August 20, 2023 Book Review

Bully Pulpit: Confronting the Problem of Spiritual Abuse in the Church

Bully Pulpit: Confronting the Problem of Spiritual Abuse in the Church

Michael J. Kruger

Reviewed by: Shane P. Lems

Bully Pulpit: Confronting the Problem of Spiritual Abuse in the Church, by Michael J. Kruger. Zondervan, 2022. Hardcover, 177 pages, $19.90 (Amazon). Reviewed by OP pastor Shane P. Lems.

It’s heartbreaking and horrific when a pastor or other ministry worker leads God’s people in a tyrannical, heavy-handed, abusive way. We’ve all heard or perhaps experienced a situation where a leader manipulates, gaslights, and bullies people in a church. It’s not at all something to joke about. Abusive pastors and church leaders leave behind such a dreadful wake of destruction that it’s hard to over-exaggerate the tragedy of it all. Thankfully, helpful resources have been coming out on this topic. One of the better ones I’ve read so far is Bully Pulpit by Michael J. Kruger.

Bully Pulpit is a helpful book that touches on all the main aspects of spiritual abuse in the church. In the first chapter, Kruger gives some general observations about abusive leaders. For example, he discusses the celebrity pastor syndrome, lack of character, a misunderstanding of authority, narcissism, and other characteristics of a bully pastor. The second chapter is a somewhat detailed explanation of spiritual abuse. In the third chapter, Kruger gives some biblical examples of tyrannical leaders and contrasts them with the proper Christian virtues of a leader (e.g., servant, kind, not quarrelsome, gentle). The next two chapters talk about the deceitful tactics of abusive leaders and why they typically aren’t removed from the ministry early on. Chapter 6 explains the sad and devastating effects of abusive leadership. In the final chapter Kruger gives some great advice on how to create a church culture that resists abusive leaders.

Kruger’s book is fair and balanced. He does note that a pastor calling out sin is not necessarily spiritual abuse. I appreciated Kruger’s explanation about how bully pastors sometimes misuse Scripture to boss people around. Another excellent part of this book is the discussion about how it is not always wise for victims to meet with a bully pastor to try and resolve the situation. Kruger’s discussion of a bully pastor’s tactics is also spot on. He notes that when challenged, bully pastors use these tactics: they insist proper procedure was not followed, claim to be the victim, attack the character of the real victims, play the sympathy card, and brag about their own accomplishments. Indeed, the schemes of abusive leaders are deceitful!

The problem of spiritual abuse in a local church is not just “out there.” Sadly, it happens even in solid Reformed churches, even in OPCs. Sin is real; so are pride, narcissism, and straight-up oppression. Kruger’s book is a good one for all Christians to read to keep them aware of dangerous spiritual bullies. The session on which I serve has copies of this book, and we’ve discussed parts of it. In fact, I believe that this book should be required reading for OP elders—and I don’t say that lightly or without thought. We need to do everything we can to protect Christ’s precious sheep from bully pastors. This book will help us to do so, with God’s help.



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