Churches That Abuse

Some churches abuse pastors.

The Widowmaker Repents tells how one dysfunctional church bullied and chased off pastors for decades.

Sadly, churches that serially abuse pastors exhibit characteristics similar to schoolyard bullies, workplace bullies, or abusive partners in domestic violence relationships.

Bullying goes beyond simple interpersonal conflict. It consists of a pattern of behaviors designed to irritate, harass, frustrate, threaten, intimidate, or humiliate.  

The bully (an insecure person with a need to control) obtains a position of influence in which he or she is able to use this position to gain a perverted feeling of power over one who is seen as threatening, weak or able to be dominated.

Generally, a bully gathers allies to bolster their power base and further harass or frustrate their target. These allies may be true allies or others who are merely afraid to stand up to the bully.

One responds to bullies differently than typical interpersonal conflicts.

So, if you find yourself in congregational conflicts that cross the line into bullying, consider the following suggestions.

  1. Avoid meaningless power struggles and unproductive conflict. Don’t allow yourself to respond to slights, insults or threats.

  2. Do not allow the bully to get under your skin. Respond respectfully, yet confidently. Others need to know that you are strong and that the bully cannot intimidate you.

  3. Enlist a support network. It is important to debrief, obtain emotional and spiritual support, and get feedback about the situation.

  4. Seek out feedback from persons who have been in similar situations and managed it successfully or from consultants with expertise in church conflict and abuse.

  5. Obtain mediation if possible. Outside help and intervention may be needed once an abusive situation is in play.

At some point, you may determine to move on. Many factors play into this decision: prayer, discernment of God’s will, your state of burnout, your family’s ability to cope if they are also being targeted, and the realistic chances of successful mediation or progress.

The Widowmaker Church eventually confessed its mistreatment of former ministers, although only after a showdown between the bully and the current pastor followed by a church split.  

Our prayers go out to those pastors who have suffered abuse. We pray for God to heal the wounds.

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