An Open Letter to a Pulpit Bully

An Open Letter to a Pulpit Bully

Dear Potential Pulpit Bully,

When Theodore Roosevelt coined the term “bully pulpit,” he observed that his position of influence as president gave him a unique platform from which to persuade, exhort, instruct and inspire. Roosevelt famously used the word bully as an adjective meaning great, superb excellent or wonderful.

As a pastor, you have been given a similar position of influence from which to speak out, advocate and encourage. Your unique bully pulpit gives you a platform for persuasion, exhortation, instruction and inspiration. It is dangerous, however, if you choose to invert that bully pulpit from a place of influence to a position of control. Transposing from advocacy to autocracy will degrade your platform from a bully pulpit to the platform of a pulpit bully.

There is no virtue in bullying disguised as righteous indignation. So pastor, if you give in to that temptation you’ll believe all problems originate in someone else’s office. You’ll reject cooperation, compromise and kindness in order to guard territory and filter information. You’ll outgrow the need to learn anything new. You won’t share ministry because accountability will threaten your position of authority. Collaboration will always be suspect because you’ll view those with different perspectives as insubordinate.

Once you adopt an attitude of entitlement and invulnerability you may achieve compliance from others, but rarely buy-in. Even those within your so-called inner circle will submit to your leadership out of fear not friendship, out of caution not loyalty, out of submission not conviction. As a result, your position will also be one of profound loneliness.

So pastor, is being a pulpit bully really what God intended when he called some to be apostles, some to be prophets and some to be evangelists? Maybe giving in to that temptation is just the fear of losing control of something that was not yours to begin with. It’s not too late to realize that the final word doesn’t always have to be yours. There’s time to pray and plan together with others as partners instead of pawns. It’s never too late to pastor with an attitude of mutuality and no ulterior motive. And when you do, your church and staff relationships will never be the same.

This article originally appeared here.

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David Manner
Dr. David W. Manner serves as the Associate Executive Director for Kansas-Nebraska Convention of Southern Baptists with responsibilities in the areas of Worship, Leadership and Administration.