Bully Pulpit: Confronting the Problem of Spiritual Abuse in the Church – Michael J. Kruger

Bully Pulpit: Confronting the Problem of Spiritual Abuse in the Church by Michael J. Kruger
Also by this author: Hebrews For You (God's Word for You)
Published by Zondervan on November 8, 2022
Genres: Non-Fiction, Christian Life, Leadership, Theology
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Are churches looking for the wrong kind of leaders? The last decade has witnessed a rising number of churches wrecked by spiritual abuse--harsh, heavy-handed, domineering behavior from those in a position of spiritual authority. And high-profile cases are only a small portion of this widespread problem. Behind the scenes are many more cases of spiritual abuse that we will never hear about. Victims suffer in silence, not knowing where to turn.

Of course, most pastors and leaders are godly, wonderful people who don't abuse their sheep. They shepherd their flocks gently and patiently. But we can't ignore the growing number who do not. We have tolerated and even celebrated the kind of leaders Jesus warned us against.

We need gentle shepherds now more than ever, and in Bully Pulpit, seminary president and biblical scholar Michael J. Kruger offers a unique perspective for both church leaders and church members on the problem of spiritual abuse, how to spot it, and how to handle it in the church.

"Every Christian from pulpit to pew needs to read this wise and timely work."- Karen Swallow Prior
"Both urgent and timely."- Sam Storms
"Thoughtful, wise, and biblical."- Mark Vroegop

In this well-researched, carefully argued book, Michael J. Kruger takes on the thorny problem of spiritual abuse. He defines the nature of spiritual abuse, explains how and why churches often overlook it, and explores the common tactics that bully pastors use to rally support around them and silence their victims. Kruger writes about how devastating spiritual abuse is for the victims, as their spiritual leaders oppress them in the name of God, unjustly accuse them of making false accusations, and isolate and cast them out of their church communities. Kruger also writes about practical ways that churches can prevent and combat spiritual abuse.

Although Kruger acknowledges that spiritual abuse can happen in any Christian organization, he focuses on church contexts here, writing about pastors who bully others, use intimidation tactics to get their way, and leverage their position and social power to avoid accountability. Kruger shares illustrations from high-profile cases of spiritual abuse, and he uses his research and biblical understanding to show how profoundly damaging spiritual abuse is. The sections that focus on Scriptural teachings about leadership are particularly helpful, as Kruger shows that God expects pastors to be gentle and kind, and that harsh, domineering behavior has no place in the church. My one critique is that Kruger didn’t address subtle forms of spiritual abuse, such as a pastor who acts nice and doesn’t berate anyone, but manipulates others to get his way through their belief in his spiritual authority.

Throughout Bully Pulpit, Kruger addresses common concerns and counterarguments among theologically and socially conservative Christians, such as the idea that people have a victim mentality, are just hypersensitive to someone pointing out their sin, or have no understanding of what a hard job pastors have. Kruger acknowledges that pastors have difficult jobs and may suffer greatly due to unjustified attacks from church members, but he shows that spiritual abuse is a real problem, and that it is important for churches to investigate claims instead of making excuses for a pastor and sweeping things under the rug. I appreciate how Kruger acknowledges the kernel of truth within each common objection while still showing that spiritual abuse is a real, active problem that people must not deny.

Bully Pulpit: Confronting the Problem of Spiritual Abuse in the Church wraps up with suggestions of practical ways that churches can recognize red flags among potential hires, deal rightly with abuse from pastors who are already in place, and change their organizational practices to create greater accountability for people in leadership. The solutions he suggests are concrete enough to provide clear direction while also being general enough for people to adapt them to their individual contexts, and I highly recommend this book to church leaders, leaders in Christian organizations, and laypeople who want to be better informed about this issue. This book can also be helpful for victims of spiritual abuse, because even though it isn’t a guide to healing, it will give them Scriptural guidance and practical information to help them advocate for themselves and process their experiences.