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16 Sep '12

Those who get their way though intimidation in the church

Posted by T.J. Addington in bullies, leadership styles, unhealthy leaders
Intimidation is a great way to get your way in church settings, mainly because most people are conflict adverse and don't want to go head to head with people who are bullies in their tactics. Bullies are no different in the church than in other arenas of life - their tactic is simple: intimidation.

Online Your Dictionary defines it this way: "To frighten into submission, compliance or acquiescence." It is the use of force of personality to get one's way because one is too intimidated to go up against them. By they way, those who do this know exactly what they are doing They know they are trying to force others to agree with them or to a decision or direction they want. Bullies have learned over time that they can bully others into submission.

In church settings, this intimidation may well have a spiritual veneer wrapped around it. Often, the bully will underhandedly bring a few other key voices into his/her circle in order to strengthen their case. Sometimes those they bring in are more vociferous in their tactics than the one who influenced them in their direction which is why one often needs to ask the question, who is the voice behind the voices when common issues are being voiced by several.

Whenever you have one board member who can effectively veto decisions of the board as a whole you have a bully. Whenever there is someone in the church who can veto decisions of the board, you have a bully. In case you feel the word "bully" is not gracious, Paul calls them "wolves" in Acts 21. This kind of behavior ought to be illegal in the church.

Here is something to know about bullies. They play unfair because they have learned that it is how they can get their way which is what bullying is all about - getting their way. What is also true is that when they are confronted on their behavior they get very nervous because at their root they are often insecure people which is why they use dysfunctional means to get their way and bully others. When confronted they will often back off quickly. 

At the board level, one prevents this behavior by a board covenant which does not allow unhealthy behaviors to prevail and when they do it gives them permission to remove the offender from the board.

At the congregational level, the loud, intimidating voices must be met by reasoned response from others who are willing to take them on. Congregations often assume that the loud voices represent a large faction of the congregation when in fact, they usually represent a very small faction (often just themselves) and when another person with courage challenges their position the congregation understands that there are others like themselves out there who have a reasoned position. To let people make loud, intimidating and obnoxious statements without a measured response is irresponsible.

Where it is clear that one has a divisive individual in the congregation it is up to the leaders to confront the individual's behavior and make it clear that it is unacceptable. Most bullies last as long as they do because no one has the courage to confront them. This is wrong.

Paul mentions three kinds of wolves the hurt the flock in the New Testament: The wolf of heresy, the wolf of ongoing unrepentant sin and the wolf of division. We do pretty good on the first two but the most common wolf in the evangelical world - division - is one that we usually don't deal with well. And it does our congregations a great deal of harm. 

In one church I am very familiar with, the board, congregation, district leaders and denominational leaders were unwilling to deal with a wolf of division which led to two decades of division within a congregation. Think of the pain because of a failure of courage. 

Bullies and intimidators don't like accountability. Putting into place measures that bring accountability and then following through is the best remedy for dealing with them. Give them their way and they will disempower and destroy a congregation.