Bullies are everywhere found. One friend of mine entered his first ministry assignment with full heart and eager energy. Serving as a layperson for many years in music ministry, the excitement of a full time opportunity drew he and his family to another state. The church welcomed and enjoyed their new pastor and things flowed well for quite a while. Sadly, my friend discovered that his boss, the senior pastor, was embezzling funds from the church. When confronted, the thief did not respond with repentance. Instead, he fabricated charges of insubordination, deceived the church board and fired my friend.
Another friend in ministry was recruited away from a highly successful youth group he led, to a different church. The board and senior staff greatly admired my friend’s gifts and connection with high schoolers and stated they wanted to see the same thing happen in their youth program. He did that. Unfortunately, the power brokers didn’t genuinely desire to reach the youth of their community, just the ones in their church. When dozens of students started flooding in from nearby schools, suddenly my friend received poor performance reviews, even though attendance numbers went up among the church’s own youth also. They fired him within a few months claiming his philosophy didn’t mesh with theirs. One hundred percent true.
In between full time ministry and building his own insurance agency, my husband sold cars. He quickly rose to the top of the sales chart. One day his boss invited him to a party at his home for a multi-level marketing business he represented. We were already involved with a different competing company and so Ken politely declined. He was fired for “poor performance” two days later even though his sales numbers consistently ranked higher than most of the other salesmen.
Bullies are demoralizing. Whether on a playground, a place of business, a church, or other organization, everyone deals with a bully at some point.
The harassment and bullying Jesus and his disciples received from religious leaders is what ultimately led to his death. Huh. That’s not very encouraging sounding is it?
What can be done when a superior is a bully? How do you know when to turn the other cheek, stand and fight or shake off the dust and leave? I think the answer is simultaneously simple and complex and encapsulated in Zechariah 4:6. “’It’s not by might nor power, but by my Spirit’, says the Lord.” The simple part is, we know what to do with a bully by listening to the Holy Spirit. The complexity is listening to the Holy Spirit.
Sometimes Jesus flipped tables or shouted at demons. Other times he just slipped away from angry mobs without saying a word. How do we know when to do what?
A few observations and suggestions:
- Use the whole counsel of the word to deal with a bully. For example, Proverbs is filled with wisdom for dealing with foolish, evil people. Paul’s writings are also laced with advice on interpersonal relationships. Our problem is not a lack of advice from the Word, it’s a lack of the Word stored in our hearts. God uses the Bible to communicate His ways and methods to us. The Holy Spirit will quicken certain verses for particular situations but only if we read and internalize them.
- God uses bullies to move us. Joseph’s brothers almost bullied him to death. God used their behavior to begin the young man’s journey to destiny. A church who cannot recognize that their senior pastor is a thief and a liar is not healthy. I suspect God hastened my friend’s family out of that place for His reasons. The point is when we are fired, forced to leave or resign a situation, this is no surprise to God. He knows the wickedness of character in those around us and will use it for His purposes.
- If you stand and fight, be certain you are standing on THE Firm Foundation. A number of times, disgruntled people in our church tried to run Ken and I off with falsehoods presented to our denominational leadership. We stood our ground for two reasons. First, and most important, God withheld any peace about leaving, even though our flesh wanted to flee, kind of like Gideon. He supplied us with strength to keep our anger righteous, not sinful. He supplied wisdom to discern spirits and motives. Secondly, our denomination leadership supported us %100. Each time, they advised the verbal bullies to leave, which they did.
Fighting back a bully can be a bloody business, so be certain the Lord is in your corner, sanctioning the fight, before you go into the ring.
- Keep your heart and motives pure. If your secret desire is to see a bully destroyed, God won’t honor that. In fact, He might just let them trouble you more. I wonder if He would have allowed David to run longer from the bully king, Saul, if David allowed hatred and vengeance in his heart? After all, he was the rightful, anointed king, treated horribly by a lunatic with power. Remember, God loves the bullies too. Keep your heart pure, as David did, towards your persecutor. Forgive them however many thousands of times you need to, to keep your hands clean.
If you are in a tough situation right now, bury yourself in the Word so God can feed you wisdom, insight, discernment and understanding. Listen, then obey. Allow God to deal with other’s reactions and whatever consequences occur.