usually end up with the proper/positive result and you usually tear down someone’s little bastion that they’ve been bullying people from, probably for years.

So the moral of this is you do have to actively confront, no it won’t be pleasant, and yes, people are going to see you as mean and nasty, but in short order people will realize that the confrontation was necessary and it allowed everyone, the organization, to move along. I’m not saying fist fights, yelling screaming, although it might come down to some animated discussion, but it has to be done.

I’ve seen it a few times now that churches really do tolerate the bullying, aggressive and passive-aggressive. Of course the issue in the church is to be nice. Not to really stand up and do what’s necessary, but to be nice and everyone should “understand”, in other words, a sort of effeminate, passive way of handling issues, which translates, they don’t get resolved.

Interesting because in my experience with church bullies of both stripes, while everyone is supposed to indulge them, they’re not the least bit concerned with anyone else or how the church is supposed to function. It’s either the status quo, i.e. them in charge, regardless of how deep they’ve run the church/organization into the ground, to their benefit or else they will do what they can to blow things up. How that will effect anyone else, the church’s image in the community up to and including the national church, non-believers perception of the church, on and on, doesn’t matter to them, it’s their way or the highway.

I certainly stipulate to the fact that the process of “debullying” will also cause discomfort for the current members and church leadership, up through to the national church, there also needs to be recognition for all concerned that if this person is creating a negative environment for those immediately concerned, the impact has to be huge on prospective members. They certainly do see the bully, whether overt or passive-aggressive, they see the nonsense this person causes (it can be a man or woman), the lack of focus and results of the organization and quickly realize that they just don’t need that kind of grief. That person’s agenda is only about maintaining the status quo and they will bully who they have to in one or even both ways in order to maintain their status quo. If that results in the failure of that church, in all respects of failure of a church, well, either bully will say that it was obviously someone else’s fault.

While leaders at different levels may not appreciate the upheaval, there clearly needs to be pro-active action towards those who are bullying and are at least partially responsible for the hard downward trend of the church overall. Should also remember that church leaders, all the way to the top, really have little, if any, training or experience in dealing with leadership and will usually default to what they’ve seen in the church for the decades that the church has been their only environment, i.e. passive-aggressive bullying by everyone.

Rainer lists out the ways to identify the bully, I’m taking them a little out of order, because I think this indicator is my indicative of the rest. “They are famous for saying ‘people are saying'”. When you confront them as to who, when, “oh well they asked me to keep that confidential”. You start doing your own checking around and don’t find anyone else saying anything about the perceived compelling “issue” of the bully. Rainer goes on to say; “They love to gather tidbits of information and shape it to their own agendas.” Another personal observation is a lack of discipline, they’ve never really done anything that requires discipline, they’ve blown off any kind of school, military, serious business environment, nothing in their background indicates that they really can plan out, execute and work with people to carry out a necessary plan.

Rainer says that they will tell you how much they love you, the pastor, but so long as you’re toeing their line. They do have strong personalities, but as Rainer points out, that does not necessarily make a bully. They are highly opinionated and all that entails. It’s their way or no way, so just turn to and get moving on their directions. It’s interesting because so many of these bullies really have no idea what they’re talking about, they don’t have any real training, experience, to make the decisions they’re making, they’ve never felt the need because they’re not going to listen to anyone about anything, unless it’s another bully. They do seem to respond to being bullied and roll over pretty easily to an overt bully. They build unhealthy alliances, frankly in a church? The Body of Christ is one, if you have any kind of alliance going on, it’s by definition “unhealthy”. They gossip, work in the dark, have been to many churches.

In addition to “people are saying”, they of course don’t see themselves as bullies. Again they’ve never had to function in a “results oriented” environment, they’re amateurish attempts and attitude are all about how it’s everyone else’s fault, and even that they’re being somehow unfairly persecuted. Of course their, usually, uninformed agendas, forming alliances particularly among weaker members, they tend to have intense and emotional personalities (yes, more feminine emotions, versus being able to rationally address issues), they are usually part of mediocre/low expectation churches (i.e. the go along church, easier just to take it then deal with issues).

Rainer has a number of suggestions, but I want to insert a personal observation, especially if I might be coming across a little belligerently, I am not suggesting that anyone look for or pick a fight. But before push comes to shove you have to confront the bully and either exercise discipline or make it difficult for him/her to stay. Hey better someone else puts up with their nonsense and allows you to do genuine ministry. I have a downtown church where people have real issues and there are a lot of them. I don’t need a self – appointed enforcer making my ministry impossible and continuing to destroy, at least, this Christian church. To continue with Pastor Rainer;

  • “seek to have an Acts 6 group in your church.” Basically a group that will address “murmuring and complaining” in the sense of the Greek widows not being cared for.
  • “Have a high expectation church”, quit with the mediocre thinking, the cowering, whimpy safety in the herd mindset. Let’s start doing some real ministry and making some real effort.
  • “Encourage members to speak and stand up to church bullies”. No more playing, if you’re not about the mission of the church and moving to true discipleship and Christian integrity, you don’t have a place here.
  • “Make sure the polity of the church does not become a useful instrument to church bullies.” “Many churches have ambiguous structures and lines of accountability… Bullies take advantage of the ambiguity and interpret things according to their nefarious needs.”
  • “Be willing to exercise church discipline”. My church has excommunication and in the case of a bully, they are certainly guilty of being divisive. Not that they had an honest disagreement or working for the best interests of the church, but disciplined because of their attempts to pit people against each other and create divisiveness.
  • “Have a healthy process to put the best-qualified persons in positions of leadership in the church.” Bullies angle for power, create buffers against that possibility. Jesus’ church deserves the best, most qualified, those who will act with Christian integrity, not those who are playing political games.
  • “Have a healthy process to hire church staff. “
  • “Encourage a celebratory environment in the church.” I would go on to say a pro-active, striving for high ideals and goals with true Christian integrity. A bully is the person who keeps trying to drag that down to his/her level and mature Christians recognize such a person and start to isolate them from the rest of the congregation that is healthy.

I’m really not trying to be contentious and I’m not encouraging anyone to go out and pick fights. But on the other hand it is the pastor’s responsibility to create a positive, uplifting church that is responsible to Christ to grow as the Body of Christ. Allowing such people to undermine the church and it’s mission for their personal satisfaction and ego gratification is irresponsible on the part of the pastor, the pastoral hierarchy above the pastor, the rest of the church governance and all genuine Christians. We are not, as Christian disciples, entitled to surrender the church who will undermine it for their own purposes.

Discipling means to confront and challenge, not to shrug you shoulders and say “whatever”.

On a personal note, I reached 5,000 views. I know that to many of you that’s kind of chump change, but I jumped that hurdle and want to mark it in this blog.

Now that I’m over that, I really want to do this blog, but I need to do a disclaimer, this is almost verbatim from a podcast (Insight for Living Feb 11, 2015), but it’s so good, and frankly something I’ve been wrestling with and that we really need to apply in all our lives. So you should buy Swindoll books, listen to the broadcasts, but in the meantime, I’m going to put it out there and I pray that you take it to heart.

“…there is  no where in the Bible that says “live and let live'” [or let die for that matter] or “whatever” or “you leave me alone, I’ll leave you alone”. Jesus never promoted that message. No one ever loved like His love, he never just shrugged his shoulders when one of His disciples was moving in the wrong direction. He confronted it. Why would he confront it? Why would confrontation be that essential? It proves that we love someone. Because we love someone we care for them, about them. We care about their welfare. Because we care there are times when we must say how much we care and occasionally it’s a confrontation.”

[Samuel confronts David about Bathsheba. A lot of people were affected by this, so please don’t give me that lame “victimless crimes, or actions”, that’s the biggest copout ever. There is just no such thing. There are always other people who suffer as the result of sexual misconduct, drug abuse, divorce, and just because it’s not a crime, does not mean that misconduct doesn’t hurt/affect others. In David’s case his children and wives were profoundly affected, at the time and later. The baby conceived by David and Bathsheba died. Certainly Uriah was affected. There were many people, David’s subjects, who were directly affected by the events of just this one occurrence of sexual misconduct and were caught up in the consequences – mine]

“Good physicians confront their patients when they’re involved in unhealthy habits, we expect them to. Good coaches confront sloppiness, laziness. Parents confront misbehaving kids [well they should-mine]. Bad attitudes need to be confronted.

Our best friends, in the best way, confronting us over our bad ways.

It’s not about control or trying to be smarter, it’s about seeing someone you care about harming themselves and, usually, causing harm to others. Confrontation ought to be with tears, never with pride, never with joy. Your heart is broken and because it’s broken you have to say something, especially because you care about that individual. Confrontation is love in action, caring about another’s welfare, helping someone realize they’re headed for trouble or danger if nothing changes and the proof of your love is that you will not look the other way. It’s not for control.”

[I have no interest in controlling, or unless necessary, knowing. I really don’t. That is just not what I’m about or most pastors are. We are about the Gospel and helping people to move on from their issues. We all have issues. But a big part of the job and expectations of others is that we have to help people confront and overcome. Like it or not, it will be through the power of the Holy Spirit, but there are times that are just so profoundly difficult that we need help to overcome them in order to refocus on Jesus. That’s what pastors are for. As a Lutheran pastor, anything you discuss with me is under the “seal of the confessional”, I cannot even discuss that I talked to you. Whatever anyone tells me, they have full confidence that it will not be discussed in any other context. Once that discussion is over, I do not treat you or act any differently to you. This is confrontation also, you are bringing me your issues and trusting me that I’m there to confide in, to confess and repent and to be absolved. I don’t really want to get into it, but I do want to serve you and help you to deal with it. But wow, what would the world look like if we were all trying to reach our greatest potential in Jesus, instead of “gimme, gimme, I want”? Let’s deal with the issue of confronting and not just sitting back and letting others suffer in sin or as a consequence of sin. And we can certainly tell when someone is confronting us in love versus when they’re trying to control us- mine]

“The difference in confronting someone because they need to hear it and trying to control someone to become like you, should be a gentle experience, not shameful. Some day you might fall to the same sin. Proverbs 27:6 “Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses.” The Hebrew says faithful are the bruises. Proverbs 20:30 “Blows and wounds scrub away evil, and beatings purge the inmost being.'” 

“…God loves too much to let them get away with doing such things [or how about the one who says “heck with you”, goes off does what they want, gets in trouble and come back expecting you to help. Not asking or looking for forgiveness.Their attitude usually being that somehow it was your fault, I might have gone out and done something stupid, but you have to fix it. But we do need to remember that our goal for them and us, is that we become more like Christ, not to squeeze them into our mold. But yes there will be consequences, and maybe I don’t want to suffer actual or vicarious consequences with you? -mine]

“What is necessary is lots of prayer, waiting for the right time and speaking the truth in love. Ephesians 4:15: “ Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ.'”

If you can do it without tears then you probably ought not to do it. If it’s painful for you realizing the wrong that’s going on and others are being or will soon be harmed. Sometimes a pastor who needs to be confronted, whose conduct would damage the Body of Christ. Love must often do the unpleasant. Remember a moment of confrontation, how painful it was. The goal of confrontation is restoration, not condemnation [as is ex-communication, the keys Jesus gave the church.-mine] It is help to get the person back on track so their lives will count for Christ.”

“We don’t go into confrontation to ‘set somebody straight”. You go in with fear and trembling and you’re going to use God’s words on a delicate, but sinful issue. King David as the example; leader, warrior, poet, musician, [He wrote most of the Psalms]. He had a way of winning your heart. But he also understood that he had to be confronted over his sin.

Will you fight?

Really interesting  question. Even if you will fight, do you really know how. The question is prompted by Kelly McCann writing in BlackBelt Magazine (Oct/Nov 2013 pp 28-29). Kelly is a former Marine officer and martial arts expert. He raises a great question he’s perfectly capable of fighting and he, undoubtedly, would do it ably.
I know, this isn’t a subject that most people want to answer and certainly not confront. I’m not asking this question to be somehow  provocative, maybe I am asking you to take a hard look at yourself and maybe think about your courage, integrity and faithfulness. Ya, I know, not exactly polite, hey I’m a pastor, I’m not a politically correct pastor, and frankly I’m not always looking to be popular. One of the pastor’s creeds is “to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable”, if I’m not challenging you, if I’m not pushing you to question and grow, especially in terms of being a Christian, then really I’m not doing my job. This isn’t to get up in your grill, it is intended to confront yourself.

I have had to take on fights, some of them actually physical, some of them emotional but it felt as traumatic as physical (with some of them frankly I would have preferred getting punched in the head. There are times when I’ve felt prepared for a fight, but as Vince Lombardi (and maybe General George Patton) once said, “fatigue makes cowards of us all”. Normally I would have “picked up the gauntlet, but weighing the importance of the issue to my physical condition, I have decided to punt on occasion and walk away. As someone who has been trained to fight, and instruct others, one of the first things I will tell people and I’ve heard this from professionals, such as MMA combatants, in a physical confrontation, if you have a way to escape, do it. There’s a lot of reasons why, but I want to talk about the times that are important and what is “important”. You might have to actually wade into physical danger, you might be the difference between death of serious injury, what would you do. Coast Guard training taught me, you’re always thinking about your options, you’re always considering what is going around you, what to take advantage of and what to avoid.

As a pastor, my main concern is whether you will stand and fight for what is ultimately important. Down through history Christians have confronted the choice of denying Christ or standing up for what is the best, what is eternal, what really matters. A very discomforting fact for most Christians is that there were more martyrs for Christ in the 20th century then in the first 19 centuries of Christendom, combined. Granted for most Americans that is not really an imminent threat, but the challenge to most Americans is ostracism, marginalization, disdain, ridicule. For most of us who are rather obsessed with our dignity and being respected, these are tough obstacles, as I said, we might prefer a good smack in the head. On the upside and much more importantly is the reassurance Jesus gives us when we do stand up for what is right, especially when we, as Christians, stand up for Him: ESV Matthew 5:11- 12 “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” People who really matter, have gone through so much more, then you probably ever have or will have.

Captain McCann writes: “The biggest compliment I can give anyone is “He’ll fight” or “She’ll fight”. It may sound trite or one-dimensional, but it’s far from that. People too often say about others, “Of course they’d fight.” But it’s been my experience that a lot of people won’t fight. They may train but still won’t when attacked. My point is that knowing 1,000 techniques doesn’t replace the need to simply fight.” Many times a Christian will run away from a fight because they don’t feel prepared, or that the other person knows more, or frankly they just don’t have the faith. Jesus told us: “ESV Luke 12:11 And when they bring you before the synagogues and the rulers and the authorities, do not be anxious about how you should defend yourself or what you should say, for the Holy Spirit will teach you in that very hour what you ought to say.” (Luke 12:11-12 ESV). I’ve had that experience, I genuinely felt that I was given the words. More then one occasion I found out, through the “discussion”, that the person really didn’t know what they were talking about. Perhaps the Holy Spirit used that “discussion” to convict the person. I didn’t have anyone come to Christ with what I said. But we never know how the Holy Spirit uses our words and actions. I’d love to be that person’s pastor, but if they come to Christ and go to another church because of the words the Holy Spirit gave me, well the ultimate outcome for anyone is to be led by God to salvation. I have never really had a negative experience jumping into the “fight”, witnessing for Christ. If anything I would say that much like taking on a physical challenge, the feeling was of some degree of exhilaration. I truly felt that I had been used by the Holy Spirit.

So why don’t we “fight”? Captain McCann notes: “Fighting can be scary because of the consequences: there’s pain involved, and you can be hurt or killed. But if you’ve inured yourself to those things through intense training and visualization, the act of fighting becomes much easier.” I’ve gotten some of my best whacks playing basketball, ironically. After I realized I survived the elbow to my face and to the top of my head, again there was an exhilaration, and of course just as importantly a great war story. I was involved in a case where the air temp was zero and the wind chill was 70 below. Didn’t enjoy it at the time, but it’s a great story now. Those “stories” that I get to share, ok, ya, there is more than element of bragadacio, which is not really where you want to be. But it’s also for the benefit of those listening. “Wow, I can fight, I can survive and not only that, but God will give me that exhilaration, that knowledge of knowing that I have served the Kingdom. That I may have been used by God for Him to lead someone else to salvation in our Lord Jesus.”

There is simply nothing better, being a servant of the Kingdom, we even have the promise of building treasure in heaven. (2 Corinthians 4: 6-7) Not just through our giving, but also serving “to give light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.”

What about preparation? In physical fighting? Yes, of course, as much as possible, but there could be times when you have to confront and you don’t feel prepared. You’re never going to be be prepared as well as you could be, you just may have to confront anyway. In physical confrontations you may have to back off, that’s a whole separate discussion, but in terms of Christ? “For such a time as this”, to quote Esther. She probably wasn’t as prepared as she could be, but in faith she went before the king. Do not doubt that the Holy Spirit has you in this time and place for a reason, He will guide you as Jesus promised. He will also guide your reaction, sometimes you do have to push back, sometimes you do have to be compassionate, sometimes you will have to challenge, lots of times you won’t be sufficiently preparedImage. We see Jesus in all these types of situations, He is faithful and will lead you where He wants you. Yes, it would be nice to be all correct and polite, but sometimes that’s not what the situations demands. If He’s leading you in a way He’s doing it for His purpose and glory, and He calls us to be faithful. So sure, seek out training, not just for yourself, but for you to train others, be a good disciple

So, will you fight? Is the Holy Spirit leading? You don’t have to look for fights, you don’t have to be pugnacious, usually, you don’t have to be obnoxious, but you do have to be faithful and sometimes being faithful means stepping up to the fight. To quote Nike, just do it.