Urban church planter Dr Duncan Forbes shares his thoughts on how churches can support victims and root out bullying.
1. Pray for the victims
This will be a time when victims are happy and sad. Happy to see the truth finally brought out, to see their cries finally heard, to be finally believed. But also a lot of unpleasant memories will come up, and reminders of the broken friendships when bullies trash talked and shunned them. Yes, you can still pray for the bad leader to repent, but our priority should be the downtrodden.
2. Consider where we’ve been complicit
Narcissists need structures to enable them. We have enabled abusive leaders by giving them platforms, recommending them to others, and ignoring the people who’ve tried to warn us. If we haven’t spotted they’re bullies, we need to consider what’s wrong with our discernment? Most likely, we haven’t been trained in spotting narcissists (so see video below), and most probably, we enjoyed the way the narcissist made us feel. If we’ve acted as bodyguards for the bad leaders, we’ve been doing the devil’s work. Sadly, many leaders complain of abusive leaders behind closed doors, but then publicly act friendly with such leaders, making others think they are safe people. Let’s confess this in tears and humility. Let’s, go to the people we avoided or bad-mouthed because a bad leader maligned them (a key strategy of abusive leaders), and confess our sin.
3. Consider our own narcissistic tendencies
If you’re a church planter, then like me, you’ve probably got some narcissistic tendencies. These can be channelled in a healthy way, or an unhealthy way. Learn about these tendencies, and get help, so that we can serve and protect people better.
4. If you run a training program, consider if it’s tainted
These abusive problems are often in the DNA of someone’s ministry. It leaks out in their preaching and resources. We saw this clearly in the USA a few years ago, and saw it more recently with ChurchToo in the SBC (where misogyny could be seen in teaching videos from the 80s). It’s worth going over our training resources, and asking if they unwittingly promote abusive leadership.
5. If you’re a National leader in Evangelicalism, why aren’t you protecting us?
Come on brothers, you’ve been so silent on issues. People have cautioned you about abusive leadership, but you remain silent. If you’ve promoted people, and encouraged people to give funding to such people’s projects, you owe it to all of us to come clean, and explain how you allowed such people to flourish.
6. Let’s stop claiming a plurality of elders protects us
I’ve heard plenty of abusive leaders claim that their plurality of elders protects them from going off key (me thinks you protest too much!). The reality is that they are manipulating their elders, bullying the vulnerable, manipulating the gullible, and outcasting the unmalleable. I’m all for plurality of elders IF your church is big enough for qualified leaders. But the key thing is QUALIFIED leaders.
We have too many unqualified leaders (in terms of their character) leading a team of elders. There are godly Anglican leaders (without a plurality of elders) who aren’t being abusive, whilst there are ungodly Reformed Baptists abusing people (with a complicit board of elders) and vice versa – so polity isn’t our saviour here. Jesus is our saviour, he’s our benchmark of what a man should be like, one who serves and protects, and who overturns tables when there’s injustice in the church. Brothers and sisters, I think it’s time we start overturning some tables.
Dr Duncan Forbes is the author of The Urban Catechism and runs Urban Ministries. He blogs at Council Estate Christianity. This article was originally published at Council Estate Ministry and is re-published here with permission.
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