With Dr. Bruce Hartung
This month’s “Pressure Points” addresses two perspectives on the same theme, from different vantage points.
Q: Have you ever heard of anything like this? … Some members of our church that hold elected positions are trying to force our pastor out. At least it looks that way to me and some others …. They require him to report all his work. They say he spends too much time in his office. They are going to not give him a raise, even cost-of-living, because they are unhappy with him. What can he do? Can anyone in the district or Synod protect him from these bullies?
Q: Our pastor seems to want his way on everything. And if he does not get it, he gets angry. He even tells us that we are not respecting his office if we do not agree with him. Sometimes he yells at us. He really gets in the face of people. Sometimes he attacks people in the sermon. He does behave like a bully. I tried to talk with him but he just got upset with us and told us we should respect his ministry. We are making plans to leave our congregation. Whenever I see him do this, I get upset and then I don’t want to even go to church. Can you offer some advice or some hope?
A: Before I respond to the content of the questions regarding church bullies (for want of a better word), I want to first encourage our readers — especially the writers of these two questions — to seek spiritual guidance in the midst of what is happening. This guidance has to do with how walking through all this is affecting your spiritual life.
You are experiencing bruising within the community of believers, and this is bound to affect your spiritual life.
Talk in a safe environment with someone who will walk alongside you and who is spiritually mature enough both to provide the safety and to respond with needed empathy. Throughout such conversation, the discussion needs to be focused on your own spiritual life, not on others. And keep going to worship because there — in Word and Sacrament — are Christ’s gifts to us.
Now, on to the church-bully question.
Eddie Hammett, a “ministry colleague” with The Columbia Partnership (www.TheColumbiaPartnership.org), suggests that bullying is on the rise in our country and hiding in our churches — hiding “in the shadows of being right, politically right, getting control/power, or this is the way I/we like it done.” Common threads include “hunger for power, control, maintaining their preferences regardless of anyone else’s need or preference — it [is] all about them, their values, their preferences and their comfort with little or any desire to align to the corporate mission and vision much less a biblical mandate.”
Hammett’s words are tough ones and I think they ring true enough to the picture you paint of your situations.
Fundamentally, the responsibility of policing bullies lies with the community of the followers of Christ.
In your situations, church leaders must take up the issues connected with behavior of members of Christ’s body toward others. Church leaders should agree on behaviors that we as a community of believers find acceptable and not acceptable. This requires reflection on the whole topic of bullying, practice in taking a stand as witnesses for what we believe (rather than controlling others) and increasing interest in understanding the positions of the parties involved.
Once the community and its leaders decide that behavior that targets injury to others is unacceptable, regardless of how piously it may be rationalized, then bullies who do not repent of it and change still have a real problem — their behavior.
Perhaps other readers will care to share thoughts on this.
The Rev. Bruce M. Hartung, Ph.D., is director of the M.Div./Alternate Route programs at Concordia Seminary, St. Louis. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Posted Dec. 19, 2012