Mobbing is defined as the prolonged malicious harassment of a coworker by a group of other members of an organization to secure the removal from the organization of the one who is targeted. Mobbing involves a small group of people and results in the humiliation, devaluation, discrediting, degradation, loss of reputation and the removal of the target through termination, extended medical leave or quitting. It is a traumatizing experience that often results in significant financial, career, health, emotional and social loss. Mobbing is unjust, unfair and undeserved. In a ministry settings the organization includes pastors, staff members, volunteers, elders, deacons, and congregation members.
In a church setting the organization includes staff members, elders, deacons, and congregation members. Church mobbings can be set in motion by a church member, elder, deacon or staff member. The target might be a senior pastor, associate pastor, or ministry staff. Usually there is a focus on some issue of disagreement (robes or no robes) that triggers the mobbing. Sometimes there are just vague “problems.” The pastor is rarely confronted by individuals seeking to solve an actual problem or there may be a bullying attempt to control the pastor. The mobbing begins as others are pulled in and are persuaded that the target is the problem. In churches there is rarely, if ever, a chance for the pastor to face his accusers because of the “people are saying” syndrome and “they” don’t want to cause problems! Mobbing is progressive and eventually the targeted pastor is so confused by the unfairness of it ,and so in shock by the brutality of it, they simply don’t know what to do. In addition, pastors are often told not to talk to anyone or they will split the church and that would not honor Christ. Spiritual, emotional, relational and financial ploys are all available to the mob as weapons, tactics, and strategies employed in the removal of the target.
The impact of mobbing on pastors and their families is profound and traumatizing. The personal impact includes deep humiliation, anger, anxiety, fear, depression, and isolation. There is often a profound sense of shame (guilt is “I’ve done something bad,” shame is “I am something bad”) that works to redefine all previous accomplishments as meaningless and all future hopes as dashed. In short, mobbing often convinces the target that they are failures and always will be.
The spiritual impact can also be profound and often result in a crisis of faith and leaving pastoral ministry. Pastors serve Christ and love people and when “Christians” treat them with such contempt and malice, how can a pastor come to grips with that? Persecution from non-believers is one thing but execution by congregants is an enormous betrayal. The pastor attempts to find biblical solace and comfort but mobbing is so unjust and so unfair, and the pain so profound, that they often feel abandoned even by the Lord. They know that its not true but emotionally and spiritually they are devastated.
Every relationship is impacted by a mobbing. The spouse and children pay an especially high price as they watch their loved one being unjustly mistreated and are often the recipients of the pain being expressed by the pastor. Unfortunately that pain is expressed through anger, resentment, conflict eruptions and isolation. Most frequently the pastor is so confused and ashamed at what is taking place they remain silent and isolated from family and friends which only serves to deepen the trauma. They are fearful that even their family members believe they have brought this upon themselves.
While a mobbing is taking place the pastor and his family do not know who they can trust or who they can talk to. Fearing further reprisals they remain silent, deepening their isolation, and become either depressed or physically ill. It is a vicious cycle that, because of the shame attached to it, doesn’t end when they leave the church.
What’s a pastor to do? For starters, talk to someone who can help you understand what has happened to you. Now that you have a name for it you can begin to release some of the shame you have been feeling. For many of you reading this, just having a name put to your experience is comforting. Given the traumatizing affect of mobbing, I believe its imperative you find an experienced counselor to help you in the healing process.