The other day, Heidi responded to my post on Expected Behaviors. She noticed I used the terms “Bully” and “Terrorist” and asked what the difference was … and what to do about them if they’re in your church.

Over the years, I’ve come to know four different kinds of people in the church. Disciples of Jesus Christ, Believers (who believe, but don’t behave like a disciple), Bullies, and Terrorists.

  • A bully is the kind of guy or gal who is determined to get their way come hell-or-high-water. They’re the ones who get angry, bluster, get in your face, raise their voices, and so on. These people bluster their way through church meetings bent on either maintaining the status quo or changing things to suit their preferences. Left to their own devices, this kind of person could be the next YouTube video star as s/he punches out the board chair.
  • A terrorist is the kind of gal or guy who makes threats in order to get their own way. They’re the ones who threaten “If you don’t _______, then I’ll _______.” You can fill in the blanks in a myriad of ways, but here’s a couple of examples. “If you don’t remove the LCD Projector from the sanctuary my family and I will never come back.” or “If you don’t get rid of the drumset I’m going to withhold my tithe.” Sometimes these threats are more serious and include bodily harm or destruction of property.

Have you ever noticed that churches are the most tolerant organizations in the world? Sure, they may get uptight with a church or a group of people who are more liberal or conservative than they, but when it comes to putting up with bullies and terrorists, well, they not only tolerate them, they make excuses for them. “You know, he really has a good heart” and “Well, you know she doesn’t mean anything by it … that’s just Sue.” No other organization on earth, volunteer or professional, would put up with behavior like that. They’d be shown the door in no time flat.

So, what is the church’s recourse? The answer is to either Convert, Neutralize, or Remove them.

Of course, it’s helpful if the church has an covenant of expected behaviors, but if not there’s still no excuse for putting up with bad behavior in the church.

  • Covert them: Two key leaders, preferably peers of the bully or terrorist, go see the offender and gently confront the person and their behavior. Point out the destructiveness of it. Press gently for repentance.
  • Neutralize them: Remove the offender from EVERY leadership position they may hold. Invite them to NOT come to board meetings, committee meetings, etc. Take them out of the information loop. Pass the word that the offender does NOT speak for the church, board, committee, etc. Take away their power in every possible forum.
  • Remove them: This is the most drastic, but frankly the most effective for some of these folks. If the above doesn’t work (and do try them first), then the board/council/session should make a decision to remove the person from membership, or barring that, from participation. Then the pastor and the board chair goes to the person and tells them that because of their ongoing behavior, they are no longer welcome at the church … that they need to find a new church if they’re going to attend. Let them know that if there is true repentance, the board will be happy to entertain a conversation with them, but until then, they may not return to the church or to church functions.

In most cases, these three steps will alleviate the bully/terrorist problem in the church. In fact, when one bully/terrorist is defanged one way or another, the congregation will heave a sigh of relief and can focus on the future more effectively.

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