It’s Time to Call Out Church Leadership BULLIES

Small Church pastors often feel bullied and insulted by the very church leaders we go to for help.

There are some bullies in church leadership.

No, not all of them. Not even most of them. But there are too many of them.

I doubt even one of the bullies realizes it. But they’re bullies, just the same.

Yes, that’s a strong accusation to make. I haven’t written it lightly. It’s the result of a great deal of thought, prayer and experience. And it may be a little surprising if you’ve read my recent post, “12 Ways to Disagree Online Without Being a Jerk.”

But I stand by it.

It’s because I don’t think the bullies intend to be bullies that I’m using such a strong term—to help them see the hurt they’ve been causing to a certain segment of their fellow Christians and church leaders.

Small Churches and their leaders have suffered under the bullies for years. But no one has dared say it out loud. So I’m saying it today, because we can’t fix a problem until we acknowledge it.

Small Church pastors often feel bullied and insulted by the very church leaders we go to for help.

This problem is real. It’s hurtful. And it needs to stop. 

Why I Call It Bullying

What else would you call it when “small church” is commonly used as a synonym for “ignorant,” “backwards” and “faithless”? After all, that’s the assumption in the following quotes:

“That’s just small church thinking.”

“Small churches are stuck in the past.”

“Many churches are unfriendly and that’s why they’re small.”

“Small churches are small because of a failure in leadership.”

“Small churches refuse to adapt to new realities and that’s why they stay small.”

“I don’t like small churches.”

“I’m so sick of people with a small church mentality.”

“If a church isn’t growing, it’s disobedient.”

“It’s OK for a church to be small—for a little while.”

“If a pastor is good at his job the church grows. If he’s bad at his job the church shrinks.”

And my all-time [ahem] favorite is some version of …

“I’ve got nothing against small churches, but …”

Yes, every one of those is an actual quote that I’ve either heard or read in the past few months. That’s how church growth leaders regularly talk about us—their Small Church partners in ministry.

I have intentionally not linked the quotes to their sources, because I don’t want to personalize this. But if you’re a Small Church pastor, those phrases sound very familiar, don’t they?

You might not choose to call such phrases bullying, but what you can’t call them is encouraging, helpful or kind.

And they sure feel like bullying to those on the receiving end.

Can you imagine any other normative member of the body of Christ being regularly referred to in such negative ways by church leaders, with no one raising an eyebrow about it? But they’re said about Small Churches all the time. And from some of the most honored and prominent church leaders in the world.

Insulting Small Churches Isn’t Kind, Helpful or Christian

How is it OK to insult fellow believers just because they worship and minister in Small Churches? And why do so many other church leaders, who would never say such things themselves, turn a deaf ear to it?

It’s not OK. So here’s my plea to church leaders who have used such phrases.

Stop insulting us and start encouraging us.

Stop being bullies and start being our friends. I know that’s what you want to do.

Yes, I’m calling you out.

If you’re OK with insulting Small Churches just because they’re small, realize that you’re inflicting unnecessary pain on 80-90 percent of the world’s churches and pastors. And on half of the Christians in the world who choose to worship Jesus in smaller settings.

The big guys insulting the small guys? That is bullying.

Assuming the worst because a church is small? That is bullying.

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Karl Vaters
Karl Vaters is the author of The Grasshopper Myth: Big Churches, Small Churches and the Small Thinking That Divides Us. He’s been in pastoral ministry for over 30 years and has been the lead pastor of Cornerstone Christian Fellowship in Fountain Valley, California for over 20 years. He’s also the founder of, a blog that encourages, connects and equips innovative Small Church pastors.