There are people in churches that some might call bullies.

These people can attack or create discord under the surface of a church body. Sometimes, these people are able to garner enough co-conspirators to do things like oust a pastor or make life miserable for a staff person or scatter all the leaders in a particular ministry area because no one wants to deal with them.

Even if you recognize they’re a bully, you can’t just call them a bully and haul them into the principal’s office or refer them for help from the school counselor. But what can you do?

  1. Know yourself.

My basest response – the one that was programmed into my innermost person at the very earliest age by my experience with my family of origin – is to take any hurtful words or actions personally, to think what’s happening is all my fault and to be immediately defensive.

Because I know this, I have to spend a lot of time examining my responses to past hurts, and an almost equal amount of time guarding myself from this response.

By that, I mean this propensity to respond in a defensive way has to be counteracted by intentionally practicing awareness of my propensity to do so. If I know I respond this way, I have to practice ways to meet it differently.

  1. Acknowledge your role.

Each of us is responsible for half of a relationship or conversation. We can only be responsible for what we say or do – how we respond or don’t.

We can’t be responsible for how someone else behaves, speaks, thinks or responds.

If I say something hurtful on purpose, I need to take responsibility for that. If I say something that hurts someone, but I didn’t mean to hurt them, I still need to acknowledge their hurt.

  1. Recognize everyone carries hurt we can’t see.

Most often when someone hurts me, it’s not at all about me, but about some other hurt or anxiety that’s going on somewhere else.

This understanding helps me with my own issues of being defensive, but it helps much more than that.

When I first remember to say to myself, “There must be a deep hurt for them to treat me or anyone else that way,” I am more prepared to meet them with God’s grace.

  1. Be willing to stand up for yourself.

I don’t like conflict. At all. But when faced with a choice between letting myself be steamrolled or calling this person to account, I’ve learned to summon my courage; say, “I don’t like it when you [fill in the blank];” and then ask the hard questions like, “Why are you so angry?” and “What can I do to help you?”

  1. Many, many times, the person just wants or needs to be listened to.
  2. Find a solution together. Even if the solution is, “The next time we work together, I’d like to agree up front how disagreements can be handled,” that’s better than nothing.
  3. It’s especially important for church leaders to model this kind of personal interaction.

Our children, in particular, need to see a model of grace and reconciliation inside the church walls. Outside the walls, all kinds of vitriol are applauded and go unchecked.

We’re called to be different than the world outside the church walls; if we don’t live like that inside, we’re basically opening our doors for no reason.

I’m praying for you as you minister to all people – being the physical presence of Christ, in big and small ways.

Editor’s note: A version of this article first appeared on the Baptist General Association of Virginia’s blog. It is used with permission.

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