Answering a listener's question, John Piper told followers of his podcast that a bullying pastor is a leader who abuses his authority. The retired Bethlehem Baptist Church pastor said bullying pastors should be admonished and gave listeners of his Ask Pastor John program a scriptural litmus test to identifying such a leader.
Bullying or abusive church leaders manifest themselves in a number of ways, Piper explained. One of those manifestations is tearing down church members.
"One of the reasons you have to rebuke one person in the church is because they are hurting the sheep. They're hurting other people and out of love and the up-building of the other people, you may have to get tough with a sheep-hurter or destroyer or a wolf in sheep's clothing," he explained.
A bullying pastor, Piper noted, may also lack patience. He inquired, "Is the pastor a temper problem or is he patient with all?" A pastor without patience will seek to push his teachings on the congregation without explaining them and may be quarrelsome.
Finally, he said bullying pastors are domineering leaders. "Does the pastor get down and live alongside his people, giving examples to them or is he always pompously pronouncing with a domineering sense of I'm a big shot in this church and you guys ought to toe the line," he questioned. He said of the latter approach, "That's bullying and that's the opposite of what God calls his shepherds to be."
While Piper acknowledged that the words bully and bullying are not present in the Bible, he confirmed "There are bad shepherds. The Bible makes it clear that there are; our experiences today makes it clear that there are. There are bad, abusive shepherds who don't love the flock."
These bad shepherds may abuse their positions because of an ego trip, a need for control, a love of finacial gain or a desire to inflict harm on others.
Piper also acknowledged that not all bullying complaints are legit. Some people, he said, have an over sensitivity to healthy pastoring. "Someone might accuse a pastor wrongly of bullying just because they don't like his tone of voice or he seems to be a little bit more firm than they grew up experiencing by their dad," said Piper
The rightful use of authority, he made clear, is not bullying. Pastors, Piper explained, are urged in the Bible to display strong leadership in their churches and rebuke those who are doing wrong. "People don't generally like to be rebuked."
He also said that "every pastor has strengths and weaknesses" and a pastor who seems to be a bully may actually be in need of and seeking growth and improvement in a portion of his ministry.
If someone is unsure whether their pastor is exercising leadership or is bullying the congregation, Piper encouraged him or her to "go to the Bible, especially the New Testament, use all of it to form a well-rounded picture of what biblical leadership and biblical shepherding is and then measure your pastor by that." If need be, Piper encouraged members to approach a pastor with a "pattern of serious shortcomings" and share their concerns. "His reaction to you will tell you a lot."