Leader vs. Bully


Resist the BullyOver the last few years, I’ve seen a lot written about leadership in the church. A quick Google search reveals an abundance of websites geared toward promoting leadership in the church. The question is why do we have such a perceived lack of leadership?

A long drive afforded me the opportunity to think about the leaders that I have encountered both in my career and in churches. Or, more specifically, I was thinking about situations where leadership was required but was lacking. I’ve seen good and bad leaders in both the church and in industry. Lack of leadership is not a church specific problem.

A leader is one who has an idea of where he wants to take the organization. He also knows how to work with people to get them moving in the same direction and contribute to the vision. A leader takes the time to get to know the people he leads and figure out the best possible way for those people to fit into the organization. This approach is non-manipulative and seeks to find solutions that are good for both the leader and those he leads.

But too often the person who is chosen to be a leader settles for being a  boss or bully who unilaterally makes decisions to drive the organization where he wants it to go. Often the boss uses coercion or manipulation to get people in line with his vision. This type of leader ends up becoming a bully who consumes the weak to fuel his own career.

I had experience with this at one of my employers. I signed on for a particular role only to have that role unilaterally changed by the general manager with no discussion with me. He had no consideration for my goals, desires or even my skill set. He made a decision based on his own perspective. In this particular case, I attribute his behavior to inexperience rather than willful belligerence, but the result is the same. While I continued to do a good job in my new role, the sense of accomplishment in my job was greatly diminished because my new role was not one that I desired or agreed to.

Unfortunately, the church is not immune to the bully being in charge. I have been in situations where the pastor used his position and presumed authority to keep people “in line” and subjected to his vision for what the church should be. On a pragmatic level, this method only leads to failure. On a spiritual level, this method is a usurpation of the role of the Holy Spirit in arranging the gifts and calling of those in the church for God’s purpose.

The best thing to do in response to a bully is to look for a church with a leader who is willing to allow you to be what God wants you to be. This is also true for the workplace bully. Perhaps the best outcome is to find another position working for a leader  who knows how to lead.

I understand that sometimes a move away from such a leader is not possible. The best thing that can be done in this situation is to recognize the nature of the bully and not be overawed by his abuse of position and power. One may end up doing exactly what the bully wants in light of the economic reality of needing a job. Yet, there is a difference between complying out of fear and complying because it is the best option at the time while looking for another option.

When the bully is a pastor or church leader, this is an indication that the pastor has a flawed relationship (if any) with Jesus Christ and that leader should not be trusted. Jesus was never a bully and no church leader should ever use manipulation or coercion to achieve his goals. I see no case where an exception to this rule could be derived.

What would the church look like if we walked away from any so-called leader who functions as a bully? Would we recover our ability to speak into the culture in a meaningful way? Would respect for the church increase if we followed leaders who modeled Jesus leadership style?

It seems to me that the people of Jesus’ day were attracted to his leadership style. Would it work today? It just might if we have the wisdom and fortitude to follow our master.