Leading churches

No More Bullies at Church

Two EFCA leaders review 'Bully Pulpit: Confronting the Problem of Spiritual Abuse in the Church' by Michael Kruger

Packed With Scripture and Practical Advice

By Kirsten King 

What do you do when a bully has controlled a false narrative, swayed the room, surrounded themselves with a group of yes-men and is leaving behind a trail of unresolved conflict and dead bodies? What do you do when that bully is not only in your church but in the pulpit? Michael Kruger’s book Bully Pulpit: Confronting the Problem of Spiritual Abuse in the Church was written to address these and other questions. As a church leader himself, he has written a book to church leaders about bad leaders

The problem is most bullies aren’t self-aware. A bully is so busy spinning the narrative and managing perceived threats, they don’t take the time to self-reflect. And unfortunately, many churches foster a culture that enables this behavior. They protect the bully and accuse the abused. A bully will blame the truth-teller and will talk about how much they’ve suffered. This move is designed to engender sympathy not for the victims but for the abuser. 

God will hold the bad shepherds accountable—and those who protect and enable them.

Bullies don’t bully everyone and are careful to surround themselves with people who will be loyal to them, eager to call the challengers “troublemakers,” which perpetuates the problem. 

How can local churches protect themselves from abusive leaders? Kruger finds the answers in Scripture. His work is full of Scriptural principles and mandates for leadership. Jesus spent a remarkable amount of time calling out bad leaders who mistreated God’s sheep. Kruger maintains that the character of leaders is of utmost importance and should be exemplified by gentleness, kindness and a servant heart. He suggests pride has not only crept into the pulpit but is celebrated; it must be put in check. 

This book goes beyond the diagnoses and offers practical, structural steps for how churches can both prevent spiritual abuse and properly respond to it when it occurs. Accountability is critical. Kruger suggests protective measures that should be implemented to ensure the safety and health of the flock. Leaders in the church must pay close attention to their flocks and to the shepherds as well. God will hold the bad shepherds accountable—and those who protect and enable them. 

If you think your church is an exception and you’re grateful this isn’t your battle to fight; if your ire is aroused and you want to call foul; if you feel the authority of the pastor is of utmost importance; if you’re a pastor who asks yourself what are people saying about me; or, if you love the church and desire shepherds who are feeding and not fleecing the flock (or worse), you would do well to read this book. 

Congregational Churches Help Ward Off Bullies

By Matt Murray 

Bullies exist. No one can hide from this truth. Everyone agrees that bullying is a problem, and everyone knows the thorny experience when dealing with bullies.

Michael Kruger’s book, Bully Pulpit, Confronting the Problem of Spiritual Abuse in the Church, addresses the topic in three ways. First, we must learn to recognize the presence and characteristics of spiritual bullies who leave a wake of hurt and trauma in their path. Second, we must learn to discern when, where and how spiritual abuse happens. Third, we must understand how to create accountability within the church and provide protection and care for those suffering from bullying leaders. 

According to Kruger, spiritual abuse occurs when a person in a position of spiritual authority sinfully domineers others in cruel, hypercritical, threatening and manipulative ways. News stories involving prominent Christian leaders, like Ravi Zacharias and Mark Driscoll, serve as examples. However, countless other cases of spiritual abuse never make the news. When we do read about spiritual abuse, we weep and frequently walk away. We assume our churches are safe, and we fail to take preventative action. 

When Christ-like character permeates the leadership and the membership, spiritual abuse is far less likely to occur and healthy churches will flourish.

I recommend this book to pastors and church boards. It is worth mentioning that Michael Kruger embraces a Presbyterian polity differing from the EFCA. Still, he makes great effort to apply his recommendations to others, including congregational churches. So, let me highlight what I think are Kruger’s two most significant contributions to churches today and offer some reflection specific to our association. 

The first contribution is a thoughtful assessment of how some churches seek certain qualities and skills in a pastoral leader that can set up a church for disaster. Churches that seek competency over character, hierarchy over teamwork, and prefer secrecy over accountability are more prone to experience spiritual abuse at the hands of a leader. Without question, we do not want leaders who lack competency in preaching, teaching and leading staff. Still, we must remember that these skills grow out of Christ-like character and godly wisdom, not a worldly corporate boardroom. 

The second key contribution is a wide range of recommendations to prevent spiritual abuse. These range from annual written evaluations of pastors to ensuring women are honestly heard when a concern is raised in the church. Perhaps the most important recommendation in this section is a simple reminder that "sometimes churches need expertise they may not be able to provide." Outside counsel is needed for every church, and interdependence should be more than a lofty dream. 

Kruger's recommendations should encourage us to embrace the EFCA’s congregational church government wholeheartedly. These recommendations can be developed even further in a congregational church when our membership welcomes their responsibility as the highest governing authority of a local church under Christ.  

Additionally, church leaders and the members seek to hold each other scripturally accountable in truth and love while growing in mutual respect. When Christ-like character permeates the leadership and the membership, spiritual abuse is far less likely to occur and healthy churches will flourish. 

There will always be times when bullies must be addressed. Bully Pulpit equips us for this task by providing proper definitions and diagnostic tools to prevent and handle bullies. I believe we can all benefit significantly from this book as we seek to lead our churches and govern and shepherd under the authority of Christ. 

Kirsten King

Kirsten B. King serves on the youth ministry staff at First Evangelical Free Church in Maplewood, Minnesota. She speaks regularly at camps, conferences and churches. She received her MA in Theological Studies from TEDS.

Matt Murray

Matt Murray has served since 2021 as the executive pastor at Woodlands Church (EFCA) in Crestline, California. Previously, he served as the worship pastor and helped plant Maple Evangelical Church (EFCA) in 2005 in Fullerton, California. Matt and his wife Christie have been married 19 years and enjoy the adventure of raising two boys, 15 and 13 years old, in the beautiful southern California mountains. 

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