The 26th United States President, Theodore Roosevelt coined the term “bully pulpit.” His observation was 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.”
Pastors have been given a similar position of influence from which to speak out, advocate and encourage. Their unique bully pulpit has also given them a platform from which to persuade, exhort, instruct and inspire. Danger is inevitable, however, when those pastoral leaders choose to invert that bully pulpit from a place of influence to a person of control. This transposition from advocacy to autocracy, from adjective to noun degrades the platform of the bully pulpit into a platform for the pulpit bully.
Bullying is no more noble under the guise of pastoral leadership. The pulpit bully often demands authoritarian or controlling influence over staff and teams for the purpose of directing, requiring, regulating, containing, moderating and restraining. This type of bullying holds others in check and always retains the power to make decisions in order to influence end results. In the name of spiritual insight, the pulpit bully acts as a gatekeeper who holds his staff, congregant and even denomination captive to styles, traditionalism, forms and structures.
The pulpit bully believes all problems originate in someone else’s office or organization. He rejects cooperation, compromise and kindness in order to guard territory and filter information. He has outgrown the need to learn anything new. Shared ministry threatens his position since it requires mutual approachability, availability and accountability. Collaboration, therefore, is suspect because different perspectives are viewed as insubordination.
That pulpit bully attitude of entitlement and invulnerability may attain compliance but it will never achieve buy-in. So even those within the so-called inner circle are submitting to the leadership of a pulpit bully out of fear not friendship, out of caution not loyalty, out of acquiescence not conviction. As a result, being a pulpit bully is actually a position of profound loneliness.
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? Don’t you realize what you are missing by disregarding intentional, significant conversations about vision, hopes, dreams and goals? Aren’t you longing for staff, congregational and denominational relationships built on trust, loyalty, respect and friendship? Wouldn’t you love to pray and plan together with others as partners instead of pawns? How fulfilling could it be to minister in a place that constantly conveys an attitude of mutual spiritual development with no ulterior motive?
Being a pulpit bully is really just the fear of losing control of something that was not yours to begin with. It is never too late to realize that the final word doesn’t always have to be yours. When that occurs your ministry relationships will never be the same.