In today’s fast-paced world, churches face a myriad of challenges, from dwindling attendance to the struggle of keeping up with technological advancements. However, one of the most insidious obstacles to church growth and harmony often comes from within: the presence of bullies and their minions and enablers within the church board. These characters, each playing a distinct role, hinder the church’s mission fulfillment and create a toxic environment that stifles growth and engagement.

  1. Rats, or your bullies, who manipulate and intimidate to assert control.
  2. Hyenas, the rat’s minions, who support and reinforce the bully’s behavior.
  3. Possums, those who play dead when trouble arises, choosing inaction over confrontation.
  4. Ostriches, members who prefer ignorance over action, hoping the conflicts will resolve themselves.
  5. Pheasants, who, spooked by the bullies, leave the church, weakening the community.
  6. Ambassadors of Christ, the courageous few who stand up against the toxic dynamics for the greater good of the church and its mission.

I want to introduce you to these six “characters” within the church board. We’ll explore how their behaviors create barriers to mission alignment and vision achievement. We’ll look at how the reluctance to confront or expel bullies — often justified under the guise of being ‘nice’ or ‘Christian’ — actually contradicts the teachings of Jesus and the principles of strong leadership. [See On Not Being Nice for the Sake of the Gospel.] By understanding the roles and influences of these characters, church leaders can begin the difficult but necessary work of cultural transformation, moving towards a future where the church’s mission and values are not just upheld but celebrated.

Rats and Hyenas: Church Bullies and Their Minions

In the complex ecosystem of church leadership and community, two particularly challenging characters tend to emerge: the Rats and the Hyenas. Rats, in this context, are not the small, scurrying creatures of the urban shadows, but rather the bullies of the church. These individuals, usually numbering one or two within a congregation, use control and manipulation to maintain the status quo and their personal comfort levels at the expense of the church’s mission and vision fulfillment. Their influence isn’t just limited to their behaviors, but gets amplified through their ability to gather around them what I call the Hyenas.

Hyenas, either through intentional alliance or unwitting alignment, support and enforce the bully’s agenda. While they may appear benign on the surface, their true nature becomes apparent in the face of change or decisions that threaten the status quo. When the Rat voices opposition, Hyenas echo their discontent, often subtly through under-the-breath comments, side remarks to their neighbors, or nods of agreement, reinforcing the bully’s stance and contributing to a culture of intimidation and stagnation.

This dynamic duo of Rats and Hyenas poses a significant challenge for churches, especially those on a plateau or in decline. Their presence and influence reflect a deeper issue within the church’s culture, where fear of conflict and a misguided sense of unity under the guise of being ‘nice’ allow such toxic behaviors to fester unchallenged. (Did you know the word ‘nice’ is not found anywhere in the Bible? Not once. And being kind isn’t the same – nice overlooks bad behavior, makes excuses for it, and pretends it will go away. Kind cares too much for people to continue to let them be destructive.)

The Parish Possums

In every church family, and on every church board, you’ll find a group I call the possums. These folks really hate conflict, often have big hearts full of mercy, and/or live by a peace-at-all-costs mantra. The thing with possums, though, is that their aversion to rocking the boat leadc to some unintended consequences. They’d rather keep quiet than confront the issues head-on, especially when the church bullies—our Rats and Hyenas—start making waves.

Possums think they’re keeping the peace by not challenging the louder voices, but their silence does more harm than good. When a new idea or ministry opportunity pops up, and the bullies start their usual pushback, the possums don’t stand up for what could be a winning transformation for the church. Instead, they worry about the fallout and they’re scared of losing members or upsetting the delicate balance they think they’re maintaining. But here’s the reality: by letting the bullies run the show, the bullies just get stronger and more entrenched. If you’re used to getting your way by bullying, why would you do anything different?

It’s a tough spot to be in. Possums genuinely believe they’re doing the right thing for the church by avoiding conflict. But their silence is paving the way for ongoing church decline. It’s ironic— in their quest for peace, they’ might be’re contributing to a slow slide into disharmony and missed opportunities.

This dance around conflict, driven by fear and a desire for an easy life, misses the bigger picture. Yes, confronting the issues head-on is tough, and nobody loves a church meeting that feels more like a battleground. But the health and growth of the church are at stake. By sidestepping conflict, possums are unintentionally signing up for a future where the church doesn’t just fail to grow; it’s losing its way.

Ostrich Avoidance

Sitting right there next to the possums are the ostriches. These are the folks who, when the going gets tough, would much prefer to bury their heads in the sand, hoping if they don’t see the conflict, maybe it won’t exist. Unlike the possums who go silent, ostriches don’t exactly play dead. They’re present, they’re listening, but they’re not engaging—especially if engaging means going toe-to-toe with the church’s more intimidating personalities.

Ostriches are often the eternal optimists of the group, holding on to the hope that somehow, someway, everyone will just start getting along. Their approach to conflict is a bit paradoxical. They don’t actively support the Rats and their Hyena minions, but they won’t stand up against them. It’s not that they agree with everything the rats say, but they rarely, if ever, voice or vote against them. Why? Because for ostriches, the peace of the group is paramount—even if that “peace” comes at the cost of the church’s mission, vision, and growth.

What really gets an ostrich flustered is not the bullying behavior itself but the tension it causes. In their quest for harmony, they sometimes inadvertently act like a hyena, not in malice, but in a misguided attempt to smooth things over. Instead of addressing the core issue, they often redirect their frustration towards those confronting the naysayers, believing that this pursuit of peace justifies their approach. It’s a delicate dance for ostriches, trying to maintain harmony without directly confronting the storm, but unfortunately, this dance leads to a standstill in progress and resolution.

Pheasant’s Flight

Then there’s the Pheasants. Church board Pheasants represent a mix of the either the insightful, the innocent, or a combination … and insightful innocent. Some can quickly gauge the atmosphere and realize that, despite their best efforts, the status quo is too entrenched to change. Others, perhaps newer to the dynamics of church politics, find themselves blindsided by the realization that not all members, even in a church setting, embody the spirit of Jesus that they expected.

These Pheasants, whether due to their wisdom or disillusionment, end up making a difficult choice: to leave. It’s a decision that too often costs the church its most spiritually mature and mission-driven members. The irony is painful—those most capable and desirous of steering the church towards its true mission feel like they have no other option but to fly.

The departure of Pheasants comes in different stages. Some, at the first whiff of discord or unyielding opposition, take flight, preferring to seek peace and fulfillment elsewhere. Others, more hopeful or perhaps stubborn, linger in the background. They watch and wait, hoping for a sign of positive change. Yet, more often than not, they too eventually conclude that their efforts are better invested at a church that’s more receptive to growth and spiritual depth.

The tragedy of the Pheasants’ exit is twofold. Not only does the church lose members committed to its wellbeing and growth, but their departure is a victory for the bullies. Those who thrive on control and resist change are left with even fewer voices to challenge them. This cycle reinforces a culture where conflict avoidance and political maneuvering overshadow the mission of the church. The Pheasants, with their potential for leadership and transformation, become the lost hope of a congregation left to contend with its unresolved challenges.

Ambassadors of Christ

In every church, amidst the myriad of personalities and perspectives, there exist those rare gems I call the Ambassadors of Christ. These individuals grasp the essence of their role within the congregation. They understand that their primary job is to align every decision, program, event, and ministry with the church’s mission. They are the visionaries who recognize that achieving the church’s goals means making tough, sometimes unpopular decisions that may not sit well with every segment of the congregation.

These Ambassadors hold fast to the conviction that compromise is not a virtue found in the New Testament when it comes to fulfilling God’s mission. Their compass is set on navigating the church towards effective and efficient disciple-making, both within the congregation and to the wider community. The live in an ideal world where objections about church direction and decisions are raised in dialogue without resorting to threats or bullying. On the other hand, these leaders are no strangers to the reality that the church, as a hospitalt for the wounded, sometimes becomes a stage where those very individuals to act out.

In a world where being ‘nice’ is often seen as the golden rule, even if it means our churches are struggling, our Ambassadors of Christ stand strong. They’re not out there picking fights, but they’re definitely not running from them either. Their Christian integrity? Rock solid. Their eyes? Always on the prize – the church’s mission and vision.

Sadly, we don’t have nearly enough of these folks on church boards. They’re the real MVPs, showing us what church leadership should look like. They’re all about rolling like Jesus did, serving with a big heart and leading the way to better places, even when the going gets tough. It’s not an easy job, but someone’s got to do it, and these Ambassadors remind us why it’s worth the effort.

Getting Things Done

Finding the sweet spot between being an effective church board member and navigating the political landscape of church leadership is no small feat. The ideal solution? Fill the board with Ambassadors of Christ. However, here’s the truth: most churches might find themselves short on members who embody that spirit, and even when they are present, they often steer clear of board politics. It’s a dilemma, but not without its solutions.

First up, let’s talk about Leadership Covenants. These aren’t just agreements; they’re commitments to engage with each other respectfully, especially when conflicts arise. These covenants are crucial—they need to, and I stress must, incorporate Jesus’s reconciliation plan as laid out in Matthew 18:15-17, with a nod to Paul’s advice to Pastor Titus in Titus 3:10. But having a covenant is just part of the equation. The culture will only change when there’s an agreement to live by it and hold each other accountable to those covenants. This is where the rubber meets the road.

Next, there’s what I call “homework.” This is where pastors and board members who are committed to the church’s mission do some groundwork. Before publicly presenting any change that might stir the pot, they meet individually with those likely to be most affected or most reticent—the Possums, Ostriches, and even the Pheasants. It’s about getting their buy-in or at least their understanding upfront. Preparing them for the potential backlash and arming them with the knowledge and encouragement to stand firm can transform their approach from passive to active support. I was always told, don’t start a fight you know you can’t win. Although the ideal hope is that even the Rats and Hyenas will see the wisdome of moving forward, the truth is you never know (or perhaps you DO know!). And so, lining up alliances in advance of pushback is just plain good strategy.

Get a copy of the Church Covenants Templates and begin building your church’s Conflict Resolution and Prevention plan. It’s free! Download it Here.