The Bully in the Church Boardroom

God, the pastor, the board chair, and other board members must neutralize the board bully.


by Dan Busby and John Pearson


It was more than a little bit helpful to keep the phrase
“created in the image of God” in the back of my mind
as I listened to someone criticize me or my policies.[1]

Gov. Bill Haslam


A church bully is one who manipulates, pressures, blames, and coerces people to follow his or her ideas or agenda (for example, see what happened to Peter in Galatians 2:12).

Church bullies wreak havoc and create dissension. They often maneuver into church leadership positions, such as chair of the board or an important committee. Amazingly, some bullies can even do damage without holding a leadership role.

Thom Rainer[2] and Joe McKeever[3] describe church bullies with the following characteristics:

  1. They have strong personalities. They tend to be boisterous. They speak up frequently in meetings and dominate conversations.
  2. They are highly opinionated. And if you ever disagree with them, you become their next target.
  3.  They are famous for using the phrase, “People are saying…” The full sentence could be, “People are saying that you don’t call on the sick enough.” “People” is never defined. The true complainer is never identified.
  4. They are not good listeners. They want you to listen to them, but they don’t want to listen to you.
  5. They do not recognize themselves as bullies. Instead, they see themselves as heroes sent to save the church.

Here’s what your church can do to minimize the negative impact of church bullies:

  1. Treat the church bully as a person for whom Christ died. How we treat the church bully “in conversation or [how we] behave toward them in public is a testimony of how Christ would deal with them. We must model respect, love, and compassion in all our words and deeds—as [He] did.”[4]
  2. Appoint or elect individuals to key positions with care. Since a church bully generally needs an official pulpit (perhaps that would make it a “bully pulpit”), be careful not to appoint or elect bullies to positions of power.[5] Use a spiritually and strategically designed process to choose and recruit people for key leadership positions.
  3. Pray the bully out of power. Pray. Ask the Lord for insights. Listen to Him. Wait on Him. Ask prayer warriors to daily pray a hedge of protection around you and, yes, even ask for prayer that the issues with the bully will be resolved.
  4. Use spiritual discernment in conflict resolution. Applying spiritual discernment will generally mean holding the bully accountable for what he or she is doing. In extreme cases, bring in help from outside the church to form an intervention team.
  5. Be willing to let the bully leave the church. Church bullies will often threaten to leave the church if they don’t get their way. In considerate ways, open the door for them. When they threaten to resign, graciously respond, “I accept your resignation.”
  6. Empower your board chair to take appropriate steps in dealing with a church bully. If the church bully is the board chair—well, that is a big challenge! Otherwise, the board chair should exercise authority in board meetings to assure that the church bully is kept in check.
  7.  Be a high-expectation church. “Higher expectation churches tend to be more unified, more Great Commission focused, more biblically defined, and more servant oriented.”[6] High expectations provide an environment where bullying is ineffective.

Not all churches have bullies. Thank the Lord! Once in a while, there are multiple church bullies. When a bully is encountered, the pastor and the board must be on alert and take action to minimize the bully’s impact. And, if the church pastor or executive pastor is the bully, may heaven help you!



Fundamentally, this is a spiritual issue:
you must address the bully in your boardroom—
or the work of God’s Kingdom will be hindered.
Church bullies wreak havoc and create dissension,
yet remember that they are created in the image of God.
Empower your board chair with courage to help the bully
to exit with grace or to change his or her sinful pattern.

  Board Action Steps:

  1. Commit: Before your relationships are damaged by a bully in your church boardroom, agree—in advance—that the board chair will address the issue.

  2. Care: As your board chair, accompanied perhaps by another board member, prepares for the “crucial conversation” with the church bully, apply equal doses of pastoral care and church discipline, according to Matthew 18.

  3. Complete: Don’t let the problem fester. Find a God-honoring solution. This may be asking the bully to exit.



Lord, give us the courage and grace
to address the bully in our church boardroom. Amen.


[1] Bill Haslam, “Public Office as a Spiritual Discipline.” Posted January 11, 2018. Comment: https://www.cardus.ca/comment/article/5171/public-office-as-a-spiritual-discipline/.

[2] See Thom Rainer, “Nine Traits of Church Bullies.” Posted March 30, 2015. https://thomrainer.com/2015/03/nine-traits-church-bullies/. “Eight Warning Signs of a Bully Church Member.” Posted July 20, 2016. https://thomrainer.com/2016/07/eight-warning-signs-bully-church-member/.

[3] Joe McKeever, “What to Say to a Church Bully.” Posted September 24, 2013. Ministry Today: www.ministrytodaymag.com.

[4] Michael J. Anthony, The Effective Church Board (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2000), 266.

[5] The term “bully pulpit” was coined by United States President Theodore Roosevelt, who referred to his office as a “bully pulpit,” by which he meant a terrific platform from which to advocate an agenda. See “Bully Pulpit.” Merriam-Webster: https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/bully pulpit.

[6] Thom Rainer, “Nine Ways to Deal With Church Bullies.” Posted April 1, 2015. https://thomrainer.com/2015/04/nine-ways-deal-church-bullies/.


From Lessons From the Church Boardroom: 40 Insights for Exceptional Governance, ECFAPress, 2018, www.ECFA.Church/KnowledgeCenter.

This text is provided with the understanding that ECFA is not rendering legal, accounting, or other professional advice or service. Professional advice on specific issues should be sought from an accountant, lawyer, or other professional.