How I Dealt with Bullying in the Church

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Yes, you read the title correctly. I was bullied. And yes, it was by someone I go to church with.

In fact, it was by the mother of a student in our youth group.

Now, when I say I was bullied, I mean that through intimidation I felt my position as a youth pastor was threatened and I felt a lot of anxiety about seeing this person in public.

Bullying Within The Church

All of this started a little over 4 years ago when I basically told this mother that I would not violate her daughter’s trust by revealing every little thing I was told by her daughter.

Please don’t misunderstand, in California, pastors are considered “mandatory reporters”. This means if a student were to reveal abuse, suicidal thoughts, etc. I am required by law to report those things to social services or the police.

I’d report things like those above even if I wasn’t required to by law.

What I won’t report to a parent or anyone else are things a student says to me out of frustration when their parent has punished them by taking away their phone. I’ll gently admonish the student for speaking badly of their parent (if that’s the case) and remind them of all the reasons they should respect and pray for their parents.

Reconciliation is part of my job as a pastor.

This parent found my unwillingness to act as her spy, disrespectful and spent the next 4 years finding every reason and opportunity to become combative and intimidating to me.

There was a phone call where I listened for 15 minutes while she screamed at me. There was a post in a Facebook group (specifically for ladies of our church) in which she posted that she needed prayer for wisdom in dealing with an adult who was being “inappropriate” in their relationship with her daughter. It didn’t matter that she didn’t use my name because all of the women in the group knew that her daughter spent a lot of time talking to me.

Let me pause for one moment here to say: I have never and would never be inappropriate with a student or anyone else I minister to. Ever.

Once she started throwing around the “I” word, I knew it was time to ask my pastor to mediate all communication between the two of us. I was genuinely afraid that she might make up stories just to get me fired.

She constantly demanded that my pastor force me to apologize, but when asked what she wanted me to apologize for, she couldn’t articulate what I’d done wrong.

I was forbidden to have any contact with her daughter outside of the church. I couldn’t mentor her, counsel her, or even take her out for a snack with other students.

Her daughter continued to try and contact me via Facebook message and text. I was required to ignore her. It was awful because I knew how damaging that can be for a teenager. Thankfully my pastor had her as a part of one of his meetings with her parents and he told her that I wouldn’t be allowed any contact with her, but she still tried.

It was heartbreaking.

Finally, the student turned 18. She started paying her own bills and because of that was finally allowed to text me again.

I asked her if her mother had agreed to her renewing contact with me since she still lived in their house and under their rules.

She said they’d had a long discussion about her responsibilities and privileges now that she is 18 and that one of the privileges she insisted on was the ability to contact anyone she wanted (her mother had forbidden contact with certain church friends also).

They’d reached an agreement. Fine. Good.

I’d been praying for mother and daughter to grow closer. I’d been praying for the mother in general.

Since I knew I hadn’t done anything outside the scope of my job description, I wondered if the mother’s behavior had something to do with past relationships or hurts.

So, I prayed.

One day, I got a text from the student. She needed to ask me something but didn’t want to because she didn’t feel like it was her place.

I told her she should ask and then I could evaluate the question before answering.

She asked me to apologize to her mother.

Her reason was simple. The way her mother spoke to her about me, hurt her and the primary reason was because I hadn’t given her mother the apology she felt she deserved.

I asked her what, specifically, her mother felt she needed an apology for. If I was going to apologize, I said I wanted to know what I was apologizing for so I could do it right the first time.

She said her mother felt that I had disregarded her feelings in my relationship with her daughter.

Okay. I told her I would pray about it.

The next day, God brought this scripture to my mind:

“So if you are presenting a sacrifice at the altar in the Temple and you suddenly remember that someone has something against you, leave your sacrifice there at the altar. Go and be reconciled to that person. Then come and offer your sacrifice to God.” -Matthew‬ ‭5:23-24‬ ‭NLT‬‬

How do you argue with Jesus’ own words?

It was right there in red. If you know someone has something against you, it’s your responsibility to go and do everything in your power to see that the relationship gets reconciled.

There was nothing I wanted to do less.

So I prayed. I asked God to give me the mother’s perspective. I asked for compassion for her.

And I asked God to please not make me look like a fool or experience any more intimidation.

So a couple of Sundays later, I paced the church foyer nervously, waiting for the student’s mother and father to arrive.

I just wanted to get it over with.

When they arrived, I met them in front of the church steps and offered a sincere and heartfelt apology. I wouldn’t have been able to do that if I hadn’t spent time praying and asking God for perspective and compassion.

She forgave me. We hugged.

We’re still not best friends. There are some people you’ll never be close friends with, but things are okay now. Settled.

She got what she needed.

I got peace.

In the end, it didn’t matter who was right or wrong. All that mattered is what Jesus said:

If someone has something against you… Go and be reconciled to that person.

There’s no mention of who’s right and who’s wrong. There’s only reconciliation.

It’s not a suggestion. It’s a requirement to prepare for any offering we want to give to the Lord.

And you know what? He said it for our benefit so that we wouldn’t hold onto bitterness in our hearts and so He could use us to release the bitterness in the hearts of others.

Is there someone you can think of who has something against you?

If so, I want to encourage you today. Begin to pray for them. Ask God for understanding and compassion. Ask Him for favor.

Then go and do everything in your power to be reconciled to that person.

Lord Jesus, thank you for your words on this subject. Thank you that you’ve made our responsibility in such situations, clear. I ask for your blessing of favor on anyone you’re asking to go and be reconciled. Thank you for your desire for reconciliation in relationships, your peace, and forgiveness Lord. Amen.

Jennifer Arman

Jenn Arman is a 36 year old, Southern California native. She and her husband David have been married 13 years and serve as pastors in their local church. Jennifer is a self-proclaimed geek who believes God is an idealist and her desire to see people trade in convenient faith for an ever deepening faith.

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Comments

  1. Ugh! Enter conviction. Your willingness to pray about the situation and not let pride win is inspiring. There is also a person in my life I KNOW I need to “get right” with. Thank you for giving me that push I needed!

    • I’m glad you were inspired Alicia. I’m even more glad that the Holy Spirit was able to use this to speak to your own situation. Praying for her was so hard for me and when I finally did decide to reconcile with her, everyone close to me (except my husband) said I was crazy. They didn’t understand why I was doing it, but it doesn’t matter if anyone else understands. It matters who you want to please more: God or people.

      I’ll definitely be praying for you!

  2. Jennifer, thank you for sharing this experience. We so often forget this scripture; well maybe not forget it as much as ignore it. It is a good one to be reminded of. I am glad for the sake of the daughter you chose to listen to her heart and to God. For yourself also, unrest is so destructive.

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